Do you have a go-to brand of jeans? Or are you still trying to hunt down that crucial wardrobe staple? If you’re searching for denim fulfillment, this is an all-in-one guide for guys wanting to find the best jeans.
Blue jeans are the most successful style of pants in the history of the world. Whether for work, play, or making an ironic fashion statement about social status, if you don’t have a brand of jeans you can rely on, your full expression of masculine dress will be hindered. Jeans have become the most overtly manly pants on the planet. Though cowgirls might have something to say about that.
Here you’ll find some things you should know about the best jeans available, along with the characteristics of denim and how to treat it. This comprehensive review and guide (yes, even if I do say so myself) will tell you how and where to shop for the best jeans for men. And how to evaluate and care for denim.
What You’ll Find in this Post, Jeans-wise
This is a 12,000-word post on jeans, so if you wear them, you’ll probably find some useful info here. Not only are there specific brand recommendations and in-depth descriptions, there are basic denim guidelines to help you recognize whether any pair of jeans is worth your hard-earned cash.
Obviously, rather than trying to read this whole post at once, you can bookmark it and use it as a reference for all things jeans-related.
Naturally, you want to get the best jeans for your dollar. The best men’s jeans have certain traits in common: they hold up over the long haul, they fit well, they make you look the way jeans are supposed to make you look.
Since jeans are so popular, the market is filled to bursting with hundreds of brands and styles. About 450 million pairs of jeans are sold in the United States alone each year. Maybe you’ve tried a few different styles and have yet to find one that truly satisfies or impresses you. Maybe you haven’t discovered the right fit or found a brand that will hold up to the wear and tear of your job or hobby. Maybe you recently realized you’ve outgrown the brand of jeans you wore when you were younger. Or perhaps you’re raking in more coin now and want to upgrade your wardrobe.
Whatever your reason for wanting the best jeans, following is a review of 5 brands of men’s jeans worth your consideration. They are brands you can count on to be made of high-quality denim, with solid construction and superior design. They will make you look good. And they will outperform other jeans on the market that sell for similar or even higher prices. Plus, they are made by companies that care about their customers.
When it comes to jeans shopping, you can spend years of trial and error trying different brands, cuts, and finishes. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, except the amount of time it can waste and the money you’ll lose on jeans that don’t make the grade. With enough persistence, though, you might find something that works for you.
Or you could start with the 5 trustworthy brands of jeans reviewed here.
If you want to go the experimental route, begin at your local department store (though their selection will necessarily be limited) or hit a reliable online store that carries many brands of men’s jeans, such as Zappos. As this is written, Zappos carries 68 brands of men’s jeans. Some of those brands include dozens of individual styles, from skinny to relaxed, from raw denim to pre-distressed grunge-britches. Another high-quality clothing site, Ssense, carries some of the same brands that Zappos offers, plus an additional 27 more. Combined, that’s almost 100 different brands of jeans to winnow through. And each one of those brands is at least fairly reputable.
If you’ve been bitten by the denim bug, maybe you won’t mind long-term exploration to find your ideal style and fit, along with keeping up with the ever-increasing selection of limited-run jeans from boutique design houses. Some guys can turn their search for the right pair of blue jeans into a religious quest. (True Religion jeans, anyone?)
On the other hand, maybe you’d prefer to streamline your jeans hunt. If so, the following review will make your quest more efficient. And cheaper.
To increase your knowledge of jeans and denim in general, I’ve also included an extensive jeans and denim glossary in the second half of this post.
To start, let’s assume you want to find a good pair of jeans right now. You want to know what the best men’s jeans are without having to first learn everything about selvedge, rivets, washes, rises, types of cotton fibers, and left-hand versus right-hand twill.
You should know that the 5 brands of men’s jeans I recommend here do not require you to work for a Wall Street investment firm to afford. Most guys just want a reasonably-priced pair of jeans they can wear frequently for a year or two, that will look good and fit well. And you don’t want to have to make an early withdrawal from your retirement account to get them. So in my review I’ve taken price into consideration. The five brands listed here cover the range from very affordable jeans to jeans that are more expensive but worth every penny when it comes to quality, durability, and performance.
Pick your preferred level of jeans investment. You might want to get a couple pairs of basic jeans for everyday wear, plus a pair or two of more expensive jeans for special occasions — or to impress a particular girl you have in mind (or the girl you want to have in mind in the future). Or to wear if you want to fight forest fires or wrestle bears. Once you know the right brand(s) of jeans for you, you can cover your needs by keeping about five pairs on hand at a time (or in your freezer — but we’ll get to that later).
This denim review starts at the affordable end with two brands of jeans that outperform other brands in the price range of $60 or less: Wrangler and Carhartt. In this price range you’ll want jeans that can be used primarily as durable work pants, that you can wear casually every day, and will be suitable for demanding activities such as horseback riding, hunting, dirt-bike riding, and so on.
And won’t make you look dorky when you’re kicking around town at night.
Surprised to see Wrangler here? You shouldn’t be. Wrangler is one of the best-known brands of jeans in the world for a reason: they perform well, especially for those with active lifestyles. If you’re already wearing them, you know why they deserve to be included on this list of the best jeans for men.
Some history will help… The first pair of Wrangler western jeans was introduced to the American public in 1947. Cowboys and rodeo competitors up to that time had often worn Levis jeans, but found Levis inadequate for the unique demands of steer wrestling, roping, bull riding, etc. So the Blue Bell Company, known for manufacturing tough workwear and overalls, teamed up with western clothing tailor Bernard Lichtenstein (better known as “Rodeo Ben”) to create a pair of denim jeans that would satisfy the needs of real cowboys. That first pair of Wrangler jeans was designated “Cowboy Cut 13MWZ.” You can still get them from Wrangler today.
Rodeo Ben consulted with working cowboys and rodeo champions to get the details right on that initial pair of jeans, going through 13 different prototypes. He wanted the jeans to be tough and durable. He wanted them to allow freedom of movement and to incorporate a number of design elements that cowboys preferred. The end result was a versatile and unique pair of jeans.
