If you only own one pair of pants, there is no debate over what that should be. Blue jeans are the american standard for a reason: they’re great.
The problem is America has been led astray by marketers for so long, the majority of Americans don’t know what good denim is. To put it bluntly: it’s safe to say just about every pair of jeans you have ever seen in any store (which wasn’t a specialty denim store) was crap.
This might seem a little harsh, but let me explain.
There are two types of denim
After WW2 finally settled down, America found themselves in a time of tremendous growth and wealth. Jeans, being rugged, long-lasting, and made from cotton (something America had an abundance of) were the clothes of the working man, and the poor. As with all things, this means denim started to become cool, and demand started to rise.
Up until this point all denim was woven on a loom leaving it with a neat and tidy edge, this is known as ‘self edge’ or ‘selvedge’ denim. With the rising demand they devised a new way to create denim, which was twice as efficient. This new type of denim was less robust, with seams that looked, well, cheap.
Levi’s sold off their old looms when they made this switch, most of which ended up in Japan. As of right now almost all selvedge denim is being in Japan.
This means basically every pair of jeans you have seen from Levis, Deisel, Guess, CK, Gucci, Versace, or basically any other company you can think of, was made with the lesser version of the fabric. This excludes any ‘selvedge special releases’.
It’s not just the type of weave
On top of selvedge or not, there is also the choice of what was done to the denim after it was made.
Raw Denim has not been washed. Standard jeans have been washed in a tumbler with pumice stones. Doing this breaks down some of the cotton fibers making the jeans soft. Before this practice was started, all denim was raw. It’s woven, dyed, stitched, and shipped. Raw denim is very stiff, and has a deep dark color that will actually bleed when it gets wet for a while.
What I just told you, while often repeated, is technically a lie. Raw Denim has been sanforized. This is the process of soaking to pre-shrink the fabric, so the pants you buy stay close to the same size you bought them after your first wash. It is possible to buy unsanforized raw denim. With this fabric you will want to buy your jeans about 2” too long, and 1.5” too wide, and then soak them to shrink them yourself. While extra work, the fabric will end up fitting you better after it stretches out to your body.
Washed Denim has been washed. Some of it is washed a lot, some a little. Some is washed with pumice stones, some isn’t.
What kind of Denim is the Best
Let’s set this straight right off the bat: if your jeans came with any sort of fades, tears, or wear before you ever put them on, they’re trash.
I don’t care if it’s raw selvedge denim hand-woven by Japanese royalty only by the light of full moons. They’re trash.
Like a good pair of boots, jeans will be the best pair of pants you could possibly own, but only if you earn it.
- All denim you buy should be raw.
- All jeans you buy should fit, waist, leg, and inseam.
- Sanforized is fine, unsanforized will likely fit better for those who want a tighter fit.
- Selvedge is best, without a doubt. But you can get some very good raw non-selvedge denim. In fact for women this is typically all you can find. For some reason there’s very little selection for selvedge women’s jeans.
- While any color is fine, you should probably stick to dark blue or un-waxed black.
As you wear raw denim, it will start to break in. It will become less stiff, and after putting in the work it will start to fade, honeycomb, and wear in all the right spots. Eventually they will be the most badass looking jeans in town. But only if you start with high quality, thick, raw denim.
Denim comes in different thicknesses
On top of all the other choices you have to make, you have to choose the thickness of your denim. Levis are “medium” ranging from 12oz to 16oz. If you want seriously badass jeans, with wicked fades, buy something around 21oz, and wear them every day for a couple of years.
While high-quality jeans like this cost more, often a lot more, than a cheap pair of Levi’s, they will typically last two to three times as long. Just like the boots you bought for life, by the time you are ready to retire your 21oz Samuri’s, they will have cost about the same as their equivalent in something shitty.
Stacks or no stacks
Having the bottom of your jeans folded up is known as a stack. It’s entirely up to you if you like how this looks or not. The benefit with stacks are they will show off the selvedge edge for you.
The washing myth
There’s a bit of a myth with raw denim that you’re never supposed to wash it. This isn’t entirely true. If you wear the same pair of jeans every day, eventually they are going to get funky. But, every time you wash them you will bleed out some of the dye, fading your jeans. This means the wear fades, and creases, will be a little less stark, the overall look a little less great.
Because the patina is the most important part of a pair of jeans, you want to protect it. This means you want to rarely wash your jeans, and never in a washing machine. Raw denim should be washed by soaking them inside out in a bathtub full of luke-warm water and a teaspoon of detergent. Light brushing for any grime. After 45 min, rinse them off and hang them in the sun to dry.
That is the only way you should wash raw denim. I personally wash mine only when I feel they really need it, works out as often as every 6-12 months, if I’m wearing them regularly.
What are a few good brands?
If you’re sold on the concept of getting great quality jeans, and want to pick up a pair for yourself, there are a lot of great brands out there. My personal favorites are Samuris, Iron Heart, Naked and Famous, Rail Car, 3sixteen, and Nudie. But there are plenty more great designers out there. It’s always best if you can go try some on, if you can’t just make sure to take them to a tailer to have them properly hemmed if they need it. Many stores will offer hemming on the items they sell.
One thing to know about getting jeans hemmed, is that many selvedge jeans are ‘chain stiched’ at the hem. This type of stitching looks great, and actually changes how the jeans move on your body, and how they fade. Unfortunately only specific old machines can do this, like the Union Special 43200G. You may have to look around, or mail away to have your denim chain stitched.
Having your denim tailored is especially important if you’re buying off a site like grailed.com. I’ve bought a couple pairs off there as great deals, knowing they were too large, and had them tailed to fit.
Now that we’ve covered your legs, it’s time to move on to the simple guide to choosing a shirt.
Continue reading the series with: Introduction to Men’s Style, Part 4: Shirts & Accessories, Or Skip Ahead:
- A Brief Guide to Men’s Style: The Basics
- A Brief Guide to Men’s Style: A Good Pair of Boots
- A Brief Guide to Men’s Style: A Guide to Denim
- A Brief Guide to Men’s Style: Shirts & Accessories
- A Brief Guide to Men’s Style: Mistakes to Stop Making