Blue Jeans: An Introduction to Denim

by Antonio on April 12, 2011 · 96 comments

in Dress & Grooming, Style


This series is supported by Gillette. Learn more about Gillette and its products at Gillette.com. What’s this?

Is there anything more American than blue jeans?

Over the last 160 years blue jeans have woven their way into American and even world culture.  Classless, utilitarian, and yet classically stylish, jeans have been worn by prisoners, plumbers, and presidents alike.

Iconic American Figures Associated with Blue Jeans

The Cowboy

giant

Although many frontiersmen never wore a pair of jeans and instead opted for buckskins, in the last century denim has become the trouser of choice for the American West’s most visible ambassadors.  Both Will Rogers and John Wayne wore them and countless rodeo legends as well.  Today if you make your way to a rodeo in Pecos or Cheyenne, you’ll probably see dudes sporting a pair of Wrangler blue jeans.

The Biker

the wild one brando

I’m not talking about the Harley Davidson clad bunch we see nowadays; I’m referring to the 1950s vets who returned from WWII and hit the road on bikes because they needed excitement and freedom in their lives.  Think Marlon Brando in The Wild One with his leather jacket and rolled cuff blue jeans.

The Young Rebel

the outsiders

Today, nothing could be more mainstream than denim, but jeans used to be the badge of the rebel, the man who broke from the traditional dress of society and rejected the old way of doing things.  Rebels of all types have flocked to denim, starting in the 1940s with rule-breaking college youth who wore them against the wishes of their parents to James Dean in the classic film Rebel Without a Cause to the Greasers in S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders.  Rebellious youth have for the last 60 years found a kindred spirit in denim, and will for at least another 60.

The Blue Collar Worker

born in the usa

Blue is the color of the working class because it takes to staining and cleaning better than white; the classless blue jean, prized for its inexpensive durability and ability to suck up grease, was and is the pants of the working man.  Personified in the 1980s by Bruce Springsteen, the blue collar worker loves his blue jeans because they, like him, are made to be worn but never beaten.

An Overview of the Major Jean Brands

Levi Strauss and Co

levis

Founded in 1853 by Levi Strauss in San Francisco, the company started as a dry goods wholesaler but quickly found its place in history when a tailor named Jacob Davis partnered with the company to create a superior pair of pants that utilized copper rivets to reinforce areas of the jeans that commonly tore under heavy stress. Patent number 139,121 was awarded in 1873 and the rest is history.  Utilizing the best denim in the world at the time, Levi Strauss and Co established itself as a beacon of quality for next 150+ years.

In 1890, lot number 501 was assigned to the waist overalls with the copper rivets and button fly.  Today you can buy the same jeans, minus a few details introduced over the years because of changes in menswear style (suspender buttons are gone) and the requirements of wartime rationing boards (the back buckleback).

Lee Company

Lee Jeans

H.D. Lee was a man who headed west after starting a bright business career on the East Coast only to have it derailed by bad health.  Against the advice of his doctor, Lee headed to the opportunity he saw in Kansas, where he founded Lee Mercantile in 1890.  Seizing on the lack of local quality goods and the natural central location of Salina, KS, Lee pushed his work wear division and the Union-All jumpsuit became his flag product.  It sold like hotcakes, in part because the designers catered to the men wearing them and made them easy to slip on and off and innovated with the now classic zipper.

Lee has continued to grow over the last century, in large part to smart marketing and sponsorships including the founding of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.  By closely associating itself with the American Southwest, the jeans built a strong and loyal base among the western crowd.

Finally, I need to mention Buddy Lee.  First making waves in a Minnesota shop store window back in 1920, Buddy has since been spotted promoting Lee Dungarees in a variety of strangely funny commercials. Over 90 years old, Buddy Lee is a legend; don’t let his 14 inch height fool you.

Wrangler

Founded in 1904 as the Hudson Overall Company, the company changed its name to Blue Bell 15 years later and remained primarily regional to North Carolina with its core product being overalls.  After WWII, Blue Bell bought a work wear company and revived Wrangler with the specific target customer being the Western crowd.  With an innovative cut utilizing higher pockets and wider belt loops, and the sponsorship of rodeo legend Jim Shoulders, Wrangler was able to wrangle itself to the top of the Western market within two decades.

wrangler jeans

Lee Cooper

Lee Cooper Jeans are less well known in the USA but have a loyal following in England and Europe, and for good reason.  The brand made a name for itself during WWII when rationing made anything but denim a luxury.  With only 30 ration coupons for clothing, working men had the option of a business suit for 26 coupons or a pair of Lee Cooper overalls for 2 (or better yet – jeans for 1).   The Lee Cooper Brand grew quickly in the 50s and 60s under Harold Cooper, and now sells clothing in over 70 markets around the world.

Other options outside the Big 4 brands:

Designer Jeans

High fashion brands began to push out jean lines in the 1970s, but saw the market fade within a decade.  The most recent surge began again in the early 1990s and continues today; brands such as Lucky were the first to start charging $100 for jeans that were built on nothing more than slick marketing (my old college roommate would disagree–he felt the unique inner lining and fit was worth the price he paid).  In the last 20 years, designer jeans have leveraged celebrity endorsements and notoriety to sell jeans at prices that can now soar into the $500 range.

If you can’t tell, I am not a fan of designer jeans.  Instead, if you’re looking for something beyond the ordinary you should consider….

Raw Denim Jeans

Raw denim is unwashed denim fabric that has not been shrunk or exposed to water after the dying process.  It is typically very dark, and made on old style shuttle looms.  Selvedge denim, as it is also called, is priced at a premium because of low production runs, the need to use older equipment and more fabric per pair, and the fact that it’s made in high labor cost countries.   However, raw denim is more durable, and many raw denim advocates claim to wear their jeans thousands of times before they wear out, thus making them a strong value when you look at the number of wears vs. the amount paid.

