Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Jeans

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Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Jeans

Words by Mr Ayrton Reeves

6 December 2020

Jeans are so ingrained in the sartorial fabric of our lives that it’s hard to imagine a time when they didn’t exist. The origin of this influential wardrobe staple is the stuff of folklore. The most oft-told story takes us back to Nîmes in the south of France in the 1670s, when a dyer by the name of Mr David André developed a durable indigo-blue cloth, the precursor to cotton denim, called serge de Nîmes. This eventually became corrupted to “denim” by the English-speaking world.

Later relocating to the port of Genoa in Italy, Mr André began supplying local sailors with tough work trousers made from the cloth, which could withstand the rigours of life at sea. Eventually, many of these salty seadogs, nicknamed Genes, made for the Americas in the 1850s, with the hope of making a quick buck in the Gold Rush. Legend has it that the first pair of cotton-denim jeans was cut from the pattern of a pair of Genoese sailor’s trousers by a certain Mr Levi Strauss.

Today, of course, jeans are an everyday staple. If you’re confused by the perplexing terminology used by denimheads, then our comprehensive guide to men’s jeans ought to come in useful the next time you’re in the market for a pair, whether it’s some classic black skinnies or some statement bell-bottom selvedge jeans.

01. The styles (and how to wear them)

Regular

Quite simply, it’s a comfortable fit that’s not clingy so you can move about without hindrance. Make sure you’ve got the legs to fill them, though, or you’re in danger of stumbling into dad-jeans territory, which, ironically, in some fashion circles is actually a thing. Team this fit with classic workwear that has a neat fit, such as chore jackets and plaid shirts, and a sturdy pair of lace-up boots.

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Straight

The straight-leg jean is a timeless choice, especially for the stockier gentleman who wants to look good in denim without facing the indignity of squeezing into leaner cuts. This fit is also fairly adaptable for most intents and purposes. Just make sure it fits well around your top half without too much excess denim at the rear.

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Slim

The most considered style that sits comfortably between the extremes of regular and skinny cuts and suits most body shapes. Some slim fits taper towards the bottom or can be cropped. You’ll find that a good quality pair of slim-fit indigo jeans will partner well with anything, whether that’s a tailored jacket, a chunky knit sweater or just a crisp white T-shirt, sneakers or leather loafers. “Jeans are now, without a doubt, the anchor of the modern man’s everyday wardrobe,” says Mr Erik Torstensson, co-founder of Los Angeles-based brand Frame. “From the office to a nice dinner, or a day spent at home, we ask a lot from our jeans, so it is important to purchase jeans with versatility.”

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Skinny

Thanks to Mr Hedi Slimane during his tenure at SAINT LAURENT and now CELINE HOMME, skinny jeans have been riding high for the past decade and a half. Best worn if you haven’t yet hit 21 (or at least still have the figure of someone that age). Be prepared to find another place to stow your wallet and smartphone. Avoid going too skin-tight on top. An oversized shirt jacket or chunky sweater will help balance those proportions.

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Wide-leg

Not to be confused with baggy jeans, which can look rather untidy, wide-leg jeans are exactly that – a voluminous straight-cut leg without the shape of flares. In terms of comfort, you’d be hard-pressed to do better. A good rule of thumb is to balance out the volume with slimmer pieces, say a merino-wool rollneck or a slim-fitting crew-neck T-shirt and short trucker jacket perhaps.

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02.The fabric

We’re stating the obvious, but jeans just wouldn’t be jeans without denim. It’s made using a diagonal-weave technique, which makes it extremely hardy. “Denim is about character,” says Mr Martin Gustavsson, head designer of Swedish label Nudie Jeans. “It should have a visual and physical depth. To me, what makes great denim is balance – the balance between yarn thickness, eventual irregularities and weave density. It’s like the balance of a grounded personality, a person who has enough character to make their voice heard without dominating the entire room.”

