Let's talk about jeans.
Everyone has a pair, or at least they should. They are great. They’re tough, versatile, simple and classic.
Blue jeans are sturdy cotton work pants that became popular in the early 20th century with factory workers, miners and cowboys. Jeans have been made with corduroy, canvas, cotton and—the most well-known—denim. (I will use "denim" and "jeans" interchangeably from now on.)
Where to start
If you are guilty of any of the denim disasters listed above or you just need a new pair, I’d recommend starting with a pair of Levi's 501s in Tidal Blue or Rinse. These look great with solid-color T-shirts, button-down shirts or sport coats in casual settings. They should be dark, straight or slim-fitting with no fading or embellishments. If you are new to wearing "nice" jeans, just think of them as denim pants. Instant upgrade.
For those already wearing dark denim, there is room for improvement still.
Raw denim is denim that hasn’t been washed before or after it is sewn into jeans. Washing softens denim, removes excess indigo dye and lessens fabric shrinkage, but it also weakens and wears the denim before the consumer ever puts it on.
Wearing raw, unwashed denim allows jeans to conform and mold to your body, fading and wearing uniquely according to each owner. One way to get raw denim fitted to you is with Levi’s Shrink-to-Fit. Check out Primer magazine for the step-by-step process.
I know what you're thinking: "Wait, I thought you said fading was bad? What’s the deal?"
Denim is great, but it’s work wear. It’s supposed to be tough and handle all of your life’s activities. The goal is to have pants that look great and feel great. The fading is inevitable, so embrace it.
Selvedge and handmade denim
You may have heard of selvedge denim. You probably noticed its very high price tag also. Selvedge denim is denim that has been made on vintage shuttle looms, usually identified with a white edge on the fabric. Selvedge denim doesn’t equal raw denim, and raw denim isn’t always selvedge. It’s simply a method of manufacturing the denim versus large-scale industrial denim manufacturing. Gap, J.Crew and Unbranded Denim have begun selling jeans made with selvedge denim as it becomes more common.
Selvedge denim is often at the base of handmade denim manufacturing. There has been a return to boutique companies, producing high-end jeans in small quantities. This follows the trend of brands made in America, with pride and quality at the forefront of their focus. Selvedge denim is more likely to be made with copper rivets, reinforced seams and other hand-finished details. Selvedge denim is truly a unique handcrafted product.
The limited nature of selvedge denim lends itself to being a specialized product. Selvedge can have unique colors and textures that you’d never find in a department store. Gustin from San Francisco has the most unique collection of selvedge I've seen. Selvedge denim can come in a variety of weights, measured in ounces per yard. Typical commercial denim ranges from 9-12 ounces. Mid to heavyweight denim comes in 12-16 ounces per yard. The most extreme denim I’ve found is the insane 32-ounce Japanese denim from Naked and Famous.
Selvedge denim will have a higher price tag, but it is a truly unique and handmade garment. Knoxville-based Marc Nelson Denim, Imogene + Willie of Nashville and Gustin from San Francisco are great examples of the craftsmen attitude modern denim companies are taking toward these products.
With denim, you truly get what you pay for. I don’t know what you consider expensive; I won’t tell you how much you should pay for your jeans. There is denim available for all price points. For as much as I wear denim, I’m willing to pay for a better fit and a higher-quality fabric, which should last for many years.
Care and washing
Each time you wash your denim, it wears the fabric and shrinks the fabric slightly. Wearing new jeans for at least six months will help the fabric conform to your shape. I try not to wash them if possible. If you can’t avoid it, turn your jeans inside-out and wash or soak in cold water with little or no detergent. You can cold soak when new to remove excess dye that may rub off, but that’s a personal preference.
Mastered the basic dark denim? Branch out from there. Try some undyed natural denim jeans. Lighter-washed jeans are great in warmer months, but make sure the fit is great. These guys are doing it right.
Alan Baird writes about men's style and occasionally fashion. He thinks fashion is temporary, while style is forever. His personal style is classic, preppy and contemporary. If there are trends you like or if you want to argue about the utility of cargo shorts, feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook or Twitter. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.