Blue Jeans and Pricing

A gentleman walks into a store and finds a terrific pair of jeans that are the right size and made well. He then looks at the price tag and is shocked; the jeans are almost ten times more expensive than the pair he has on.  After checking with the clerk, he leaves the shop in disgust wondering who would ever buy such expensive clothing. The year is 1870, and those overpriced jeans are selling for $5…10 times the cost of the more popular brand our price conscious shopper was used to buying.

The scenario I just described could have easily taken place today.  With jean pricing ranging as wide now as it did then, there is still much confusion as to why.  Below are 6 reasons why jeans vary in price:

  1. Market Positioning – Price positioning based on smart (or not so smart) marketing is the most important factor in determining price.   Raw denim made in the US has to be priced high because of the quality of material and construction. But designer jeans, which can cost ¼ as much to make can sell for the same amount if not more, simply because they are worn by the right celebrity or a marketing ploy creates a feel of exclusivity or scarcity.
  2. Clothing Pattern – Some jeans are made to fit a particular demographic.  Levi’s, the brand most of us associate value and Western heritage with, makes a pair of raw denim jeans called “matchstick.”  As the name implies, they are made for skinny young men.  Any man carrying more than a few extra pounds around the waist or older than 30 should approach the jeans with extreme caution.
  3. Factory Run Size and Material Cost – Mass produced jeans, built on modern machines prized for their speed and acceptable error rates are generally going to cost less than jeans built on older equipment.  Who’s using older machinery?  Believe it or not, most of the older machines were bought and shipped to Japan (they love their denim) or have been painstakingly restored by the craftsmen behind the small vintage lines here in the US.  The older equipment may not be as fast, but for the denim artisan, this hardly matters.
  4. The Jean Manufacturer’s Bargaining Power – When Levi Strauss talks pricing with JC Penney, there is a negotiation.  When a small start-up line tries to talk pricing, there is a take it or leave it offer put on the table–if they make it that far.  Often the only route for the small guys are small distributors, who shoulder higher per foot costs than the big guys and have to charge more to stay in business.
  5. Labor Cost – Denim made in Japan or the USA is going to cost more than high volume fabric coming out of China.  Simple economics associated with price of labor and as mentioned above, much of the Chinese machinery is more efficient.
  6. Durability and Specialty Design – Although rare, there are jeans out there that are developed to serve a special purpose besides covering a man’s lower extremities.  Draggin jeans have Kevlar sewn in and are designed to protect a motorcyclist from road rash.

draggin jeans

What to Look for When Purchasing a Pair of Jeans

Focus on Fit – Fit is the most important thing to look for in a pair of jeans–you may have to try on 5 to 10 different brands and types–but it’s worth it when you find that one style that fits you just right.  During regular wear the fit will become more relaxed as the cotton stretches; however, once you wash them and expose the cotton to any type of heat, you’ll shrink them back to their original size and in some cases even a bit smaller.  The best thing to do then is to put them on and stretch them out with extensive body movement.

Fabric Weight – Denim will vary in weight from 7 to 18 ounces, with most men wanting a jean that strikes a balance.  Too lightweight and the fabric will tear too easily–too heavy, and the fabric will be as stiff as a board.  The latter is rarely an issue; rather, you need to be careful of brands that try to save money by going with lighter weight fabrics.  The difference is subtle, but you’ll know you’ve been had when the jeans begin to tear at high stress and friction areas after only 6 to 9 months of wear.

Select the Right Color – Denim comes in a wide variety of colors and shades.  Also, the way the denim has been washed and treated will determine its suitability.  I recommend men first look at darker colored jeans with minimal distressing– jeans like this can be worn with a sport jacket.  Jeans with lighter colors/heavy washing /distressed fabrics are only for casual wear.

Be Careful of Knockoffs – Rarely a problem in large chain stores, this has become a bigger issue since more and more men shop on sites like eBay where the burden of understanding the merchandise falls on the buyer.  If the price looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Brand Construction Consistency – A perfect fit can seal a relationship with a jean manufacturer for decades.  I’ve heard of cases where news of an impending bankruptcy in a clothing company has led to shortages in supply because diehard fans immediately go out and buy a lifetime supply.  It sounds funny, but how many of you have that trusty pair of jeans you reach for when you need something that works with everything from Birkenstocks to a blazer?

There is much more we could talk about when it comes to jeans.  So let me ask – what would you like to see us cover next concerning denim?

{ 96 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jared Brus April 12, 2011 at 11:04 am

Neat article, very well presented. My father wore dungarees just like the sailor pictured on washday at the top of the article. I’ve found L.L. Bean sells an excellent pair of jeans, and they’ve taken the place of my Levi’s 501′s because I found that Levi’s just didn’t have the consistent quality they once had.

2 Akshay April 12, 2011 at 11:36 am

Very soon we’re going to get tons of comments saying “I wouldn’t pay more than $30 on a pair of jeans!”

If you haven’t had a pair of expensive (but well-made) jeans, then you can’t really comment on the value. I’m not talking about jeans that are just expensive because they’re made by Gucci or something. I’m talking about quality denim, made by experts. Denim made to last. Sure, you can spend $30 on a pair of jeans every few years and call it a day. But quality denim, and denim usually at a higher price, is an investment. This is the denim that will last you for years, and just age beautifully.

Check out Stronghold Denim (thestronghold.com) for examples. They even have a lifetime guarentee with their denim.

So unless you’ve tried it, don’t knock it.

3 John Cooper April 12, 2011 at 11:38 am

> So let me ask – what would you like to see us cover next concerning denim?

I’d like some information about the general differences in fit between brands of jeans. The article rightly says to try on various brands and styles, but I’ve found that the difference between store-new jeans and washed jeans is so great that trying them on in the store may not tell you what you need to know. I’ve always worn Levi’s, but it’s been years since I found them really comfortable. What’s a good brand to try for someone who’s in fairly good physical shape, but nonetheless is built like a mature man rather than a skinny teenager?