Broken twill denim provided the toughness. There were five pockets, including back pockets that were higher and deeper so as to hold stuff while riding on horseback. There were 7 belt loops, with more space between the two front loops to allow for wearing wide western belt buckles. The watch pocket was put in a different place, and flat rivets were used (which would not scratch a saddle when you were sitting on it). The jeans were sewn with double seams, and a tapered cut that would fit snugly over boots (“boot cut” has little to do with cowboy boots). The large zipper could be grabbed by a cowboy wearing gloves (MWZ stands for “Men’s Western Zipper”). A number of these innovations were used for the first time ever in a pair of men’s blue jeans.
Rodeo Ben’s denim jeans were a hit with cowboys. Jim Shoulders, World Champion Cowboy at that time, agreed to endorse Wrangler jeans. Known as the “Babe Ruth of Rodeo,” he went on to win 16 World Championships, including 7 Bull Riding World Titles, and his relationship as an official endorser of Wrangler lasted until his death in 2007 at the age of 79 — a 58-year partnership with the brand, the longest sports licensing endorsement in the history of professional sports. Wrangler also became the official brand of the Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association.
As a result of this success, Wrangler was in large part responsible for launching the craze for western wear across the world.
Today, Wrangler jeans continue to be worn by professional cowboys, including 8-time World Champion All-Around Cowboy Trevor Brazile, bareback rider Kaycee Feild, and Trevor Knowles, champion steer-wrestler.
Wrangler now offers over 100 styles of jeans, including 20X, which is an edgier, fashion-oriented style, Riggs Workwear (flame-resistant jeans), PBR (for professional bull riders and cowboys), and cuts endorsed by George Strait and Jason Aldean (a retro style).
I like a number of Wrangler styles but the jeans that first converted me to Wrangler were the Wrangler Five Star Premium Denim. After deciding I was no longer satisfied with Levi’s or Gap jeans on the affordable end of the price spectrum, I tried this inexpensive (under $20) Wrangler pair of jeans. I found them durable and well-made, and you can’t beat the price.
Here I should say a word about Levis. Levi’s is an iconic brand. They brought out the first pair of riveted blue jeans in 1873. I grew up wearing Levi’s jeans and wore them as an adult for a number of years. But in the last 15 years or so, the quality of Levi’s has gone downhill. The fits are no longer consistent — you can try on 5 pairs of the same size of 501’s and get 5 different fits. Sometimes the seams are twisted. And the pockets started wearing out quickly, developing holes. I like to carry things in the pockets of my jeans. Since I’m a writer, I carry a pen, and often have a folding knife. And keys, of course, like most people. The pockets would wear out before the jeans wore out, which was inconvenient and annoying.
So I tried Wrangler jeans and had none of those problems. Wrangler’s less expensive jeans lasted longer than the more expensive Levi’s. They fit better, were cut more consistently, had a cooler look after washing and fading, and the pockets never once wore out. I now recommend Wrangler. If you’ve noticed the decline in quality of Levi’s jeans, save some green and give Wranglers a try.
According to Booted Harleydude, who writes about boots, leather clothing, and riding motorcycles, among other things, this is why Wranglers are better than Levi’s:
“Cowboys, especially those who ride horses, and bikers (those who ride iron horses), prefer Wranglers because the heavier, ‘rolled’ seam on Wranglers is on the outside of the legs (to reduce rubbing in the saddle) while Levis have the heavier, bulkier seam on the inside of the legs. The seam can rub against the leg while riding a horse or motorcycle. Levis were popular years ago. But since their production was moved outside the U.S. in 1996, the quality is not in the product like it once was. And designer jeans? FuggetAboutIt. Unless you’re on a fashion runway, save your money and get Wranglers. Masculine men — gay or straight — wear regular-old straight-legged blue jeans. (Don’t even ask about how silly baggy and low-rise jeans look on adult men.)”
Which brings up the question of fit. My build is slim and athletic (think mile runner rather than linebacker) and all Levi’s styles were a bit dumpy-looking on me. They tended to pucker and sag in the wrong places. When I tried Wranglers, I found styles that suited my body type. That’s one of the important things to figure out when you’re shopping for a brand of jeans that works for you.
How will Wranglers make you look? Well, it’s no accident that there’s a well-known saying among women who like to check out men in jeans: “Wrangler butts drive me nuts.” You already know your jeans should fit your butt (women notice your ass as much as you notice theirs, you know). Wrangler fits the bill, appearance-wise. For example, check out this post, from Confessions of a Corn Fed Girl.
At the lower price point, there’s a lot of competition among well-known brands when it comes to the quality of denim and manufacturing consistency. Wrangler successfully balances quality and cost. You just need to find the style(s) of Wrangler jeans that suit your body type. Fortunately, the Wrangler website and other good Wrangler retailers online have a lot of info about fit.
You can get Wrangler jeans direct from Wrangler here. They have a large selection of styles, and reliable customer service, along with attractive prices. Take a look at their customer reviews. If you sign up for their email, you’ll get free shipping — and you’ll always get free shipping on orders over $100. By the way, Wrangler also carries a good selection of men’s shirts and jackets, too — even jeans for hunting and other outdoor activities (Wrangler ProGear). Remember what I said about “active lifestyle?” They’ve got it covered.
So, for those who might ask: who else wears Wrangler jeans besides world champion cowboys and George Strait? Well, Harrison Ford wears Wrangler 13MWZ jeans in the movie Extraordinary Measures, where he plays a kickass medical researcher. And in his personal life, he also wore Wranglers at his wedding to Calista Flockhart.
Speaking of “kickass,” Chuck Norris wears Wrangler jeans. He doesn’t endorse them. Doesn’t need to. Wears them simply because, as he says, “They fit the best for when I need to kick butt.”
Many guys aren’t aware that Carhartt makes jeans, though they may be familiar with Carhartt’s other work clothes, which have become a staple at job sites. Carhartt is one of those legendary brands that doesn’t do much advertising (as compared to, say, Levi’s). They don’t need to. People looking for high-quality, rugged garments eventually find Carhartt. Their best advertising is word of mouth, usually among professional tradesmen and construction workers. That goes for their blue jeans, too.
