If you’re like me and avoiding real jeans and pants like the plague, wondering how to dip your toe back into normality while also re-embracing potentially stiff, constricting cotton, I’m happy to report a happy medium. Madewell’s newly released Summerweight Denim has arrived, with a hemp-cotton blend that is so soft, so subtly stretchy, and while they’re super comfortable to lounge in, they still have functional hardware and pockets.
The new collection is made from a hemp denim that results in a more resilient, breathable jean that’s full of character without the extra heft. Four of the brand’s classic denim fits—the 10″ High-Rise Skinny Crop, the Perfect Vintage Jean, the Curvy Perfect Vintage Jean, and the High-Rise Boyjean—will debut in the new hemp materials, alongside a pair of high-rise shorts, a welt-pocket denim jacket, and a pleated mini skirt. Prices will range from $69.50 to $135.
There’s a lot to love about fashion brands switching to hemp: it’s naturally absorbent and three times stronger than cotton alone, so you won’t wind up with bagged knees or a stretched-out waistband after a full day of wear.
Plus, it’s better for the environment. Hemp harvesting and production has a lower carbon footprint, requires less water use, and its denim doesn’t rely on harmful chemical processing to create a textured, rough-spun look. In fact, it gives built-in-character that gets better with every wear.
“Us denim heads love that,” explained Mary Pierson, Madewell’s Senior Vice President of Denim Design. “Each time you wash it and you can see it come to life. It gives you more surface texture, more interest.”
Pierson likened the use of hemp to”the new generation of linen,” for its yarn character and cooling, moisture-wicking properties. Hemp denim, she added, is also UV protectant—which is not only great for the wearer, but for the material, protecting against fading and yellowing from sun exposure.
Items in the Summerweight collection are made from different hemp-cotton blends. The perfect vintage crop, a slightly thicker sturdier ’90s-inspired straight-leg, features 6% hemp and 92% cotton, while the super soft, body-skimming high-rise skinny crop features 13% hemp and 81% cotton.
I tried both of these pair, and found them to be extremely comfortable—despite my 14-month aversion to pants with a non-stretch waistband. I dreaded slipping them on (the last pair of “denim” I purchased was comprised of 16% Spandex) but my immediate thought upon putting on the High-Rise Crop was: “Butter.”
While they don’t quite have the elasticity of a jegging, they have that satisfying stretch of soft cotton that moves and eases with you as your body fluctuates throughout the day. I wore the High-Rise Crop in Welling Wash (a sunwashed light blue) for a full, humid day, and the body-hugging denim did not lose its form. They remained comfortable, dry, and came out even softer after I popped them in my washer-dryer. I look forward to our long-term relationship.
They are the closest thing I’ve found to my favorite of jeans in the world: vintage Levi’s (I know, I know) that I found in a thrift store in Barcelona. (I know.) It’s a Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants moment whenever I put them on, as they molded to my body in a way that only denim that’s been worn and abused for several decades by many different women can. Like butter.
“That’s the beautiful thing about hemp. There are those pieces of denim you have forever and ever,” said Pierson. “And this one evolves with you… the more you wear it and wash it, the softer and better it becomes, the more character it it gets.”
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