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Best place to buy denim

Pittsburgh Jeans Company
2222 E. Carson St., South Side. 412-381-5326

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Olena Thomas used to hate shopping for jeans. The last time she went to the mall, she tried on 37 different pairs. "They just looked bad," she says. Everything she tried was either "not long enough, or too low." Her co-workers sent her to the South Side to give Pittsburgh Jeans Company a try.

There, the sales staff found out what Thomas, of Shaler, liked and what she hated about those 37 jeans, and quickly helped her find the right style and fit. They offered free inseam and waist alterations on anything that wasn't quite perfect.

That was almost four years ago, and Thomas has been a frequent customer ever since. In fact, finding the right jeans has become almost too easy. "It's an addiction," Thomas jokes.

Some first-time customers find the designer brands and the unusually helpful salespeople a bit nerve-wracking. "It's a boutique-y atmosphere" which a lot of people aren't used to, says store buyer Germaine Glaser. "Boutiques tend to be kind of stuffy. People get a little freaked out by that."

Any freaked-out feelings will, however, fade within moments of walking through the door. The feel is, one might say, couture meets general store. From the old-fashioned metal signs advertising Texaco and Coca-Cola, to the unfinished wooden shelves, to the exposed brick walls, the whole place exudes a warm, down-to-earth and decidedly un-stuffy sensibility, as though buying designer jeans were no different or less important than buying comfortable shoes.

That relaxed feeling is enhanced by the staff, which is eager to put you at ease and help you find exactly what you need. Not sure what you're looking for? Not to worry: Store manager Leslie Calhoun will help you determine possible sizes and styles, and in no time, she'll have four or five things for you to try on. Chances are, you will probably like at least one of them. Calhoun loves helping new customers navigate through the hundreds of different styles and brands. "People say, 'I'm sorry to be so difficult,' but I like that. I like that they're challenging me," she says. "It's very personal. To figure out the best jean for a person, you have to figure out what their life is like."

Monongahela native Lawrence Scott opened Pittsburgh Jeans Company in 2001. He had recently moved back to Pittsburgh after 15 years of working as a fashion designer in New York City, and quickly realized that Pittsburgh had been untouched by the premium denim market, which was exploding in other cities. It didn't take long for Pittsburghers to embrace the shop, thanks to an impressive selection of top-quality clothing, and an even more impressive approach to customer service.

Glaser believes that kind of personalized help is necessary in a store that specializes in denim. Otherwise, it's easy to get frustrated. Even with the expert help of the sales associates, there is still a certain amount of trial-and-error. "You still might have to try on 20 pairs to find one that fits," Glaser says. "We're here to make sure you're trying on 20 pairs and not 100."

Gregg Thomas, Olena's husband, became a Pittsburgh Jeans Company regular about three months ago, when it opened a men's department upstairs. "I didn't know what premium denim was before I started shopping here," he says. "Now I'm kind of hooked."

Between the moose head, the oversized Easy Rider poster, and some over-stuffed leather chairs, the men's department has a bit of a hunting-lodge-meets-bachelor-pad vibe. It also boasts a complementary bar, should you feel the need to take the edge off in the midst of your shopping excursion. But like most of their customers, it isn't just the denim (or the free beer) that keeps Gregg coming back. "It's a really nice environment. It's nice to walk in and let them help you find the jeans that are going to be right for you."

At Pittsburgh Jeans Company, every part of the experience is important. "When you leave," Calhoun says, "you should have not just a pair of jeans, but a boost."

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