You can find outstanding reviews for Carhartt jeans wherever they’re sold online. One reviewer on the Cabela’s site (a 44-year-old guy) said he used to work for Levi’s and he found that Carhartt jeans beat Levi’s in all ways — durability, fit, and price. He said they are the best jeans he’s ever owned. He was reviewing a pair of Carhartt Traditional-Fit Denim Jeans. This was an unpaid review.
Another reviewer of the Traditional-Fit Carhartt jeans said: “I work in West Texas with mesquite spurs and countless bugs trying to get to me. Between the hard-as-nails denim and the tapered leg fitting tightly around my boot, nothing gets through! On top of that, I can count on these lasting a very long time even when washing a couple times a week.”
Bottom line, Carhartt jeans meet the needs of guys who need to get a job done.
They are classic, long-lasting work jeans. You won’t find rips and tears added to brand-new Carhartt jeans. If they rip, it’s because you ripped them doing something hard. They are made to hold up under demanding conditions. They look okay, too, which doesn’t hurt. Carhartt jeans aren’t “fashionable” in the same way that a Cummins diesel engine isn’t fashionable.
Carhartt was founded in 1889 by Hamilton Carhartt in Detroit, Michigan. After talking to a railroad engineer, Carhartt was inspired to create the first work garment specifically made for railroad workers — overalls made of duck and denim fabrics. With 5 employees, Carhartt turned out overalls on 4 sewing machines and took them from town to town, visiting the workers at each railroad division. The quality of his workwear was obvious to those who tried it — Carhartt’s goal was to set the standard of excellence for work clothes. To a great extent, he succeeded.
Carhartt now is an international brand. They’ve ventured into many areas of manly activity. They sponsor NASCAR drivers and rodeo champions and Carhartt apparel has appeared in many movie and TV productions, including The Town (2010), Into the Wild (2007), Deadliest Catch, Ice Road Truckers, America’s Toughest Jobs, and NCIS. Carhartt is known for making dependable products. Their clothing is embraced by anyone who needs their garments to perform. And many of Carhartt’s jeans styles are still made in the USA.
Put another way, high quality is always in fashion. Maybe that’s why Carhartt clothing was embraced by the hip-hop community (not to mention wealthy drug dealers) in the 1990s.
Carhartt makes 6 styles of jeans, including their Traditional Fit jeans made of 15-ounce, 100% cotton denim, their more fashionable 1889 line, and insulated jeans. You can explore their site and their fit descriptions to pick the style that will meet your needs — whether you’re an oilfield roughneck, a farmer, or an architect working on an inner-city renovation project. Or a student who wants a pair of jeans that will last for 4 years of college, including Friday night post-finals celebrations.
Get free shipping on the Carhartt site for orders over $99 using code FREESHIPA.
In particular, as we approach winter, I’d like to recommend Carhartt’s relaxed-fit, straight-leg flannel- or fleece-lined jeans. If you need a rugged pair of jeans to help keep you warm in cold weather, Carhartt’s insulated jeans will do the trick, whether you’re cutting timber in northern Ontario or watching the Packers play the Patriots at Lambeau Field in December. The price of Carhartt jeans ranges from a low of about $35 up to about $60.
Here’s a video about how well Carhartt Series 1889 jeans work for creative types:
So there you have two brands of jeans — Wrangler and Carhartt — that will reliably fit your basic jeans needs and won’t break the bank. They have plenty of fits and styles available. (Note that, unlike many other brands of jeans, Wranglers tend to be very true-to-size in their measurements. That is, if you buy a pair of their size 30 waist jeans, you’d better have a 30-inch waist.)
Each of these brands, for the most part, also meets former UFC world champion Forrest Griffin’s criteria for manly jeans. He lists these in his book, Got Fight? If your jeans cost under $50, you get a score of +10 on his manliness meter because no real man spends over $50 on a pair of jeans. You get extra credit if your favorite pair of jeans cost under $50 and has an oil stain. If you spend $150 on a pair of jeans — well, remember, $150 could also get you a chain saw. That’s minus 10 points. Spend $200 or more? Real men don’t even spend that much on a washing machine. Or a hooker. Minus 15.
On the other hand, real men also don’t give a shit about the arbitrary rules Forrest Griffin makes up.
7 For All Mankind
Let’s move on to the mid-price point where style and fashion take on greater importance when selecting jeans. At a price of $150 – $200 there’s a clear winner for guys: 7 For All Mankind.
First of all, why are some jeans more expensive? What justifies the difference in cost between a pair of jeans for $35 and a pair for $189? Two things, primarily: the quality of the denim and the amount of skilled labor that goes into sewing and finishing the jeans. Obviously, if jeans are cut and sewn by automated machine, it lowers the price. If a pair is sewn mostly by hand and there are multiple steps that involve washes and adding embellishments, such as custom fades, sanding, and “whiskers,” the hand-crafted jeans will cost more (as long as the brand is not simply ripping you off).
From the company’s inception in 2000, 7 For All Mankind became known for the quality and look of its denim, the flattering cuts of its jeans, and the detailed finishes (which involved such procedures as brushing with potassium and hand-sanding). When you buy a pair of denim jeans from 7 For All Mankind, you get a unique pair. This is an attractive quality in jeans and the company has emphasized this aspect of its products.
Right off the bat, 7 For All Mankind captured the attention of celebrities, who began wearing them as soon as they came out (you still see many actresses in Hollywood in Sevens, along with guys such as Ryan Reynolds and Ben Affleck). As a result, the company experienced explosive growth and now, just 10 years after bringing out their first pair of men’s jeans, they are a worldwide fashion icon. Most of 7 For All Mankind’s jeans are made in America from imported denim.
People who appreciate high-quality denim tend to be fans of 7 For All Mankind. Their denim is known for its softness and comfort. It interacts well with indigo dye and tends to be durable (some styles also include Spandex or polyester, which contributes to fit). You can find a ton of reviews and comments about 7 For All Mankind jeans on the Web. For example, on DenimBlog.com, there are 647 posts mentioning 7 For All Mankind. In their online community forum, 2,146 threads cover 7 For All Mankind.
