Wednesday, August 27

Mens Fashion Essentials: Jeans By DK

A pair of smart blue jeans are undoubtedly the most versatile article of clothing a man can own. They therefore require the most thought and research when buying, as they serve more an investment than a simple purchase. A well fitting and coloured pair of smart blue jeans are invaluable to a man's wardrobe as they can be worn with shoes and a shirt, yet equally look laid back and stylish with a t-shirt and plimsoles.

Although a man should obviously own more than one pair of jeans, this is a guide for that important pair that can be worn to work and worn on your days off, yet at both times looking 'fashionable'. For a detailed overview of the denim jean, its history and the production of the various styles, I would recommend checking out the following documentary.

When it comes to buying that one pair of jeans that you can work smart or casual, I tend to give the example of Marc Jacobs. Marc Jacobs always wears a perfect example of this type of jean (and quite understandably so given his position). There are two main things to point out here: fit and colour. Getting these two points correct are the key to that perfect pair of smart jeans.


For smart jeans that look great when dressed down also, the fit is a crucial consideration. The cut of jeans you will want to go for depends heavily on your frame and build. Somebody like Marc can get away with wearing slim and skinny cut jeans as his thighs are quite slim and long. Strictly speaking your average man will want to go with well fitted 'slim' cut jeans, however if you are of a slightly stockier and short build, straight cut will serve you well. Equally those on the slimmer side can possibly get away with more 'skinny' cut jeans, those that are more tapered than 'slim' jeans. However here I feel the need to stress the fact that jeans that look sprayed on and fit like leggings have no place in a man's wardrobe.

The jeans should be fitted around the thighs, however not feel too tight or restrictive. The legs ought to be tapered, however your leg shape should determine the amount. Generally speaking you will want your jeans to be tapered at the bottom, so that you are able to wear smart shoes. The reason being that smart shoes tend to be slimmer than casual shoes or trainers, therefore the jeans need to fit properly around them. Length is also a key consideration, look for something more akin to casual trousers than general jeans. However remember than if you find jeans that fit well, yet are too long, they can easily be hemmed to your required length. One important thing to note is that this should be done after you first wash your jeans, due to the risk of shrinkage.

Here are a few tips for when you are shopping for your right fit:
  • Make sure to take the belt you wear most often to try on with your jeans. Dress belts should never be worn with jeans, so go for a casual leather or webbing belt.
  • Wear the shoes you intend to wear with your jeans, out shopping. Try them on with your jeans to get an idea of how the jeans will fall. Do not be afraid to ask in the shop for a pair of shoes to try on with the jeans, if they happen to sell them also.
  • Try to get a feel for the everyday fit. By this I mean take time to walk around, squat and sit in the jeans. They should not feel restrictive or pull up too much when you are seated.
  • If in doubt over waist size, go for something slightly tighter. The reason for this is that smart jeans tend to be worn slightly higher than your casual jeans. The denim will also stretch over time, meaning that they will relax and fit naturally once you start wearing them.
Colour and Fading

Colour and fading are also a vital consideration for smart jeans. A plain dark blue is the easiest colour choice, as it allows you a clean backdrop on which to build your outfit. The lack of any fading provides a sharp and clean look, yet the fact that the material is clearly denim gives a casual and modern choice. However if you want something slightly more casual and a little less crisp, slight fading can be a good choice. For this choice however, stick to dark denim with minimal fading, as too much fading will not provide the smart look we are trying to achieve. Some slight whiskering and honeycombing can look less finished and provide a nice contrast when dressed up. For an alternative choice a colour such as dark grey can also look quite nice, although for the purposes of an essential item, they are probably a second pair you can invest in rather than your primary.

Remember that as these are smart jeans any additional embellishment or detailing is for the most part best avoided. Some smaller details such as contrast stitching can be quite nice, however no additional embroidery. Also it should be noted that the back pockets should be as plain as possible, some slight stitching, such as the trademark patterns for Levis or Nudie are usually fine, however something like the painted gulls of Evisu are probably best reserved for casual jeans.

Raw Appeal

One type of denim jean is highly sought after by collectors and is made by the most exclusive of denim designers, with prices in the range of thousands. This type of jean is made from 'raw denim' (also sometimes known as 'dry'), which is essentially virgin denim.

For the majority of jeans on sale, whilst in production they have been washed and treated for the required effect. For example for faded jeans, they are often thrown into a tumbler with water and rocks in order to quickly achieve a worn in look. Jeans are usually washed in the factory, so that the immediate shrinkage is taken care of. Denim is an organic material, meaning that it is made from cotton and dyed with indigo, a plant extract. Once the material is dyed, it is left to dry and becomes 'denim'. The manufacturers will then wash the denim for the first time. When the denim first becomes wet the fabric will shrink due to its nature. By shrinking the denim immediately it is easier to work with, as the size and flexibility is now pre-set. It is important to note however that denim always maintains a slight flexibility despite the number of washes, and it is recommended to wash your jeans when you first buy them to get a better feel of their size.

The treatment of denim in the production process will also determine many of the characteristics of your jeans. Fading of jeans is usually done simply by tumbling them with rocks, and throwing away any jeans with sizeable holes or major damage. However this will understandably damage the denim and reduce its lifespan. Chemical fading via enzymes is another process that is used to give more precise fading, yet this also weakens the fabric as the enzymes quite literally eat away at the fabric. Similarly bleaching is a common practice, which provides high contrast fading, yet again reduces the lifespan of your jeans.

These processes provide that much looked for 'worn in' effect, however due to their harsh treatment of the denim, reduce the lifespan of the jeans. This was an actual conscious decision by denim manufacturers to boost profits. Originally all jeans were made of raw denim, the fading was done by the wearer and they would last for a number of years, becoming 'worn in' nautrally and over time. However for this highly desired fading and for the softening of the denim, it often required years of wear by the owner. This meant that jeans were not a common purchase, with one pair lasting for many years.