Dry denim

Also known as raw or unwashed denim. It has a deep indigo colour because it does not undergo any washing after dyeing. Jeans made from this denim are fairly stiff and the wearer has to break them in. Their naturally dark hue makes these jeans a great all-rounder that will work with almost everything from tailoring to T-shirts and sweatshirts

Twill

Twill is a material with a diagonal weave and, yes, denim is a type of twill. Most denim has a right-hand twill, which means the diagonal lines rise from left to right. Left-hand twill runs in the opposite direction and has a softer feel, which makes it prized by some aficionados.

Ring-spun denim

This was used in jeans up until the 1970s, but has enjoyed a revival among denimheads in recent years. The process involves twisting the cotton fibres by spinning them using a ring, which creates a stronger, softer fabric than open-end denim, which is more commonly used in commercial production. It has the more characterful uneven appearance associated with vintage denim.

Open-end denim

First introduced in the 1970s, the process involves mock twisting the cotton fibres by blowing them together. It results in a bulkier, slightly coarser, darker fabric because it absorbs more dye.

Selvedge

This refers to the edge of the denim fabric, which is usually stitched with a coloured thread that prevents the denim from unravelling and provides a neat, clean finish. It was originally woven on narrow 29in looms before manufacturers switched to more efficient 58in and 62in looms. With the selvedge revival, these old looms have been dusted off and put back into service.

Japanese denim

The Japanese are regarded as the guardians of selvedge denim and with good reason. “It’s just incredibly well engineered,” says Mr Adam Cameron of The Workers Club, a brand renowned for its Japanese denim. “It has more of an initial outlay, but it will pay dividends because your jeans will go the distance.” Woven on traditional Toyoda looms from quality ring-spun yarn and specialist cotton blends, it undergoes several baths in natural indigo – a 1,000-year-old practice known as aizome. The end result is ultra-durable denim with a darker, richer shade that fades with greater character over time.

Stretch denim

This denim has a small percentage of elastane added to offer greater flexibility and comfort. It was first introduced in the 1960s.

Weight

Denim was and still is graded by its weight per yard of fabric with a 29in width. The first denim was 9oz and has gradually increased in weight over time. Modern denim tends to be 14oz, which is thicker and more durable. “We would advise going middle of the road when it comes to weight,” says Mr Cameron. “A really lightweight denim will not have a good lifespan and an overly heavyweight one will be unbearable to wear year-round.”

03. The details

Tobacco stitching

The brown stitching that is one of the distinguishing features of denim.

Double stitching

This dual stitch is achieved by using two parallel needles simultaneously and adds strength to the jeans.

Chain stitching

The traditional stitch used to make jeans, which can only be achieved with a vintage Union Special sewing machine. In chain stitch, a single thread is looped over itself, which means it looks like a continuous, rather than a dotted, line. Chain stitching also causes roping (see below).

Rivets

These little metal fastenings reinforce jeans at stress points. Mr Jacob Davis, a Nevada tailor, first introduced them after miners complained that the weight of gold nuggets caused their pockets to rip.

Roping

This term is commonly used to describe the crinkled effect you get on the hem of a pair of jeans when they have been chain stitched with a Union Special sewing machine. It can also refer to a different hem detail, when a thin piece of rope is sewn inside a pocket edge, both reinforcing it and resulting in a more textured fade.

Whiskers

These are creases impressed on the front of jeans that resemble whiskers. They’re also known as buffies, which is derived from baffi, the Italian word for moustache.

Five pockets

This is a quintessential feature of the classic jean – two pockets in front, two at the back and a coin pocket inside the right front pocket. Originally, the fifth pocket was on the thigh and used as a tool holder.

Zip and buttons

Committed denim snobs often get into heated debates about which is better. Buttons predate the zip and are more “authentic”, but zips are far more practical. What is important is the quality of the hardware. “Make sure the zipper is a sturdy metal locking zipper, branded by a reputable company or trim maker, such as YKK,” says Ms Janine Chilton-Faust, global vice-president of men’s design at Levi’s.

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