Be aware that, like money, 7 For All Mankind jeans are often counterfeited. There is a thread on AuthenticForum.com devoted to how to tell real Sevens apart from counterfeit/fake ones. eHow also devotes several posts to this topic. (Recommendation: buy them from the trustworthy sources listed in this post. I know you want to save money, but…be sure to get the real deal. Understand that a genuine pair of Sevens, if treated well, will last for years, so take that into account when considering price. This guide to denim includes info on how to optimize the life of your jeans — see below.)
For men, 7 For All Mankind jeans come in a wide variety of styles, including relaxed fit, straight leg, standard, slim, bootcut, and extra long, with creative colors and washes such as West Cairo, Dark Summer (gray), New York Dark, Authentic Nakita, Venice Sky, and Blackout. Some have button flys and some have zippers. Their darker colors of jeans work well in dressier situations, such as casual office wear or to wear with a blazer.
The 7 For All Mankind site has a “Fit Guide” for men. Use it to find the best designs for your body type, as well to explore style suggestions.
Jeans-wise, there is literally something for everybody offered by 7 For All Mankind, from subtle to flashy, from raw denim to coated blends, from relaxed to slim cuts. For men, the company also features a variety of denim jackets, as well as a good selection of buttoned shirts, T-shirts, and sweaters.
You can get these standout men’s jeans direct from 7 For All Mankind by clicking here, from Zappos here, and from Revolve here. All of these online stores are good places to shop for Sevens. Be sure to check their homepages for any current sales or deals that they’re offering (for example, all 3 stores are currently offering free shipping). Prices for men’s Seven jeans average around $170. That’s not a bad amount to pay to not only look good but to increase your social capital. Check the customer reviews across the board.
Regarding fit, the inseam of a number of the men’s styles of 7 For All Mankind jeans is 34 inches, so if you normally wear jeans shorter than that, either try to shrink them by washing in hot water and drying in a dryer (which is not an optimum solution) , or take them to a tailor and have them hemmed (wash them once prior to hemming). Or roll the cuffs, if you prefer that look.
Now we’ll consider jeans at the higher end of pricing — those that cost $300 or more. If you’re going to pay that much for a pair of jeans, you may as well get the best in the world. In that respect, there are two brands that stand out: Momotaro and Samurai.
It begins with the denim. Japanese denim is the best in the world, bar none. Why? There are a number of factors, but the two most important are the quality of the cotton and the way the denim is produced. The cotton generally is grown in Zimbabwe, considered by many to be the best cotton-production area in the world. The cotton is spun into threads (and those threads are then often twisted into ropes) which are dyed in real vegetable indigo (sometimes by hand) — a process that can take weeks, as the threads are dipped up to 24 times in vats of dye and then allowed to dry and oxidize. The denim twill cloth is then woven on a shuttle loom, sometimes by hand, into selvage (aka selvedge) denim, which is denim cloth that has a finished edge that will not fray.
The Japanese have been making jeans for decades in Okayama prefecture, on the southern end of the island of Honshu. According to Masahiro Suwaki, founder of Momotaro Jeans, textile workers in Okayama were first exposed to denim when the US Army dropped relief supplies wrapped in denim from helicopters at the end of World War II. The Japanese textile workers had never seen denim and wondered how this impressively-durable material was made. Japan did not have the capability to produce or sew such material at that time, so denim was imported, along with the proper sewing machines, and they began to experiment. Their goal became to make better denim than America.
A story, which may be apocryphal, goes that when American manufacturers of denim began getting rid of their old looms and other machinery as they outsourced production overseas, Japanese denim artisans brought these machines to Okayama, where they continued to make denim the “old-fashioned” way, refining their techniques and applying fanatic attention to detail (as with many Japanese crafts — think of sword-making or flower-arranging). There is no doubt that the attention-to-detail aspect is true. Whether Japanese denim-makers actually bought old American looms or used their own domestically-produced Toyoda looms (which are excellent machines) the fact remains that there are jeans-makers in Japan who have been perfecting their denim craft for over 40 years.
High-quality Japanese denim is tough, deeply dyed, heavy, comfortable, tends to be “slubby,” and has a lot of personality. The finished jeans are sewn by hand, oftentimes on vintage Union Special sewing machines. The rivets and buttons are made of iron and copper. The cuts of these jeans are often “vintage” as well, with longer rises and long inseams. The jeans are “classic” in every sense of the word.
You can get both washed and raw denim jeans from Momotaro and Samurai. Momotaro jeans are a little easier to obtain for Americans. If you get raw denim jeans from Momotaro (they make both pre-shrunk and shrink-to-fit/raw jeans), remember to take shrinkage into account when ordering (see the Samurai Jeans section below, and the glossary, for extensive info on raw denim jeans).
Below is a video of Momotaro Jeans being made on a hand-loom in a shop in Okayama. This shows the attention to detail and the passion for denim that goes into these jeans (this is selvedge denim, by the way). Note that the $2,000 jeans depicted in this video are at the very high end of their product pricing. You can get Momotaro jeans for much less than that:
Momotaro jeans are named after a well-known character in Japanese folklore (a boy who comes to earth from heaven in a giant peach and eventually subdues an island full of demons) and are made by Japan Blue Group, located in the city of Kajima, regarded as the heart of Japanese denim production in Okayama.
When shopping for Momotaro jeans, you’ll notice two things right away: they have only a handful of different styles and the denim tends to be heavier than that found in most American jeans — 14.7 to 15.7 ounces. (By comparison, Levi’s 501 jeans use 12-ounce denim). (FYI, Denim is weighed by the yard.)
So, you’re getting a substantial, extremely well-made pair of pants from Momotaro for your money. There is nothing particularly fancy in a fashion sense about the cut of Momotaro jeans (although their detailed embellishments do add charm) and someone who doesn’t know jeans brands probably won’t be aware that you’re wearing some of the best jeans in the world.