As such manufacturers felt they needed a way to boost profits by providing jeans for the consumer that gave the desired look, yet would not be the only pair they wore for a number of years. By providing pre faded jeans, they gave the desired look of being that persons favourite and most worn jeans. At the same time the process of fading reduced the lifespan of the jeans as the material was weakened, which meant that the consumer would have to return for another pair within a far shorter period of time. Another factor was that the consumer effectively invested no time at all in achieving the desired look of the jeans, meaning they were more willing to discard and replace.

Images courtesy of Superdenim Forum. First set: 4 months wear, one soak. Second set: 12 months year, two washes.

The appeal of raw denim, such as that worn by Marc Jacobs, lies in the early history of mass produced denim. Originally all jeans were made and sold out of raw denim. Given that they had never been washed, the colour was very deep due to the indigo dye and the jeans as a result also felt stiff. However even after a few hours wear creases would appear that were completey unique to the wearer and their body movements. The more they were worn the more these creases would be defined, providing a totally unique and personal look to the denim. The more they were worn, the more they would also adjust and flex to the wearer's body shape. Unlike pre washed denim, raw denim has the virtue of its original flexibility and versatility, meaning that the wearer could effectively mould their jeans. Any fading was done by the wearer and the investment of wearing was shown in beautifully custom and unique fading and creasing.

To this day this is something that designers and consumers will pay a hefty price tage for. Designers will often pay thousands to buy original 'vintage' denim from generations ago, to see how the denim has faded and the unique creasing of the wearer. These will then serve as inspiration for the colour and fading of that designer's own denim collection for the new consumers. Higher end denim of this nature is often hand faded, with the jeans being put onto scale model legs, which are then used to fade and crease in a 'natural' manner. The legs are bent and often sandpaper is used to fade at where the creases naturally occur.

Those consumers interested in raw denim jeans of their own for the creative individuality it provides are also willing to pay for the high end companies that manufacture it today in the original style. Japanese companies such as Evisu produce in their most limited edition collections, hand made raw denim jeans that have their highest price tags. However raw denim can also be bought at very affordable prices, such as those produced by brands such as Cheap Monday. Raw denim is often found in the premium section of collections, and as such is often made from selvage denim. Selvage denim is made from denim taken from the end of a loom, therefore the construction is much stronger. Selvage denim is easily recognisable by turning up the end of the leg of jeans, and looking for the tell tale band of material.

The individual fading of raw denim is highly sought after as it looks visually more coherent to the body of the wearer and has that personal touch. For example, if a person has their wallet in a certain pocket or carries their keys in a certain pocket, this will be reflected in the fading of their raw denim jeans. By looking at the top images of Marc Jacobs, it is easy to tell he is wearing raw denim, given that the creases and fading match to his natural body movements.

Another appealing factor of raw denim is that the fit is also far more individual to the wearer. The problem with jeans that tend to be mass produced is that the shrinkage has already occured in the factory, meaning that the jeans have a pre determined size with little or no flexibility. Raw denim means the owner can wear the jeans and allow the denim to stretch and shrink naturally to their body shape. One example of the flexibility and customisation ability of such jeans is the Levis Shrink To Fit jean, which actually comes in only three sizes. The owner will wear the jeans and sit in a bath of warm/hot water, allowing the denim to shrink to their individual size. The longer they stay in the bath the more the denim will shrink. Of course many of those who wear raw denim will actually put off washing their jeans for the first time in order to get a custom fit and better fading. The first time the jeans are washed, the indigo is uniformly washed off, meaning that contrasted fading is far harder to achieve afterwards.

General tips:
  • The longer you wear raw denim before washing, the higher contrast in fading once you wash. Nudie recommend wearers to go 6 months before they first wash and Evisu recommend 5 washes in 4 years, however this is down to personal preference (and hygiene!).
  • Try to wash all denim as little as possible as this decreases overall fading and the lifespan of the jeans.
  • Wash jeans inside out to keep as much colour as possible and protect the stitching, which is actually closed off on the outside.
  • Denim is best hand washed in room temperature water. Hot water can cause major shrinkage and colour seeping. Cold water can also the shock the fabric, meaning it will actually shrink more than in hot water in many cases.
  • Try to avoid chemicals, especially biological cleaners as they damage the denim. Natural soaps such as Dr. Bronners or even plain water washes are preferred.
  • Do not put your jeans in the dryer, let them hang dry as it prevents damage to the material. Hang drying is also actually a way freshening up your jeans if you do not wish to wash them too often, and is often the only recommended way of treating true vintage denim.
  • Remeber that all jeans, regardless of whether they are raw, will shrink when you first wash them. However remember that raw denim will often shrink as much as 5% if required depending on water temperature.
  • Indigo dye is the most common dye used in jeans and does bleed at first, so be careful of sofas and white trainers/shoes when wearing them at first.
  • When storing your jeans, it is best not to fold them. One method is to hang them from a hook by a belt loop, however this can do damage to the stitching. The recommended method is to get a wooden clothes hanger with no cross bar and put each end through the belt loop at either end of the jeans and hang them so they fall naturally down.
  • Remove your belt from the jeans when you are not wearing them. Leaving the belt actually damages the leather and causes weakening through creasing.
The main thing to remember is that your smart jeans are the pair you can wear dressed up and dressed down. When shopping keep in mind how they will look when dressed smart. This is the harder look to achieve and by virtue of the fact that they are denim jeans means they will automatically look good when worn casually.

Most importantly find jeans that you like and fit your body and personality!

I would also like to thank you all for your lovely comments and will try to comment you all back as soon as possible! -Dapper Kid

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