4 Brynjolf Bjarme April 12, 2011 at 11:47 am

How many jeans should a guy own?
Raw Jeans and freeze washing? Last time I bought myself a new pair of jeans (Wrangler for the first time). I learned from the seller about how freeze washing makes a great effect on your raw jeans. Wear your jeans as usual, but instead of washing them as you usually would, in a washing machine, put them in a plastic bag and in the freezer. Let them chill for a couple of days. Bam! Jeans all cleaned up (except for stains). If you then do this for say half-a-year or a year and then wash them. They will shrink and they will bleed, but your daily wear and tear comes forth creating a personal washed jeans. Might be a fashion thing, and I can’t swear to it, only had mine for a couple of months, but I can’t hardly wait to see if it actually works.
(Last, one might think it is disgusting never washing the pants with soap, but a research said that after 9 months (grain of salt please) they had about the same amount of bacteria as a pair of one-week old jeans.)

5 Greg April 12, 2011 at 11:48 am

Great article I like Carhartt jeans dang things last forever plus Craftsman sell jeans that come with a two year warranty, can’t beat that. Plus both pairs cost $40 or less.

6 Akshay April 12, 2011 at 12:07 pm

@John Cooper – That would be a long article, since different companies have different “vanity” sizes. I’m not sure what kind of jeans you prefer though, since I prefer jeans that are slimmer cut (and not baggy). Slimmer doesn’t mean skinny or tight, it just means that the jeans flatter how you look rather than looking like a mess below the waist.

@BrynjolfBjarme – Generally speaking, you should own three pairs – one medium wash for casual wear, one dark wash to dress up, and one pair of raw jeans – for fun (since it’s fun to wear them in yourself). As far as washing raw denim goes, a company whose jeans I love, A.P.C., recommends that you wear your raw denim for 6 months without washing, and then when you do have to wash them, go to the beach with them on, take a swim in the salt-water, rub sand all over them, and leave them to dry. That’ll give you a great well-worn-in look, at least according to them. I haven’t tried this method yet, but I’m heading to the beach with my latest pair of A.P.C.’s in June, so we’ll see how that goes.

7 DJ April 12, 2011 at 12:23 pm

Took this picture 2 years ago and both of the denim in the picture have aged/faded a lot since then.

http://i35.photobucket.com/albums/d156/sofa_king_azn/P1090589.jpg

Japanese raw denim is expensive ($200-400) but well worth its price. These pairs cost a lot but with increasing competition, some companies have been making high quality raws for less than $100. I’ve found a few pairs of high quality, great fitting denim in discount stores like TJ Max (Levis, RRL, Cheap Monday, etc. random brands) for less than $60, maybe because selvedge never really caught on in America.

It might seem disgusting not washing, but it really isn’t. Now if you fall into mud or a ton of food or drink falls on it, of course you wash it! But if it’s just daily life, then it’s really not that bad. Just hang and air it out and sometimes throw it in your freezer in trash bag to kill bacteria if you’re really scared about it. The human body is amazingly adaptive, dealing with tons of bacteria a day and you should be fine unless your immune system sucks.

Not washing helps with fading, but if you really have to wash, then wash. There are no real rules, just guidelines. As long as you wear your denim hard, it will fade. Periodic washing helps denim release indigo and keeps the fibers strong.

8 Douglas April 12, 2011 at 12:29 pm

I feel a bit ignorant asking this but looking at the article I was interested in your section on “Raw Denim” but was unable to specifically locate that online. Does Raw Denim refer to a particular (yet mysterious) brand of jeans or is it a category that jean manufaturers use like “high rise” or “relaxed fit”?

9 Akshay April 12, 2011 at 12:38 pm

@Douglas – Raw denim is just denim that hasn’t been washed yet.

Levi’s has a project called “Water<Less" that has a lot of Raw Denim/Raw Indigo styles. Check it out on their website.

10 Bill April 12, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Hi, Antonio. Great article.

I’d like to see general rules for caring for denim covered more, but especially in relation to raw denim. I’d like to buy a pair, but there seem to be a lot of different opinions out there. Apparently you should buy them larger than a normal pre-shrunk pair? How much larger? How do you then get them down to size without ruining them? Is any of this true?

Anyway, that’s what I’d like to see covered, if possible.

11 jon wesolowski April 12, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Levi 501′s. For the rest of my life.

12 John S. April 12, 2011 at 12:55 pm

Great article!

I recently bought a couple of pairs of Levi’s Shrink To Fit 501′s. One in indigo and one in blue green. I’m having a great time breaking them in and take on the character of my day to day life.

Only one nitpick: The article implies that raw denim = selvedge denim. This is not the case. Raw denim is just denim that has not been washed. Selvedge denim is denim that comes from the edge of the bolt of fabric. The return of the loom creates a “self edge” that does not need to be stitched to finish. Selvedge denim can be identified by the white trim on the outside leg seam.

13 John S. April 12, 2011 at 12:57 pm

Also, anyone wondering how to properly shrink a pair of raw jeans, check out this blog post from Tommy over at Thighs Bigger Than Your Head.

http://thighsbiggerthanyourhead.blogspot.com/2010/12/how-to-shrink-to-fit-stf-your-levis.html

14 JR April 12, 2011 at 12:59 pm

I’d really like to be given some brand names to look for. I love the bargains at TJ Max, Marshalls, Ross… it allows me to dress better than I can really afford. I’d love a pair or high-quality jeans but can’t spend $400.

Some brand names to look for, or some labeling specifics, would really help avoid the designer price tag for the bargain-bin-quality jeans.

15 john April 12, 2011 at 1:17 pm

Wrangler makes great jeans for working in, but there are actually TWO kinds of Wrangler jeans, one great and one that sucks.