But who cares? You’ll know. And if you take care of them, you can enjoy your Momotaro jeans — and watch as they fade uniquely according to your activities and handling — for a decade or more . When you’re finally done wearing them, you can hang them on the wall as textile art.
Revolve Clothing often carries Momotaro jeans — click here to shop for them (on the men’s jeans page, look for “Momotaro Jeans” under “Designers” in the left sidebar to check their current inventory). You can also sometimes get them from Need Supply. (BTW, Need Supply carries an interesting assortment of jeans from all over the world.)
If you want to get a little more adventurous in your shopping, you can also get Momotaro directly from Japan by way of Rakuten, which is Japan’s largest online shopping mall — the equivalent of Amazon in Japan (only better than Amazon, IMHO).
Rakuten is one of the ten largest Internet retailers in the world, consisting of tens of thousands of individual Japanese shops. Millions of Japanese shop there. Click here to go the main Rakuten site. When there, search for “Momotaro Jeans.” A number of outlets will come up. “Vari” is a good one, as is “Aikidou.” All the stores are reputable, however.
Click through the individual store links and examine their wares. You’ll see pricing in both Yen and US dollars. You can read the translated product page and figure out which style and size of Momotaro jeans you want to try. In general, the shop will send you an email to let you know the cost of international shipping. (Although sometimes Rakuten and some of their stores offer free shipping on international orders, which is a good deal.) You’ll have access to a larger selection of Momotaro styles by going through Rakuten, and the prices are comparable to the US stores above. Their customer service is good.
You can also go to the Rakuten page optimized for United States shoppers by clicking here.
Samurai makes jeans out of raw denim, which is denim that has not been washed after dyeing. Raw denim is not “pre-washed,” it is not pre-faded, it is not “pre-shrunk.” It may, however, be Sanforized, although Samurai jeans are not Sanforized.
If you’ve been curious about the wave of popularity of raw denim jeans, keep reading. Raw denim may be what you’ve been looking for.
Raw denim has two advantages over washed denim. First, it tends to be much tougher than pre-washed denim. Guys can get as much as 1,000 wearings out of their raw (aka “dry”) denim jeans. Second, raw denim fades uniquely as you wear it over time, so your raw denim jeans will have the fade marks, “whiskers”, “honeycombs,” and so on that your body and activities produce. So, one advantage has to do with durability and the other has to with style. People who enjoy owning raw denim can get rather obsessively interested in the whole pursuit. (How to wear and treat your raw denim jeans is described in detail below. And there is also more background info in the denim gloassary.)
As a jeans shopper, you need to know that since raw denim has not been washed, jeans made of raw denim will shrink when laundered. When buying them, size up. Shrinkage of raw denim jeans can be anywhere from 4 – 7% in the waist and length. Good online sites where you can shop for raw denim will have a product description that describes the shrinkage estimates for a given brand.
Since they were introduced in 1997, Samurai Jeans have gotten a reputation for being some of the toughest jeans on the market. Certain styles are made with the heaviest denim available in a pair of jeans — up to 24 ounces, which, after washing, becomes 27 ounces. These jeans will literally stand up on their own (at least until thoroughly broken in). It takes a man to break in a pair of Samurai jeans. (Wear the 24-oz. denim in winter, or for lion-taming or hunting vampires.)
Samurai Jeans are also known for the details of their construction, which can include copper rivets stamped with different Japanese characters, creative use of cotton blends and threads (including 100% Texas short-fiber cotton in some styles, which is extra-tough), gold-plated steel fly buttons, hand-dyeing using 100% natural indigo, and silver stitching accents using thread pre-sprayed with real silver (symbolizing the samurai sword).
You can’t get Samurai jeans at Macy’s.
As a matter of fact, there is only one store I know of where you can obtain them in the United States. If you happen to be in or near Manhattan, you can drop by Blue in Green in Soho (8 Green Street, New York), and find Samurai Jeans. Blue in Green sells the jeans online, but it’s a very hit-or-miss situation — mostly miss, since most sizes sell out quickly at their brick-and-mortar store.
If you’re in the United States — or, really, anywhere else in the world — your best bet is to get Samurai Jeans directly from Japan through Rakuten. You’ll find a complete range of styles and sizes from a variety of Rakuten’s online shops. Just go to the general Rakuten site and search for “Samurai Jeans.”
Alternatively, you can go to the US-oriented Rakuten page by clicking here. Some of the better stores that will come up when you search for the Samurai brand are Aikidou, Earthmarket, and FRISBEE, though you’ll have a number of acceptable alternatives to choose from. Prices for non-limited-edition Samurai Jeans will run between $300 – $400, and you’ll pay shipping (though, again, sometimes Rakuten and its stores offer free international shipping deals). You’ll end up paying about what you’d pay in the states. You’ll sometimes pay in yen when shopping at Rakuten. In that case, your bank will automatically make the currency conversion when you use your credit card. Note the sizing information from the particular store so you can order your correct size when taking shrinkage into account. If you have questions, email them.
Click here to shop the entire Japanese catalog of denim brands at Rakuten (including Samurai). You can start exploring from this page — and trying their products — for the rest of your life… If you want the best jeans, start with Momotaro and Samurai and then delve into the rest of Japanese denim.
Remember that raw denim jeans will shrink — about 4-7% in the waist and about 8-10% in the inseam, depending on how you wash and dry them (more about that below). Samurai Jeans have different waist sizes, but usually for a given style the inseam is set — anywhere from 36 – 38 inches. Sizes will vary slightly from jean to jean because many are handmade. If you want to have them hemmed by your local tailor, soak them first. (Blue in Green also has a hemming service.)
They are not called “Samurai” for nothing. These are some of the toughest denim jeans you can get, yet with fine styling details. For your $300, you will get a pair of jeans that will outlast 5 cheaper pairs. The Japanese make jeans that are true to the purpose for which jeans were first created — physical work.
