“WHAT KIND of copper rivets are these?”
According to Amy Leverton, denim editor for trend-forecasting company WGSN and author of “Denim Dudes, Street Style, Vintage, Workwear, Obsession” ($25, amazon.com), a book that celebrates the style of jean-world luminaries, that’s the kind of question ordinary consumers are beginning to ask when searching for that perfect pair. “I think there’s always been a passion for denim, but now it’s become much more of a mainstream thing,” she said. “People care about quality, and that’s really inspiring.”
Though naturally fickle, the fashion world is very pro-jean for now and even regular guys are jumping on the quality-denim bandwagon that’s been gaining momentum. For men, a good pair of jeans are like the pickup truck and golden retriever of fashion rolled into one. “It’s no coincidence that jeans are [worn] by billions of people all over the planet every day,” saidJason Denham, founder of Amsterdam-based denim label Denham. (With a surname like that, he was destined to build his own jeans company.)
You don’t need to wear as much denim—or obsess as deeply over it—as the sort of folks you see here to benefit from their wisdom. Building a fundamental base of knowledge about jeans can enrich your wearing experience and help you shop more strategically. We asked Ms. Leverton and a few men featured in her book for some helpful first steps on the road to denim nerd-dom.
Recognize the good stuff.
Some folks say it’s selvage or nothing. But selvage—the highly durable, old-school type of denim that is made on shuttle looms—is not all good, and modern denim is not all bad. Ms. Leverton recommends turning the garment inside out. “Look at the stitching used on the hem, on the side-seam, around the pockets,” she said. “In general, the fabric shouldn’t feel unstable or weak.” There is a slightly easier way to tell if you’re getting good jeans. “If the salesperson gives you a five-minute monologue pointing out the features of both the inside and the outside of the garment,” she added, “then you’re probably in safe hands.”
Know brands that insiders love.
You can’t go wrong with many of the jean labels featured in Ms. Leverton’s book, but knowing the often esoteric brands beloved by those labels’ creators is even better. Brian Kim of Los Angeles-based THVM likes the brand Anti from Norway for its pocket linings printed with Death Metal motifs. Donwan Harrell of New York-based PRPS seeks out the Japanese license divisions of Lee and Levi’s, which make a product close to the heritage style of the originals (eBay is a good source, short of a trip to Tokyo). And Ms. Leverton herself is a fan of California-based Jack/Knife and Kapital from Japan, both for their durable construction.
Opt for authenticity.
While the finishes of some jeans out there strenuously mimic years of daily wear, it’s most fun to get a simple pair of dark, raw denim and leave your own impression on them. “I gave a friend a pair, and he came back after three months of working construction in them everyday,” said THVM’s Mr. Kim. “Those jeans were incredible, with dabs of caulking and the unique abrasion.” Patience, and wearing your jeans as often as you can, is the best way to go, but there are simple tricks to giving them a nice patina even if you don’t wear a hard hat at work. One technique that Mr. Harrell recommends to discolor the indigo at the upper thigh: After washing your hands, dry them off down your thighs. “This creates a strong 3-D effect along your jeans’ natural horizontal creases,” he said.
Form an opinion on washing.
Among these experts, there is no consensus on whether to wash denim or not. Purists never clean their jeans and Bart Sights, director of global development for Levi’s, is in that camp. “Frequent wear actually brushes away the pickup dirt and begins to create a calendared layer on the surface that acts as resistance,” said Mr. Sights. In other words, the patina that your jeans develop helps repel a good amount of everyday dirt yet picks up just enough to continue giving your jeans a cool, broken-in look. If you—and let’s face it, your wife or girlfriend—aren’t ready for that kind of commitment, there are alternatives. First, be as gentle as you can when cleaning. “There is nothing wrong with washing them; just do so on a gentle cycle,” said Greg Chapman, a freelance creative director. “Many new gentle detergents will keep the indigo intact.” PRPS’s Mr. Harrell does launder his but very infrequently. “I tend not to wash my jeans for a number of years,” he explained. “When I finally do, I use a short cold-water cycle, turn the jeans inside out to retain as much of the character as possible, and hang till dry.”
Never give them up.
“Jeans are a part of your life if you’ve truly invested the time and years to make them age,” said Mr. Harrell. “And no jeans are beyond repair. There are some great denim repair shops around the U.S. now.” He recommends a service called Denim Therapy (denimtherapy.com), in Manhattan, which also takes orders by mail. “Men should embrace the patch-and-repair look,” said Ms. Leverton. Each scar “has a story.”
by KEVIN SINTUMUANG
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