The WESTERN type Wranglers are awesome. Cheap, rugged as hell. They usually have the “cowboy cut” designation somewhere and some letters like 13MWZ. THey are the ones that have the leather patch ON THE BACK POCKET, not between the belt hoops. Rustler is a Wrangler brand that is a sub-set of this particular kind of Wrangler.

The OTHER Wranglers (that are what I call city-boy jeans, because they’re made to play in, not work in… are basically denim sweatpants in my opinion) are the ones that say “rugged wear” and star in commercials with Brett Favre. THey are worthless.

Lately I have been buying jeans from a company called Duluth Trading that makes jeans out of what they call “Fire Hose” canvas. These things are indestructible. Not badly priced either.

Lastly, I have never liked the idea of buying jeans that are half-worn out when I buy them, especially if “stone washed” or “pre faded” jeans cost MORE than regular ones. I want new jeans to be DARK blue and stiff as 3/4 inch plywood.

16 Dave April 12, 2011 at 1:18 pm

I would like to see you cover American made jeans.

17 SPate April 12, 2011 at 1:35 pm

Can we also put it out there that there is nothing less manly than embroidered/bedazzled back pockets!! When you jeans can be confused with your girlfriends, from behind, something is wrong!

And when it comes to “higher-end” denim, might I suggest a pair of Diesel Jeans. Try on a pair and you’ll never want to take them off. And if you cannot justify spending that kind of coin on a pair jeans, then look into H&M. Designer looks and washes without the shocking price tag.

18 Mitch April 12, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Cool article, but no mention that denim as a fabric was originally created in France. In fact, the name denim comes from “de Nimes”, which means from Nimes, a city in southern France. It enjoyed popularity there too as a utilitarian fabric before Levis Strauss, from neighbouring Germany took his designs to the US and popularized jeans as we now know them.

19 tay April 12, 2011 at 2:20 pm

For sure, american made should mean produced domestically. I am pumped on COMUNE’s new denim line called “the unknown”. Its all made domestically. Peep it

20 mike pine April 12, 2011 at 2:42 pm

I saw that show about Levis made in China, ugly. The Levis made in Mexico and other Central American countries are really shoddy, the back pockets seem to always seperate at the top stitching. Is there a source for American made Levis?
Mike

21 Stephen April 12, 2011 at 2:44 pm

I would like more coverage on the Raw Denim and perhaps some of the smaller manufacturers. I would pay more to companies that were say USA made.

22 Michael April 12, 2011 at 2:44 pm

I have kind of an . . . earthy problem. Jeans I wear almost always do not have enough room for my boy parts. If I squat down or sit for any length of time, I end up feeling pretty bruised. Are there any brands which are cut generously for that area of my anatomy?

23 Monica April 12, 2011 at 3:18 pm

Missed the Men’s Wear Industry CEO Summit? No worries! Get on-demand video of all the must-see presentations here: http://f4a.tv/gSceHq

24 Ryan April 12, 2011 at 3:25 pm

I am currently shopping for jeans, so this article could not be more timely for me.

I also have to mention William Gibson’s Zero History, one of my favorite novels from 2010. It’s all about denim.
Ryan

25 Matti April 12, 2011 at 3:28 pm

Diesel anyone? For a long time I was a Levi’s guy but when a store clerk first suggested me a pair of Diesel Zathans and I tried them on, I was sold. Haven’t found as good jeans since and I mean fit-wise, since the Zathans I bought back in 2006 are now full of holes. But lord knows I’ve lived in those jeans, almost every minute since the day I got ‘em.

26 Matthew Del Rocco April 12, 2011 at 3:36 pm

Been a huge fan of Levis for a long time. I wear jeans almost every day (college student) and I usually get a years use out of each pair. I’m partial to the 511s. Slightly straight, not baggy but not painted on either. They look great, cost a reasonable amount (~$70) and last.

27 K April 12, 2011 at 4:01 pm

@Michael – Try Levi’s 550 line (550, 559, etc). Relaxed fit in the thigh/junk area, but not ridiculously loose/baggy in the leg area. I can’t wear their regular or slim fit jeans without feeling like I’m having a vasectomy, but 559 fits great after a couple wears/washings.

28 chris April 12, 2011 at 4:06 pm

Informative, helpful article. & I’d also like to see more about the range of jeans that are made in the USA. Hopefully there some companies out there that don’t charge $100+ for a pair of jeans that are sewn here.

@mike pine — Check out Levi’s site for domestically-produced jeans: http://us.levi.com/family/index.jsp?categoryId=11326985&cp=3146842.4305630

29 Jonathan Manor April 12, 2011 at 4:28 pm

I just shrunk my favorite jeans. Do you have a guide as to not shrink your jeans or how to get your jeans to unshrink?

30 Paul W April 12, 2011 at 5:33 pm

I live in England but I am really not interested in jeans unless they are Made in the USA. As far as I am concerned Jeans are American and anything made in China because it’s cheap and the company can make a bigger margin are not genuine.
In my book genuine means made with the care and attention and the heart and soul that only an American worker can put into them. How can someone in Guangzhou working for a $1 a day understand or care about the history and emotional content of what he is making? If there isn’t that connection between the maker and the object then it’s worthless.
In my opinion it’s the manly thing to reject this fakery and pony up some extra cash for the real deal.
Needless to say living where I do and taking this hard line narrows my choice considerably. Levis don’t seem to make anything in the US and Wrangler don’t sell their Pro Rodeo Cowboy Cut Jeans in the UK which I think are in fact made in the US and which I’d love to get. The best I have been able to manage has been one in-house line that used to be available from Orvis.
I used to do business in the US and so whenever I went over I’d buy genuine Made in the USA products but sadly no more.
As a horse rider I’m really interested in getting my hands on some Schaefer Ranchwear Jeans which are genuinely made in the US especially for working cowboys but import duties and taxes more than double the price if I have it shipped direct!
Anyway, I do seriously think that companies (whether in the US or the UK) should be made to think long and hard about selling their souls by shipping their manufacturing overseas . Manly men should stand up for their heritage and say a loud “No!” to this practice.

