Eric Walter on the kitschy glamour of the King of Jeans on East Passyunk Ave

Eric Walter
Favorite Spot: The King of Jeans sign
Neighborhood: East Passyunk Crossing
Address: 1843 E. Passyunk Avenue (at 13th Street)

I am: a Michigan boy blown eastward for love and opportunity, a web producer at WHYY’s, a delinquent writer.
Years in Philadelphia: 4
Current Home: East Passyunk Crossing


My Love Note:

Of all the clothing boutiques along South Philly’s East Passyunk corridor, perhaps none has as spectacular a sign as The King of Jeans.

Today’s Styles has, as my friend John likes to joke, “yesterday’s font.”

A Man’s Image is better suited for a discount barber shop.

Whereas, The King of Jeans is perfect in its kitschy glamour. Sublime in its tackiness.

A shirtless cartoon stud out of a 1950s beefcake magazine, sporting a sailor’s tattoo and a tousled pompadour, leans in to plant a smooch on a crouching woman in spiked heels, leather hot pants and matching bra. It is at once innocent and uncomfortably sexy.

The whole thing is an enormous tattoo itself, a refugee from a bargain bin book of Patrick Nagel prints. (I know what I want next year for Christmas. The tattoo, not the book.)

I live two and a half blocks away from King of Jeans, and I’ve never once shopped there. I’ve never even set foot inside the building. But you can believe I take every friend and relative who stays at my house to see the sign. On my standard out-of-towner walking tour, it’s easily as important as the Liberty Bell and Pat’s and Geno’s.

With the store now in the tank, a developer wants to renovate the building as a residential space — meaning, if they want windows, that wonderful, ridiculous sign must go. What will happen to it, no one yet knows.

Some may call it a hipster’s pipe dream that the sign might be spared the scrap heap. But I am decidedly not a hipster, and I can’t bear to think of the King rusting away in obscurity.

Could it be donated or sold to the Philadelphia History Museum? Maybe its unabashed in-poor-taste extravagance is better suited to the Mummers Museum. Will an eccentric local buy it and nail it to the front of his row house?

Whatever is signified by the forever youthful pose of this bejeaned dude and his missus (I don’t believe for a minute that she is nearly as submissive as she is letting on) that sign is a mark of the urban landscape. It is a patch sewn into the frayed history of East Passyunk and Philadelphia itself — a section of the backdrop where we cast and play out our lives.

The King of Jeans is a reminder of Philly’s whimsical side, the importance of fleeing “earnest.”

The sign hasn’t even been there 20 years, so “legendary” might be a stretch, but it is without a doubt a landmark. There’s more to this town than red-brick relics — meaningful though they are. Not all history has to be “important” to be important. Sometimes it can just be awesome.

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Posted on by Emma Fried-Cassorla in South Philly 2 Comments

2 Responses to Eric Walter on the kitschy glamour of the King of Jeans on East Passyunk Ave

  1. Susan Perloff

    Things change, Eric, as you will learn. Unless you buy this sign, it will dwell in your heart forever. My condolences.

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