In this edition of the Style Essential series I want to discuss the denim jean.
The denim jean has become an indispensable garment in most men’s wardrobes. In fact, not a single day can go by without me seeing at least a dozen (or more) men walking around in a pair of jeans. As such, I wanted to take the time in this article to discuss the qualities that make up a great pair of denim jeans.
But first, a little history.
The history of the denim jean can be traced back to the late 19th century when Levi Strauss, a German immigrant, invented the garment as a type of durable and sturdy work-pant for factory workers. As evidence of the garment’s early relationship with work wear, Strauss and his business partner Jacob Davis patented the idea of reinforcing the points of stress on their jeans (such as the pocket corners) with copper rivets. This gave their denim jeans the extra durability needed for the tough and rugged work environments of America’s manufacturing boom. In fact, these signature copper rivets can still be found on a pair of modern Levi ‘s jeans today.
Although the early denim jean quickly became popular among men working in heavy industry, it wasn’t until the 1950’s when the denim jean really took off when James Dean popularized them in the movie “Rebel Without a Cause.” Since then jeans have been regarded as a symbol of youth, rebellion, and all things “cool.” Now denim jeans can be found everywhere.
What to look for
Today denim jeans can come in an almost dizzying array of cuts, washes, and colours. It’s no wonder so many guys are confused about which pair of jeans they should buy. Should they go with a boot cut or regular cut? Distressed or not distressed? What about the crazy designs on the back pockets? Is that fashionable these days? What about price? How much should they spend?
Let us help you out.
We believe when you are choosing a pair of denim jeans you should look for the following qualities:
- A darker wash
- Minimal to no distressing
- A medium rise
- A straight/slim fit
The reason why these qualities are important is because they increase the versatility of the jean and how it can be worn. Allow me to expand on each quality below:
Dark Wash – a dark wash is a good choice because it can transition much better from day wear to evening/night wear. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wearing a lighter wash jean (even white jeans can look great), but they just don’t transition as well when the sun goes down and therefore are not quite as versatile as darker washes.
Minimal to no distressing – the distressing craze hit its peak in the late 90’s to early 2000’s. It was once fashionable to wear heavily distressed jeans but they now look out of place more often than not. Additionally, the more distressed your jeans are the harder it will be for you to dress them up with a nice blazer. Although there’s nothing wrong with some natural distressing, you want select a pair of denim that is free from any faux or factory distressing. This will allow you to pair the denim much easier with a range of different outfits.
Medium rise – low rise jeans have been all the rage lately, but much like with any fashionable trend the tide has slowly turned against them. For those of you who don’t know what a “rise” is, it is the distance between the bottom of the jean’s fly and the top of its waist band. A shorter distance between the two equates to a lower “rise.” The problem with lower rise jeans is that they make tucking in dress shirts more difficult. There is less room for the dress shirt and since the jeans have a tendency to sit below your hips there is a greater likelihood that your shirt will come un-tucked. That’s why we recommend you choose a pair of jeans with a medium rise. This will give you the best of both worlds. You will have a pair of comfortable fitting jeans that will look good with both tucked and un-tucked shirts. Once again, it’s all about versatility.
Straight/slim fit – As the common saying goes, “fit is king” and this is no different for a pair of jeans. Choose a pair that a neither too slim nor too baggy in order to maximize their versatility in your wardrobe. Jeans that are either too slim (i.e. skinny jeans) or too baggy (i.e carpenter jeans) will once again limit your ability to pair them with various outfits. Can you picture a blazer paired with carpenter jeans? I rest my case.
What about price?
We don’t believe that you need to spend a ton of money to look good and in staying consistent with that belief we don’t think you should spend an arm and a leg for a pair of quality denim. From a personal standpoint, I have had a lot of success with Levi’s jeans (no, I’m not getting paid to say this). They are readily available in most major department stores (at least in North America) and they have plenty of different fit options that meet our basic quality denim criteria. Lastly, they are at a price point that is more than reasonable for the quality. For example, I’ve had my pair of Levi’s 501s for about two years now and they are still going strong. I believe I picked them up on sale for about $40.
How to Wear
A quality pair of denim jeans can be one of the most versatile pieces in your wardrobe. They can easily be dressed up or down depending on the occasion. For example, a pair of denim jeans with a polo and some sneakers can be a great casual outfit for when you are out running errands during the day, while in the evening those same jeans can be paired with a nice button up shirt, a blazer, and some leather lace-ups for a more “dressy” look. These are just two of many possible outfits that can be created with a pair of jeans and I’m confident it won’t take very you long to discover many, many more. Suffice it to say that you will soon find out how truly indispensable a quality pair of denim jeans are in your wardrobe.
The denim jean has been around for over 100 years. Although they were initially designed for men working in blue collar environments, they have transitioned into an indispensable garment that can be worn in all but the most formal of occasions. That’s why we believe it is important that men select of pair of denim jeans that both maximize their versatility but also keep them looking stylish. In order to accomplish this goal we believe men should look for jeans in a darker wash with a medium rise that are free from any factory distressing. Additionally, in terms of cut, most men would do well with straight/slim varieties. In our opinion a pair of denim jeans that meets all four of these criteria is sure to be a winner so take the time to do your research. You’ll be glad you did.
Here’s to looking sharp!