by | March 10, 2021 | Features, Indigo Invitational Contender Series, Interviews

Females of Fade

For our second Females of Fade interview, I stuck close to home. Today’s subject is Elise McCarthy. Elise is part of a group of females registered and competing in this year’s Indigo Invitational and a close, personal friend. Elise jumped into the denim community feet first without looking back, and I cannot wait to see the impact she makes.

Elise has been a good friend to me for over a decade and has this contagious fire in her. She is a powerhouse of a woman, owns her own successful business, and has a passion for fashion and vintage that is hard to match. If you need some inspiration, look no further.

She brings a different perspective to the slow fashion world that is edgy and feminine, which I feel lacks. |Elise was initially interested in the Indigo Invitational to learn everything she can about denim and now it’s opened pandora’s box. I wanted to connect with her to get her perspective on what it means to be a female fader not just in this competition but in this culture.

FEMALE FADER: Elise McCarthy

Elise McCarthy

THE ARCUATE:  Hi, Elise! First, Thank you so much for your willingness to participate in this interview series. You have a very different take on this community than I have seen thus far, and I am excited to explore it. I’ve asked everyone to start the same way; would you both mind telling us who you are, where you’re from, and what you do?

Elise: Hi! I’m Elise; I’m originally from Las Vegas, NV but have grown up in Idaho and have been here for about 22 years. I am an independent esthetician. I’m the owner of BOD Waxing Studio, and I specialize in full-body waxing. 

TA:  Not only is your personal style fantastic, but I feel like you help others style themselves through BOD. I know the Indigo Invitational drew you to the denim community. However, your passion for denim was well established beforehand. 

Everyone has that first moment when they suddenly realize this will be a bit of an obsession or way of life (sounds less severe that way). What brought you to not only dive into selvedge but kept you here? What is it you love about slow fashion?

Elise: My obsession with denim started when I was the Visual Merchandiser for Levi’s. I was really inspired by Levi’s history, the museum of vintage denim, and men’s vintage photographs in workwear. Everything felt effortlessly cool, which I tried to represent in my personal (and professional!) style.  

I was continually searching for the perfect pair of vintage 501’s that fit my body and were also in excellent condition. The search was exhausting, and finally, after talking with you, Rachel, I had my first denim revelation. I could purchase my first pair of raw denim and make my own damn “vintage” pair! The perfect vintage 501’s I had been searching for all started out as raw shrink to fits anyway.

What I love about slow fashion is intention. Buying with purpose and investing in quality pieces that only get better with age and never go out of style.

TA:  I love that vintage vibe, and you are so right. Investing in quality pieces is critical here. Now, it would seem you’re part of a community within a community, being a woman within the denimhead community. Historically, this scene feels dominated by men. What was the greeting you received like coming into this competition from both the men and women? What would you say to women on the fringe of this community, interested but perhaps hesitant to join for whatever reason?

Elise: I experienced a warm welcome from both men and women. The community was very supportive and positive. Obviously, women are outnumbered in this competition, which is why I would encourage others to jump in fearlessly. I felt very intimidated joining myself, not only because the raw denim world was new but also like I didn’t fit in.  

My style felt very different from most of the photos being posted in the community. I don’t own a pair of moc toe boots, and I don’t carry a wallet in my back pocket, so in a way, I felt like I had to be a little vulnerable and show who I was and what I thought was cool… which can be super scary!

Elise McCarthy

TA: I actually had the same experience with this community. Everyone has been incredibly welcoming, which is refreshing, seeing as many other male-dominated cultures aren’t so accepting. I love the look you bring to the table; how do you pick a good pair of jeans? Do you have criteria you look for when trying to decide which join the collection next? How did this choice impact choosing your pair of jeans for the Indigo Invitational? What did you go with, and why did you choose them?

Elise: This is a hard question because I dress by how I feel, and the shape of the leg determines what look I’m going for. Full transparency here, I chose my competition pair, Benzak (my first pair of raw denim ever), because of you. It was the brand you had selected for your competition pair, and I felt lost on where to start in this whole raw denim world.  

With that being said, I actually really love my Benzak’s. They are the perfect straight-leg jean when I feel like being more casual. I also really love that they don’t have any stretch. A lot of women’s raw denim has added stretch, and I don’t always want that.  

I have also added a pair from Imogene + Willie that are high-waisted and have a raw hem when I want to feel a bit more dressy or wear heels. I’m learning now that I’ll always size down when choosing a new pair of jeans. Having a snug fit from the get-go will help me resist the urge to wash them just for shrinkage purposes.

TA:  Yes! Women’s options in this space are still slowly expanding, so experimenting with different makers is a great decision. Speaking of fit, how do you find the fit-finding process? I know raw denim is a relatively new way of life for you, but have you found the perfect fit by chance? If not, what would you change about your current jeans to make them that unicorn fit?

