Bonnie Henry

Ron Medvescek/Arizona Daily Star

Apparently it’s true. The rich really are different from you and me: They don’t wash their jeans.

At least that’s the word from Chip Bergh, CEO of Levi Strauss, who made waves — though not apparently in the washing machine — a few weeks ago when he admitted that he hadn’t washed his own jeans in over a year.

No word, of course, on how many jeans Bergh, who made close to $10 million last year, has in his closet. Maybe he wears a different pair every day. Maybe he seldom wears jeans at all.

Either way, he’s not alone. Fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger also admitted last fall that, “I never wash my Levi’s. They’ll fall apart. I love them broken in.”

Hey, here’s a new business model for you: Pay someone to do it. About six months ought to do it. Who needs stone washed, let alone good hygiene?

When Brooke Shields cooed back in 1980 that nothing came between her and her Calvins, she probably made an allowance now and then for a little soap and water.

Water, on the other hand, is also why environmentalists are jumping on the no-wash bandwagon, advising greenies to just stick their dirty jeans in the freezer between wearings. Do remember to thaw thoroughly.

Stiff, if not frozen jeans are nothing new to my generation, back when we all wore Levi’s shrink-to-fit, button fly, the tighter the better. The trick, of course, was in the fitting — and the shrinking. Still is. Rule of thumb: Buy them two inches bigger than your waistline, three inches longer than your inseam.

Today, it’s hard to find 501s outside the Internet, which go for close to $50 a pair. You can also find online instructions for shrinking those jeans, some of which border on the ridiculous.

I found a five-page illustrated instruction tome that started with soaking your jeans in hot water in the bathtub, hanging them up to semi-dry, then placing the jeans between two towels and stomping out the excess water with your feet. After all that, the final step is to wear the damp jeans until they dry on your body.

Here’s the way we did it: Wash your Levi’s in hot water, hang to dry, repeat two more times. After that, we relied on pants stretchers. For years, my Saturday morning chores included wrestling my father’s clean, damp Levi’s onto metal frames that could be expanded to fill out each leg and torso, ankle to waist. They then went on the clothesline to dry, lined up and swaying in the breeze like some truncated army.

After the pants were dry and you extracted them from the stretchers, you were left with jeans so stiff they could literally stand on their own. No wonder my father made little moaning sounds every time he struggled into a fresh-washed pair of Levi’s.

Still, there was little thought of not washing those jeans – jeans worn by a man who made his living in construction, sometimes down in the ditches.

Maybe that’s the real difference between those who regularly wash their jeans and those who don’t. Some wear their jeans as uniform, soiled with the sweat and dirt of real work. Others wear them as fashion statement, flaunting a certain easy, yet unearned grime.

Bonnie Henry’s column runs every other Sunday. Contact her at