31 Matt April 12, 2011 at 5:33 pm

from esquire:
‘Blue Jeans’ comes from ‘blue de Genes’ which was the french term for Genoa Blue, a cotton material worn by french sailors. The cotton came from Nimes, a town on the Rhone river. Thus the cotton was de Nimes which became Denim.

32 Daniel April 12, 2011 at 5:59 pm

I read this great story somewhere in which a construction worker fell off the scaffolding of the building he was working on. Luckily, he had a rope and carabiner attached to one of the belt loops of his Levis and that saved him from falling to death. Talk about quality clothing!

33 Phillip April 12, 2011 at 6:24 pm

direct quote>5.Labor Cost – Denim made in Japan or the USA is going to cost more than high volume fabric coming out of China. Simple economics associated with price of labor and as mentioned above, much of the Chinese machinery is more efficient.

Don’t support Communist China. Do you really want to wear a garmet made by slaves?

If you are American, support your own countrymen & women.

http://www.Americansworking.com

34 Jake April 12, 2011 at 6:35 pm

Good article. Finding the right pair of jeans is definitely a trial and error process – not only personal style/taste, but all the brands have their own cut and fit. I read a lot of different tips, but was never able to break in a pair of 501′s to my liking. Lately I’ve been partial to Dickies. Can usually find their un-washed regular fit work jean at any department or work-wear store for <$25. Baggier fit in the seat & thighs, but that's my preference. Quality's good (I've had one pair over 5 years now) and the fabric's a nice weight: thick enough to be durable, but not like wearing cardboard. Also had good luck with their 5-pocket styles, if you don't want the more industrial look of the work pants.

Only bummer about them is that while Dickies still makes a lot of stuff in the USA, I believe their jeans are outsourced – and you have to be careful of the ones you find at discount stores, because they are a lighter weight fabric, and not nearly as durable.

To break in all my un-washed jeans, I go with the trick of soaking them in hot-water, wearing them damp for a few hours, then letting them air-dry. Occasionally I'll take a piece of coarse sandpaper (30 or 40 grit) and spend a good 15mins rubbing around areas like the seat, knees, and pockets to soften up the fabric and speed-up the "worn" look. From then on out, I wear them till dirty, and then wash as normal.

35 James April 12, 2011 at 6:41 pm

Ah, so these are the Yankee bluejeans the imperialist Americans are wearing!

36 Antonio April 12, 2011 at 7:05 pm

Thanks for all the great comments – I’m taking notes and excited to start writing more about denim.

One favor – if any of you personally know someone owning/working at a small denim company or have one you want to see recognized for their quality work please contact me with the details.

R/S Antonio

37 Paul W April 12, 2011 at 7:38 pm

Antonio. Try checking out Longhorn Jeans at http://www.longhornjeans.com/. They are 100% made in the USA by a small ranch based company especially for riders. I did contact the company a while back but shipping and import costs would have sent the price through the roof for me.
Great looking jeans from an authentic company though.

38 Shirley Temple April 12, 2011 at 9:44 pm

YES. Thanks for accepting my little mini-request. This is actually one of the better articles I’ve read by you. I hope it continues!

39 Tim April 12, 2011 at 10:41 pm

If you want to try selvedge denim I recommend Gap’s authentic fit selvedge. For $80 you can see what high quality jeans are all about. The fit is awesome and the quality is there (unlike most everything else at the gap). I wear them to work, out at night and when I’m lounging around. Again, great price to be introduced to high quality jeans.

40 Jean C. April 13, 2011 at 2:25 am

Nudie Jeans, Best damn jeans I’ve ever worn and will continue to wear. They’re a bit pricey, but well worth it for a perfect fit. I have 4 pairs, but one particular selvage pair I’ve been wearing for 2 years and not washed them once! Stiff as dry chewing gum.

41 Steve W April 13, 2011 at 4:19 am

Workman’s Jeans are also worth having – I’ve had great luck with both Duluth Trading Company http://www.duluthtrading.com/ and Carhartt http://www.carhartt.com/

Carhartt offers some flame resistant versions which can be a requirement in some industries.

Good stuff that lasts, both.

42 Dennis Hammer April 13, 2011 at 4:36 am

@ Greg Carhartt makes the Craftsman brand clothing if you really push Sears they’ll validate returns for 2 year warranty on Carhartt too

43 LB April 13, 2011 at 6:52 am

The only men who should wear denim are tradesmen.

44 Preston Blain April 13, 2011 at 7:18 am

I will only ever buy a pair of jeans (or any clothes for that matter) if they are the right fit, colour and style. This sometimes limits my choice on what I can wear and makes it difficult to shop for. However in the long run you definitely look better for taking the time and effort to find the right jeans / clothes.

45 Darren April 13, 2011 at 7:25 am

Michael, try Arborwear jeans. They have a gusset in the crotch that accommodates man bits quite nicely.

http://www.arborwear.com/products/pants/original-blue-jeans

I wear these constantly. Good for blacksmithing too.

D

46 Mark April 13, 2011 at 7:51 am

A great manfufacturer is Diamond Gusset. Durable, great price, and very comfortable fit.

http://www.gussetclothing.com/

47 Ken April 13, 2011 at 8:47 am

Might wish to check out Buddy’s Jeans….New Hebron, Mississippi!

48 J.S.Bass April 13, 2011 at 8:53 am

Eddie Bauer also makes the closest thing to the Levi’s I wore as a younger man. They also make a 38 inch inseam which is near impossible to find in Levi’s. On another note, Jean cloth was a used during the civil war to make many of the uniforms for the confederacy.