How to Get Your Raw Denim Jeans to Fit Well, Last Longer, and Look Good
If you go the raw denim route, there are things you can do to optimize the fit, how long they last, and their appearance. Some people, as mentioned above, get sort of fanatical about how to treat their raw denim jeans. If you get into this topic, you can find out more in raw denim forums online, such as here.
This is the basic approach: when you get the jeans, you need to pre-soak them before wearing them (unless they are Sanforized, in which case you don’t need to soak; just wear them). Ideally, put the jeans on and get into a bathtub filled with hot water (not very hot, because the hotter the water, the more indigo you’ll lose), and sit there for about an hour. Wearing your jeans while they soak will optimize their fit as they conform to your body. Don’t move around a lot.
If you don’t want to wear them when you soak them, turn the jeans inside out and put them in a bathtub with 4 inches of hot water and weigh them down with something (full water bottles, ceramic dinner plates, rubberized dumbbells, whatever) so they stay below the surface of the water. Leave them there for 1-2 hours. Carefully pull them out (don’t shake them) and hang them to dry upside down.
Next, wear them for 4-9 months without washing them. This will enhance and accelerate the fades and marks you get, depending on how often you wear them (daily vs. weekly) and what you do when wearing them.
Be aware that raw denim tends to be very stiff when you first begin wearing it — especially the heavier weights of denim — and you may wonder what you’ve gotten yourself into. You may not even be able to button all the buttons if they have a button fly. Don’t worry. Over a week or two of wearing, the denim will stretch. If you wore the jeans when you first soaked them, the fit will be enhanced. After they start to soften up, you will be amazed at their comfort. Different brands behave differently, too, so you have to see what works for your brand over time.
You may wonder about the cleanliness of wearing your jeans for so long without washing. Turns out this really isn’t a problem. Bacteria levels will stabilize in the jeans and they may not get smelly at all (see the video below about a study that tested wearing jeans without washing them). If they start to smell a little gamy, just take everything out of the pockets, lay them flat, brush them off, fold them, put them in a plastic bag, and stick them in the freezer overnight. When you take them out, most of the bacteria will be dead and your jeans will smell fine.
An alternative to the freezer method is to simply hang them up outside and let them air out, preferably in the sunlight.
When you’re not wearing them, hang your jeans on a hook by a belt loop or on a hangar, don’t just toss them on the floor, as this may mess up the wear marks.
How to Wash Raw Denim Jeans
After you start to get some noticeable wear and fade marks, you can think about washing your jeans. You shouldn’t go beyond a year at most before washing them (some people prefer to wash more often) because bacteria, dirt, body fluids, and so on will begin to break down the denim and the crotch may blow out. How often you wash is up to you. The more often you wash, the more your jeans will fade.
To wash your raw denim jeans, fill a bathtub with 4 inches of tepid water and mix in a small amount (about 1/3 cup) of gentle laundry soap — preferably Woolite Darks (which won’t cause fading in dark colors) or Denim Wash by The Laundress. Turn your jeans inside out and lay them flat in the tub with things on top of them to keep them submerged, swish the jeans just a bit as you press them down in the water. Soak for 45 minutes.
Take your jeans out, empty the tub, then re-fill it with cool water. Rinse the jeans in the cool water to remove the soap. Hang them up on a hangar to dry. (Do not dry them in a dryer; it’s bad for the fabric.)
If your denim is particularly heavy (18 oz. or more), you can add a step at the beginning: pre-soak in cold water that has ¼ cup salt and ½ cup vinegar mixed into it. Rinse, then wash as above. This will help stabilize the indigo dye in the material.
If you spill a little something on your jeans, first decide if it might make them look cooler if you leave it there (motor oil, lipstick). If you decide you need to spot clean them, try dabbing the spot with a towel or napkin to get as much stuff off as you can. You can soak cold water through the spot to remove more. Try to avoid using soap, as it may wash out the indigo and you’ll end up with a blotch on your otherwise nicely faded jeans. If it’s a serious stain, you can try carefully using a stain remover pen. Then dab cold water through it with a cloth.
You can wash your raw denim jeans every 4 months to 1 year, depending on the results you get and how your jeans are fading. It’s more an art than a science, which is part of the appeal. Also, the less you tend to wash your jeans, the longer they’ll last (except for that crotch blow-out problem, so watch out for that).
How to Take Care of Pre-Washed, “Regular” Denim Jeans So You’ll Get Your Money’s Worth
Washing your jeans less often also helps preserve your pre-washed, pre-shrunk jeans, too — jeans such as those from Wrangler, Carhartt, and 7 For All Mankind. Washing jeans in a washing machine and drying them in a dryer is harder on your jeans than actually wearing them.
Denim is tough but, you know, it’s made out of a plant. When cotton fibers are put in a washing machine, they contract or shorten (even pre-washed jeans shrink a bit after washing). Wearing the jeans stretches the fibers out again. Do this wash-and-wear cycle enough and the fibers become weakened and eventually tear. Your jeans will develop holes (which you might think looks cool), and eventually you have to get rid of them or turn them into cut-offs.
A high-quality pair of jeans that fits you well is a rare and precious commodity, no matter how little or much they cost. You want them to last as long as possible. If you find a brand and style that suits you, consider buying two pairs each time you shop. Then you can “rotate” your jeans and not have to wear the same pair every day. You can also wear one pair on the day you wash the other. That will also extend their life and you’ll get more bang for your buck (one reason being that cotton clothing will only tend to go up in price in the future).
Washing jeans less frequently is also good for the environment — over the life of the jeans, it uses less fresh water and electricity.
You can wash your jeans much less often than you probably think you need to. To remove any stains or soil that you get during the day, spot clean them with water and, if necessary, a little soap such as Woolite Darks (mentioned above). You can even use bar soap. First wet the spot and rub it a bit with a terrycoth towel, washcloth, or a brush. If the spot doesn’t come out (for example, oil), put a drop of soap on the area, more water, and rub it again. For a really tough spot, try a little window cleaner or carpet cleaner.
Hang your jeans up on a hook from a belt loop when you’re not wearing them. Don’t leave them lying in a heap on the floor or tangled up with other clothes.
