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The Lucky Jeans

Decades of Jenkins MAC students experience the legacy and lore of a storied pair of vintage Levi’s.

Over the years, dozens of Jenkins Master’s of Accounting (MAC) students have carried with them a well-worn piece of denim in their pockets, purses and wallets in hopes that the fibers within carry with it a smidge of good fortune, as it did for beloved MAC professor and associate director of Poole College of Management’s Enterprise Risk Management Initiative, Bruce Branson

“Those jeans saw me through several important exams in the 1980s when I was in school at Florida State – my finals, the CPA exam and later the comprehensive exams I was required to complete before earning my Ph.D. in accounting,” Branson remembers. “I’d wear them to all my big tests, and since I kept doing well, I just kept on wearing them.”

Branson’s time sporting the jeans came to a tragic end mid-way through his two-part, full-day comprehensive exams. “I squeezed into them the first morning of the exam and by lunchtime, I was kneeling on the floor in agony trying to finish up as soon as possible because I could no longer comfortably sit with my jeans buttoned,” Branson laughs. “When I got home, my wife suggested I cut a piece off and carry it with me instead.”

And so he did.

“The jeans must have magically shrunk sitting on my closet shelf – I refuse to believe there could be any other plausible explanation for their tight fit,” Branson shares. 

Branson passed his exams and soon after he moved, along with his wife, to Raleigh to begin his teaching career at NC State in the early 1990s. The jeans were resigned to a box in the attic, where they remained until he uncovered them around 1997 or 1998. It was then he had the idea to pass the tradition on to his students.

Bruce Branson wears what little is left from his lucky jeans as he congratulations the Jenkins MAC Class of 2020.

“I decided to begin distributing a piece of my lucky jeans to my graduating MAC students as they faced their finals and completion of the CPA exam,” Branson says. “It’s become a bit of a tradition to share the story and distribute a piece of the jeans on the last day of class to finish off the semester and leave them with this good luck going into their exams and job interviews.”

As for whether the jeans have brought the same luck to the Jenkins MAC graduates, it depends on who you ask.

Emily (Capps) Lowman, for one, believes in their magic. 

Lowman, who graduated from the Jenkins MAC Program in 2014 and today serves as the director of information and accounting systems for NC State’s Foundations Accounting & Investments (FAI) office, recently emailed Branson to share her experience with the jeans.

“I took those lucky jeans with me to every section of my CPA exam and passed them all on the first try. I had them with me when I interviewed for my first position with FAI at NC State in 2017 and am grateful they worked that day too,” Lowman shared in an email with Branson. “In the fall of 2018, my husband and one of our close friends sat for the Professional Engineers’ exam and neither passed. They sat again in the spring of 2019, but that time, I sent the lucky jeans with my husband. He passed. Our friend did not, so when she sat for the third time this October, I sent the lucky jeans with her. She called me a couple of days ago crying and the first thing she said was ‘The lucky jeans worked!’ Finally, after three times, she passed with the help of the lucky jeans.”

Lowman wanted to share the good news that the lucky jeans had expanded beyond the accounting world – and that she’s convinced sharing them only makes the jeans luckier.

Lowman’s story is not unique, Branson says. He enjoys hearing the success stories his past students have experienced. However, when asked if he believes the jeans are truly magical, he admits the responses may be a bit biased.

“Of course the students who write to me are the ones who say, ‘It worked,” Branson concedes. “But I do regularly hear from alumni from different classes who may be working for the same accounting firm. I’m told they ask if they ‘had Branson’ and then whip out their wallet to show their piece of denim. If nothing else, it’s a great conversation starter!”

As the years have gone by, the scraps have become smaller and what remains may only last another class or two, but Branson insists that all the pieces that have been distributed so far have come from his original, lucky pair.

“I have colleagues come up and say in disbelief that they can’t possibly be the same pair of jeans, but I swear to it,” Branson says. “Not only that, the waistband of the jeans – 28-inch waist if you can believe it  – is still intact. I keep threatening that I’m going to wear it as a bandana for a graduation ceremony along with my fancy robes and hoods.”

Branson got a chance to try out his new accessory last spring as COVID prevented a traditional graduation ceremony, and the Jenkins MAC Program instead put together a video for the MAC Class of 2020 wishing them well in their endeavors. 

“I shared the story of the lucky jeans and fastened it around my neck and promised any student who wanted a piece of the lucky jeans that I would personally mail one to them – and several responded asking for a swatch,” Branson says. “I’m not sure how much longer the tradition can last, but I promise I’ll do it as long as I can.”