49 Steve April 13, 2011 at 10:00 am

Never will I buy another pair of Levis brand jeans. After seeing some of their “Go Forth” campaign and their social engineering agenda I wrote to them saying as much. He11, they’re not even made in America, not that anything is anymore, so I why should I be loyal to an Anti-American shell of a once great American company. I buy Wrangler.

50 Hugh Hughes April 13, 2011 at 10:10 am

Back in 2000, I had just bought my current home and it was a fixer upper. At the same time, I bought two new pairs of Carhartt jeans. I wore these jeans as I took everything down to the studs and rebuilt the house over the course of two years. These jeans have also withstood a couple of other remodels on some apartments and the conversion of my sister-in-law’s garage to an apartment in the South Carolina summer heat. These jeans still look great today and are just now starting to fray along the bottom edges of the pants.

51 Dave April 13, 2011 at 10:13 am

Perhaps a detailed style guide on Jeans. Examples of what to where & when to wear.

52 Mr Rui April 13, 2011 at 10:22 am

jeans are almost mandatory, in case you want to blend, here in Lisbon of Portugal.

Industrial tailoring like regular, loose, new regular, slim, all by Bennetton, are comediant when most of us are just being ourselves.

53 Keith April 13, 2011 at 11:10 am

I wear jeans almost every day for work. Some brands will fit your body type better than others. I don’t know why, but Wranglers have always fit me better than Levis or Lees. Also I prefer regular cut to others. Incentive to keep my fat ass under control.

54 R Corey Taylor April 13, 2011 at 11:12 am

I’m on board with Dave’s suggestion:

“Dave April 13, 2011 at 10:13 am
Perhaps a detailed style guide on Jeans. Examples of what to where & when to wear.”

Also, perhaps a general overview of which jeans – and ultimately which models – are made in North America vs. elsewhere would be helpful.

55 PeteKadish April 13, 2011 at 11:30 am

Last year, I decided that it was some new heavy-weight Levi’s. I wanted ones like I used to by in the seventies & eighties, because they last a good ten+ years. So, I hit a number of large retailers to begin with. Strangely, all the the fabric was much lighter weight than I remember. I was looking for the nice and thick 505′s or even 501′s. Those which I could find were all now made in Afghanistan and Mexico, and were clearly not the same quality as the “old-school” jeans I used to buy from Levi. I wouldn’t even having to pay more, If I could be assured that I was getting a a heavier fabric like I used to buy. And, what the heck is up with all of the weird Acid-washes, and nearly worn-out looking jeans? I just want to by some great quality, heavy-duty. regular old Levis which will keep me happy for a number of years to come.

56 cocktailsfor2 April 13, 2011 at 11:41 am

As a kid, I was stuck wearing Sears’ Toughskins until I got to High School, and got my first pair of Levis – I forced my Mom into buying them by saying I wouldn’t go to school in Toughskins.

Augh.

57 grouchybastid April 13, 2011 at 11:41 am

Mike Rowe (of Dirty Jobs fame) teamed up with Lee jeans to produce the Lee Premium Select jeans. Classic, durable and comfortable. What more can you ask for?

58 David April 13, 2011 at 12:32 pm

Interesting take on jeans. Wore them a a kid all the time (except for school) and then cowboy cut Wranglers with boots as an adult. But later as an adult I once saw an old photo of Humphrey Bogart getting off a small plane in Africa (I think to start filming African Queen) and saw the khakis he was wearing. Thought it was the greatest classic look in the world – don’t even own a single pair of jeans / denim pants anymore. Only wear khakis, cargo pants, etc. A much better look for an adult, unless maybe really you are a working cowboy.

59 steve April 13, 2011 at 12:43 pm

I still wear jeans just about every day to work. They can be dressed up or down and never wrinkle. What more can you ask for?

60 David Mossholder April 13, 2011 at 12:43 pm

Great article on jeans. Well written and interesting. I found the part about Levi’s being made for skinny, young men really informative. Who are the other main jean company’s targeting … which kinds run wider – for us middle aged guys with a few extra pounds?

61 Brucifer April 13, 2011 at 1:25 pm

I’ve always like button-fly jeans. Its fun having women undo them … especially, when they do it with their teeth.

62 christopher brown April 13, 2011 at 2:38 pm

Hello Antonio,

Great article and love the site, keep up the great work!! I have recently started Pirate Denim Company manufacturing jeans in New England. Vintage machines, finished by hand. Nautical themed, high caliber. Looking to give several pairs away to build up the brand. Please let me know if you would be interested in a contest give-away on your blog.

Great Thanks,

Christopher Brown
piratedenimcompany@gmail.com

63 Andy April 13, 2011 at 4:19 pm

I really enjoyed this article, and I have to agree with your friend. I used to hate jeans, but I ended up with two pairs of Lucky brand jeans that I absolutely love. Something about the material and the fit. It’s just a matter of taste I believe, I prefer the feel and fit of lucky’s to other brands, but your mileage may vary.

64 Jack April 13, 2011 at 10:03 pm

That man from the 1800s would probably be even more disgusted that we buy jeans that already come with holes in them….

65 Jim April 13, 2011 at 10:55 pm

I enjoyed this article as well. I think I would really like to see an article on the different styles and what they all mean. For example: relaxed fit, loose fit, low rise, boot cut, straight cut.
Also, and this is just some food for thought, a friend told me that apparently the clothing company Hollister now sells jeans with “package enhancers”, as in the jeans are cut in a way that makes your junk look bigger. I thought that was hilarious….

66 Arya April 14, 2011 at 12:47 am

I’m a huge fan of Raw and Selvedge denim. A.P.C. New Standards have been my favorite pair for over 2 years but the sizing gets complicated with expensive raw denim so I got into 501 Shrink to Fits and haven’t looked back. They (501STF) can be either baggy or slim depending on the size you buy (i buy true to size in the waist, instead of sizing up, to ensure a slim fit) and if you wear them in the tub or immediately after a hot soak to let them dry to you body, you will always have a perfect fit.