To wash your pre-shrunk jeans:
- Turn them inside out (this will help preserve the dye and other features of the exterior).
- Always wash in cold water. If it’s the first time you’re washing them, wash them separately to avoid getting dye on other clothes.
- Use the delicate cycle on your washing machine if the denim is on the lighter side or the jeans are old; otherwise, the regular setting is fine.
- Ideally, use a soap that’s optimized for jeans, such as Denim Wash from The Laundress. This will also help to preserve their look and make the denim more comfortable.
- Hang them up to air dry, preferably outdoors and upside down. Alternatively, hang them on a hanger over your bathtub, or by a belt loop. Do NOT put them in a dryer.
So how often should you wash them? Depends on you and what you do when you wear them. Try washing your regular (i.e. non-raw denim) jeans once a month or less. Note your results. If they start to smell a bit between washes, put them in a plastic bag in the freezer over night. But really, you don’t need to worry about bacteria and stuff. Studies have been done where people have worn their jeans for a long time without washing to see what the results would be.
Here’s a video that describes a study that was done at the University of Melbourne design school on frequency of washing:
The Bottom Line is Finding Jeans Brands that Work for You
Finding the best jeans for yourself depends to a certain extent on your primary reasons for wearing them. Do you want some tough pants that will stand up to the stresses of your job and/or hobbies? Do you want jeans that express and enhance your style? Do you want jeans you can wear daily for a variety of activities and that will last several years? Probably it’s a combination of these intentions. You want jeans that are durable, fit well, and look good. It’s reasonable to expect all these qualities from the best men’s jeans.
Obviously, I highly recommend that you prioritize trying Wrangler, Carhartt, 7 For All Mankind, Momotaro, and Samurai because your chance of satisfaction with those brands is high. You could be happy buying jeans from those companies for decades.
But at some point you may want to branch out and explore other options. Give a man a good pair of jeans and he’s satisfied for a year, but teach a man how to shop for jeans and he’ll satisfy himself for life. Hence the general info in this denim guide.
When you do start shopping for different brands of jeans, you’re going to encounter a confusing selection of fashions, companies, styles, materials, finishes, design features, price points, and hype. For example, right now you can find the following brands of men’s jeans at Zappos alone: 7 Diamonds, 7 For All Mankind, AG Adriano Goldschmied, Agave Denim, Ariat, BOSS, Big Star, Bikkembergs, Buffalo David Bitton, Calvin Klein, Crooks & Castles, Cutter & Buck, DC, DKNY Jeans, DSQUARED2, Diesel, Dockers, Dylan George, Elie Tahari, Enjoi, Fox, G-Star, Genetic Denim, Grenade, HUGO, Howe, Hudson, Hurley, Izod, J. C. Rags, Jack Spade, Joe’s Jeans, John Varvatos, Just Cavalli, KR3W, L-R-G, Lacoste, Levi’s, Lucky Brand, Marc Ecko Cut & Sew, Marmot, Matix Clothing Co., Mavi Jeans, McQ, Mek Denim, Michael Kors, Nautica, O’Neill, ONETrueSaxon, Obey, Original Penguin, Paige, Patagonia, Perry Ellis, Prana, Rock N Roll Cowgirl, Rock Revival, Scotch & Soda, Stetson, Theory, Tommy Bahama, True Religion, Vans, Versace, Vince, Vivienne Westwood Man, Volcom, and WeSC.
A hip store such as Anonymous LA adds brands such as 575 Denim, Buckaroo, Democracy of Nevermind, Do Denim, Just a Cheap Shirt, Kentucky Denim Co., Kill City, Tokyo Five Brand, Truck Jeans, Vigoss, and Vintage China.
And if you go to a more western-oriented store like Boot Barn, you can find additional brands such as Cinch, Ariat, B. Tuff, and Rock & Roll Cowboy.
Rather overwhelming, isn’t it? Over 800 different styles are included within the brands I’ve listed. (Do you get the sense that the jeans market is a money-maker?) And there are thousands more brands and styles available when you branch out to other retailers, both online and in brick-and-mortar stores throughout the world.
So, when you decide to wade into that sea of denim (if you do — aren’t you glad now I winnowed it down to five?), below is a glossary that includes information, terminology, and background to help you understand the technology, manufacture, design, and quality of denim jeans. (By the way, it’s even worse if you’re shopping for women’s jeans. It would make you cry. Women do, in fact, frequently. Although maybe not this girl.)
Glossary of Denim Terms and Jeans Info
Acid Wash: A process where jeans are washed with a chemical — usually chlorine — and pumice stones to strip some of the top layer of color out of the denim. This results in streaks of color and faded sections. Sometimes spot-applications of the chemical are used to create splotches on the jeans. This look was popular in the 80s (much less so now) and usually for women’s jeans. You can still find acid-washed jeans on eBay. Not recommended to be worn by anybody, really, but especially if you’re a grown man who is not a member of an 80s tribute hair band.
Bootcut: A style of jeans where the pants leg flares slightly (increases in diameter) from the knee to the hem — that is, the portion of the pants leg from the knee to the hem tends to be greater in diameter than the portion that covers the upper leg. Bootcut (aka boot cut, boot-cut) jeans became popular as a replacement for flared pants in the 1980s. Bootcut styles will, of course, fit more easily over boots and will cover the tops of shoes more fully than, for example, straight leg jeans. Many find this silhouette appealing in appearance, especially since the extra width can draw attention away from a chunky waistline. Bootcut jeans were not, however, invented to fit over cowboy boots — most real cowboys wear straight-leg jeans over their boots and want the jeans to be “stacked,” and not have the hem drop below the heel of their cowboy boots.
Broken-twill Denim: Wrangler pioneered broken-twill denim in the 1960s to prevent the twisting of the seams that occurs with regularly-woven denim. It’s a way of breaking the twill pattern by reversing the weave at every two warp ends. Broken twill denim will not display a distinct diagonal twill line, like right-hand or left-hand twill, but instead will have a zig-zag pattern that appears more like herringbone. Wrangler 13MWZ jeans are made of broken-twill denim. Pictured to the right is broken-twill selvedge denim.