Elise: Oh man, sizing is my worst nightmare. I’m such an overthinker, and I’m usually between sizes, making it a little more complicated. I can’t stand the feeling of being stuffed in stiff denim. However, I also don’t want a perfect fit because I’ll have to wash them more than I’d like to just to shrink them back. I want there to be a happy medium. I think the perfect unicorn pair for me would be a non-stretch, high-waisted, black selvedge jean. If that exists, someone tell me where!

TA:  Your unicorn pair must exist somewhere; I am on the hunt! Alright, picture this- It’s the first time you’re putting on a new pair of jeans. Maybe they slide on like a glove, but more often than not, we are working our ass off just to get them over our asses. They are stiff, starchy, but we know they have potential. What is your favorite part about a new pair of selvedge and what could you live without?

Elise: Favorite part is the sucked in feeling. The pair of denim you sized just right, and you have to shimmy a little bit to get into, your butt still looks excellent, and you feel like a million bucks. There’s nothing better. As far as a “live without,” I don’t really have one. Every pair is its own adventure. If I had to chose, it would be sizing… but we’re chicks; we face this issue every time we shop, haha. 

Elise McCarthy

TA: All upside, I like that. Shopping as a female can be hard enough with strange sizing, then to throw in something like raw denim, which is not really focused on female fits, so no “industry standard” can make it all the more difficult. I know that you are in this competition more for the community than the fame.

You have been mixing it up with your jeans. 365 days of the same pair of jeans is a long time. There’s a lot to consider; wash, don’t wash, soak, rain baths, spot cleaning. When you get to that point, what will your approach to maintaining and repairing your jeans be like? Are there any denim care philosophies that stand out to you?

Elise: My approach is to not overthink it. I stressed myself out in the beginning, trying to do everything “right” or feeling like I wasn’t being extreme enough, only to find out that none of that made me happy or felt like me. I don’t want to live on a timeline, which actually led me to leave the competition and continue independently. I just want to live easy.

One day I’ll look back at my Benzak’s and admire their worn-in beauty. They will eventually become the lived-in jeans I had searched for, and I don’t care how long that takes. I will wash them when they smell or are visibly dirty, and I will get repairs done by the magician herself, Indigo Proof. Her talent amazes me, and I would be honored for her to mend any denim of mine.

TA:  Her work is fantastic. I actually had my first blowout and am trying to get on her books. I commend you for finding your own way in this world, it can be intimidating, but I feel like you are forging a new path. How do you think your unique lifestyle will affect the fading of your denim?

Elise: My fades will take longer than others as I’m a pretty chill person with a low-key lifestyle. No forced fades here, just fades that represent a working esthetician and obsessive seamstress.  

TA: You’re pretty chill, but you have to enjoy a good night out. What is your favorite way to dress up a pair of jeans? Do you have any fashion go-to’s for a night out? 

Elise: Let’s not forget the sex appeal of a crisp white tee and pair of heels. That look is classic for a reason and really showcases the flexibility of denim. I also love incorporating a hero piece when I dress up. I buy a lot of vintage clothing and highlight a low-key outfit with one unique item: a beaded bag, a metallic shoe, or a vintage lettermen sweater.

TA:  Hero piece may be my new favorite term. You are one of the most stylish people I know (You can dress me anytime). Do you have any favorite slow fashion accessories that you love?

Elise: Omg, blushing! My gold jewelry is my most precious accessory. My favorite piece is my gold signet ring with my last name initial engraved in it. I also love a great leather bag and matching wallet to hold all my daily items in.  

TA:  A classic piece of gold jewelry will take you anywhere. You can dress it up, dress it down, and it will always look good. At this point in the competition, what impact do you feel this community has made on you? Are you in it for the fashion tips, the maintenance advice, maybe the camaraderie?

Elise: I’m here for maintenance advice and brand awareness. I love hearing everyone’s personal experience and advice on how they care for their items, chose fits, and what brands they’re choosing to support. The more information, the better!

Elise McCarthy

TA:  Knowledge is power, and it sounds like you are utilizing this community to learn everything you can. I will close this out by asking (because I am on a mission), do you have a favorite plain white tee? If so, let’s hear the details. 

Elise: I have yet to find the perfect white tee, but I have been sewing and pattern making, so you can bet I’ll be making my own version this spring/summer. My inspiration is a “stolen from the boys” vibe with a slightly cropped fit.

Elise, you inspire me and my fashion choices regularly, and I am so happy to have been able to impact yours even slightly. I thank you for your time and fresh perspective. I hope you have all enjoyed the second installment of Females of Fade, an Indigo Invitations Y2 Contender Series. Stay tuned for more. 

If you wear it well, it will be well worn 

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About the Author

Rachel Richardson

Rachel Richardson

My name is Rachel, and I'm a nutrition coach and personal trainer from Boise, Idaho, and yes, I am a female fader. My ambition here is to give a voice to female faders, like myself, and shed light on women's issues in the denim community.