67 Mick April 14, 2011 at 5:54 am

Ok, Listen carefully, I’m only going to say it once. Pant is something a dog does on a hot day and Jean is a girls name. A PAIR of PANTS is something that will cover BOTH legs. A PAIR of JEANS will do the same thing. A PANT will only cover one leg, as will a JEAN. Personally I like to buy the complete pair…It matches my shoe…;-)

68 Steve April 14, 2011 at 10:17 am

Side Note; Why the hell are “relaxed” fit jeans so popular? They seriously don’t look good on anybody – in fact they make it look like you’re carrying a load in the back end.

69 david April 14, 2011 at 12:37 pm

don’t forget diamond gusset…good old fashoned jeans that wear and wear and there are kevlar line biker jeans as well. good stuff

70 Nick April 14, 2011 at 12:41 pm

“Why the hell are “relaxed” fit jeans so popular?”

Because over half of America is overweight.

71 Carter April 14, 2011 at 12:46 pm

Levi’s dark denim is the way to go, break them in yourself instead of paying for someone else to do it.

72 Mr. D. Johnson-Jane April 14, 2011 at 1:59 pm

Since jeans and t-shirts have become the new traditional dress of society, I’ve found myself rebelling against the now ubiquitous blue jean look with something like a ‘geek chic’ look, i.e. a three-piece suit, collar, tie & Trilby. Anti-cool is the new cool. Fight the Power! ;-)

73 Rob April 14, 2011 at 9:53 pm

Ive always worn wranglers, i always wear wranglers, and will always continue to wear wranglers…Simply put they are the best bargain and the most comfortable and durable. Then again I am not a very reliable source since i have not really tried any others…but they are a good old fashioned American made jean that is still made within the US!

74 David April 15, 2011 at 7:33 am

Levi’s have recently reduced the rise of most (if not all) of their styles, so that the 505′s you bought 10 years ago don’t fit like they did then. (If you check their website you will find numerous protests against this change, which they did not announce.) They seem to think that we sexagenarians want to have hip-huggers that might appeal to an eighteen year old. Is there any company who makes a style that approximates the 501′s and 505′s of bygone days? A possible subject of a future article.

75 Joe in Missouri April 15, 2011 at 12:00 pm

What happened to the use of hemp in clothing?

Was that too politically incorrect?

76 Dylboz April 15, 2011 at 3:41 pm

There are number of “designer” brands worth the small premium you pay. Mostly because they are made in the USA. 7 For All Mankind, True Religion, Citizen of Humanity, even many Guess cuts and colors are still made in America. Their superior construction, quality fabrics and attention to details like fitting to the shape of an actual male human body (as opposed to attaching two straight denim tubes to a couple of pockets and a zipper) make them a far better choice. I’m with your old college roommate (though I’ve never been a fan of Lucky, despite the little “message” at the fly).

But by far, the most “normal” jeans are made in Mexico, by Vanity Fair, the company that owns both the Wrangler and Lee trademarks, have factory outlet stores where you can get their higher end products (the aforementioned Mike Rowe endorsed Premium Select jeans) at really good prices. Levi’s also has a huge plant in Mexico, and most of the their better quality stuff is made there, as opposed to Pakistan or Mauritania or wherever their more faddish junk for high school kids is made. Look for them when buying your Levi’s.

77 Coverage April 15, 2011 at 6:13 pm

I haven’t worn jeans for over 7 years.

Since moving to Borneo.

Way too hot for such things here, though some of the locals wear them, seeing as they grew up in this heat and humidity.

Do they still give you a blue butt and knees when it rains?

78 John Stewart April 15, 2011 at 7:22 pm

A pair of pants is one trouser. A pant would only cover the front or back of one’s lower part of the body (waist down). Panting would ensue if a dame were so inclined or the constable were to give it a go. I am pleased he only said that once as he would have been wrong twice (or however many times he said it).

79 TheKink April 16, 2011 at 8:38 am

Great website and very nice article! Keep up the good work :)

It is really refreshing to read something like this on the web, especially for younger people. This was exactly what I was missing from all the stuff I find on the Internet.

Also, I find it quite interesting to see that you mentioned Lee Cooper among the other “titans”. They have very durable jeans and nice fits. I have three pairs for almost 4 years now and even after dozens of washes (I like to wash them often) are still in good condition.
As they usually cost around 100-120 Euros I use Marks and Spencer for every day as they are cheaper but still have nice look and fit (Autograph is a good line).

80 Bill G. April 16, 2011 at 1:05 pm

I love wearing jeans – they’re very comfortable and flexible in casual situations and if well cared for are quite durable. Typically I wear Levis or Lee but on occasion will spend a little more on “low-end” designer jeans by Calvin Klein or Tommy Hilfiger when they’re on sale. I’m hearing people brag about their $300+ “selvedge” denim jeans – I guess this is the next direction designers want to take us. I’m all for “spend a little more on quality” but my Lee jeans have lasted a very long time and still look and feel great. You can keep the selvedge – I’ll spend my money on something worthwhile.

81 david April 17, 2011 at 3:18 am

am 18 years old lad i ove wearing wearing tight jeans

82 K. April 18, 2011 at 7:10 am

I’ll soon be 54 and I wear jeans pretty much everyday. Grew up with Wranglers and Levis. I’m cheap and now buy Key jeans at a farm supply store. Around $12 and last for several years. Splurged and got some Carhart jeans, really tough, bet I’ll get double the years on them. My rule is never over $30 for a pair. Key jeans used to be manufactured in Ft. Scott, KS, now pretty sure they’re from Mexico. Still hold up well.

83 Tony April 18, 2011 at 12:00 pm

I bought a pair of the 501 STF’s last May and i followed the instructions and ordered a size up (I usually wear 36 so I bought 38), if i had to do it over again I would have stayed with 36. They are really baggy in the crotch and it looks like i have a dump in my pants (although sometimes I do). Also… button fly’s suck.

84 Kiel April 18, 2011 at 4:02 pm

I also tried and failed with the 501 shrink-to-fits.

One thing this post doesn’t mention is that quality control has gone completely down the tubes for most manufacturers. I have been wearing 501′s for about 10 years and the consistency in fit is totally nebulous. One can try on 10 pairs of the same size 502′s and they will all fit differently. It’s a pain in the ass.

85 JC April 20, 2011 at 3:08 am

@ Steve and Nick – I have to wear relaxed fit jeans(depending on the brand) because I literally cannot fit my thunder thighs into regular fit jeans if I get the proper waist size. Too many squats I guess.

86 CdM April 20, 2011 at 6:36 pm

During my 20′s I relied on either store-brand jeans or Levis, and had no particular complaints about them, other than I tended to need to take them to Mom or a tailor to have them hemmed since the standard lengths were too short or too long.

However, six or so years ago I began going through blue jeans much more quickly than before. Belt loops would snag and tear more frequently, the crotch would wear out in a matter of a few months (one pair lasted only a month), and of course when I didn’t get around to having them hemmed the extra length in them would translate into ragged beat-up cuffs near my heels. The snagging and quick wearing, even of previously solid Levis, was an abrupt change but consistent across about two years of purchases. My personal activities hadn’t changed so I knew it had to be something which had changed in the denim quality.

After commenting upon this to family, I received a pair of Eddie Bauers as a Christmas gift. I immediately recognized a much higher quality denim, and the test of time certainly bore that out. These days I replace jeans more due to accidents with paint, sharp implements, or bonfires than material wear. While slightly more expensive than Levis, the longevity of the blue jeans certainly makes the Eddie Bauer jeans more cost-effective. Furthermore, I found that unlike the denim in Levis, the Eddie Bauer blue jeans do not seem to stick to my skin as much as when I’m working hard and perspiring.

I discovered an additional benefit when I ordered my first pair online. One can specify the inseam to the nearest 1/4-inch, which has entirely eliminated all the heel-inflicted damage and additional tailoring expense while maintaining a perfectly styled hem.

I’m one very happy customer, and will stick with these as long as they keep making them.

87 justindisgustin April 22, 2011 at 2:10 am

@PeteKadish: I found the same thing you did. Most jeans these days (even from heritage brands like Levi’s and Lee and Wrangler) are made to be comfy rather than rugged. If you are looking for something tougher you will likely need to check out something like they mentioned in the section on raw/selvage denim. These companies are making tougher stuff:
A.P.C. and Naked and Famous for not completely outrageous price point
Iron Heart, Dry Bones, Samurai (available from selfedge.com or blueingreensoho.com) are what most people would consider to be prohibitively expensive but if you look at the weight, they are sometimes more than twice the weight of what you will normally find in the mall.
I’m wearing a pair of Dry Bones and they are ~25 ounces per square yard and will last me a long time. I wear them literally every day and fall off my bike, work food service, etc. and they can be beat to hell like god intended :P
For the most part they are pricier but the quality of construction is without parallel

88 Geoff April 27, 2011 at 12:09 pm

I grew up wearing Levis 505s and 501s, but haven’t been able to find a decent “plain old pair of jeans” for more than a decade. I’ve switched solely to Carhart work pants or similar. I like the khaki and green colors and the fabric is bombproof.

89 beastwork November 18, 2012 at 10:01 pm

I can’t wear 501′s. My legs are too big for my waist size apparently. 33 waist but 501/505 jeans fit like spandex on my thighs. And I’m not even a really big guy. 6’1″ 180. I can’t understand who these jeans are for. 559s for me.

90 Robert November 25, 2012 at 1:27 pm

I used to wear Levi’s all the time, but they started changing the styles and I don’t care for them anymore. Lately, I’ve been wearing L.L. Bean Jeans, and I think their great! I want to try Wranglers too.

91 Tom Schmit May 26, 2013 at 9:16 am

Does anyone know when Levis went from the standard thick jeans material, as found in most 501s, to the thin material in most 511s

92 Dale October 30, 2013 at 1:21 am

For what it is worth a friend of mine from Oregon assigns the term Benedict Arnold to all guys who wear Wranglers.

93 anthony January 4, 2014 at 4:56 pm

check out Iron Heart 25 oz jeans… great for motorcyclist…

94 Dennis January 6, 2014 at 4:36 pm

Have begun asking this question on a couple of other sites: Does anyone know how to get, or who might sell or be able to provide, replacements for the logo patches on the rear right pocket of Wrangler jeans?? In my case, it is for a pair of perfectly good MWZ13 jeans, except for the patch having fallen off, but some of Wrangler’s other jean types have them as well. Thanks to anyone that can help with this….

95 Anonymous January 16, 2014 at 5:33 pm

@Antonio: What’s your opinion of designer jeans/denim?

96 Doug P. February 8, 2014 at 10:01 pm

Well, I get it about raw denim, and I realize the quality there. You truly get what you pay for. That said, with reverent homage to superior craftsmanship in the more expensive jeans (meaning raw, not fashion), this man will never pay more than $35.00 for a pair of jeans. I can find the right sale in the right place with a little due diligence. My jeans have lasted me more than 5 years. They will last at least 5 more if I can keep my weight in check. I bring the same value to the table in busin. ss – you want me to spend you bankrupt or get serious mileage for your dollar?
As a note: I prefer broadfall jeans. I’m not amish, I just prefer the plain style clothing. I does have to do with a desire for a simple, solid look. Carrying a few extra pounds, I also embrace suspenders – imminently practical, and I see no reason for a man with extra girth not to be smartly fitted in jeans.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post:

Site Meter