Cotton: Most jeans are made of cotton. Cotton is a plant. Your jeans are actually made from a kind of fruit — a cotton boll. Keep that in mind. Cotton grows best in warm climates. Unfortunately, this means most cotton farming requires extensive irrigation. Cotton farming sucks up huge amounts of fresh water (around 1,000 gallons are needed to make one pair of blue jeans). So, remember that your jeans are made of water, too. Worldwide, about 25 million metric tons of cotton are produced annually. Cotton was in use as far back as 12,000 years ago in Egypt. It was planted in America’s Jamestown colony in 1607. Cotton plants produce fibers and seeds that can be used for many different products and applications, including swabs, padding, plastics, powder for munitions, cottonseed oil, cattle feed, and sweater vests. If you’d like to know more facts about cotton, and why you should stock up on cotton clothing now, see my series of posts entitled Ten Days of T-shirts.
Denim: A durable fabric with a twill weave. Generally the warp (lengthwise) threads are blue in color and the weft (cross-wise) threads are white (that’s why you see a combination of these two colors in denim blue jeans). The threads used to make denim are often twisted very tightly, which adds strength, but also makes it difficult for dye to fully penetrate the thread. Thus, denim fabric can become lighter in color (fade) over time as the surface of the threads loses dye and the top thread fibrils break off. The classic denim weave consists of weft threads passing under two or more warp threads. Most denim fabric is made entirely of cotton, though quite a few manufacturers have begun adding additional fabric such as spandex (7 For All Mankind does this with some styles) and/or polyester to increase stretch, comfort, and durability, especially in skinny styles. The name “denim” derives from a fabric called “serge” that was made in Nimes, a city in the south of France, at least as far back as the 17th century. Serge was a durable silk or wool twill fabric commonly used to make military uniforms. The fabric was called “Serge de Nimes” — that is, “Serge of Nimes” — and eventually this phrase was shortened to “denim.” The word denim first appeared in Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language in 1864. Contemporary denim has a different weave than traditional serge fabric.
Felled seams: A seam is the place where two pieces of fabric are sewn together. A felled seam is a method of sewing a seam where the two edges are turned under or folded together and two lines of stitching are used that enclose the raw edges of the fabric. Felled seams can be found on almost all jeans. It’s a stronger seam and a flatter seam, adding to comfort. It also keeps the raw edges of fabric from unraveling. See the video below, which demonstrates how flat-felled seams are sewn:
Fly: The opening in the front of jeans that allows easy access to the penis for peeing, or for your significant other or buckle bunny to give you a blowjob. The flies of some jeans close with buttons, some with zippers. Buttons are sexier, zippers are faster and more convenient. On the other hand, buttons won’t freeze shut in cold weather. And you can get pretty fast with a button fly by simply pulling the two sides slightly up and apart. Riiiip!
Garment-dyed: This refers to dyeing a garment after it’s become a garment — that is, it’s been cut and sewn together. Dye is then applied. Garment-dyeing of jeans results in a uniform color and is often used to apply colors other than blue. Garment-dyeing allows manufacturers to offer greater variety and customization in a given cut or style of jeans, since the jeans can be dyed different colors in small batches. Various effects are possible with garment-dyeing, including over-dyeing (saturating the original color or adding additional layers of different colors) and creating vintage or aged looks. You can also garment-dye your faded jeans at home or take them to a dyeing service if you want to brighten or change their color. (For example, see this method for over-dyeing jeans at home.)
Honeycombs: A slang term for the worn and faded lines and creases that appear on the back of jeans behind the knees. These lines can remind people of the hexagonal pattern of a honeycomb, hence the name. Classic honeycombs usually show up on looser-fitting jeans and will be more pronounced on raw denim, especially if you wear them a lot before washing. It comes from bending the knees, as well as sitting.
Indigo: Most people think of indigo as a color, but where does that color come from? It comes from plants in the genera Indigofera and Isatis, which have been used for thousands of years to dye fabric. For example, the leaves of the tropical plant Indigofera tinctoria are soaked and fermented to produce blue dye. Nowadays, most indigo dye used in the manufacture of blue denim is synthesized from benzene, which is obtained from coal or petroleum. As you might imagine, jeans that are made using true vegetable indigo dyes are more interesting and valuable to dyed-in-the-wool jeans fans, as well as to those who appreciate more “natural” products. People dedicated to wearing jeans vat-dyed in natural indigo appreciate the rich color produced by the process, as well as the distinctive way the color fades and wears away over time (it’s actually hard to dye spun cotton with indigo; the dye is never fully absorbed by the cotton fibers, hence the fading). If you’re interested in this more organic and artistic approach, you can get jeans made with pure vegetable indigo dye from Momotaro, Samurai, Nudie, and Naked & Famous.
Jeans: Traditionally, jeans are sturdy, 5-pocket work pants made of cotton twill fabric. Contemporary jeans are all descended from the riveted blue denim pants known as “waist overalls” first made in 1873 by Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis. Jeans have gone far beyond their working-man origins and have become a wardrobe staple of both men and women throughout the world, with hundreds of different designs and cuts available. Over a billion pairs of jeans are sold each year worldwide. (BTW, there are 297 denim mills in China, 4 in the United States). 99% of guys in the United States own at least one pair of jeans. The word “jeans” derives from a type of heavy woven fabric made in Genoa, Italy in the 16th century, which was known in French as “jene fustian” (Gênes being another name for the town of Genoa). Italian sailors popularized this tough, heavy-duty fabric. The word “jeans” was popularized in America in the 1950s by teenagers, who flocked to wear the denim pants they saw actors such as James Dean and Marlon Brando wearing in various movies. Jeans thus became a symbol of youthful rebellion and independence. Jack Kerouac helped popularize the word, too, via his novel On the Road: “Soon’s I get to Denver I’m selling this suit in a pawnshop and getting me jeans…”
Left-hand twill: Basically, a classic twill weave produces a visible pattern of diagonal parallel lines. On the face of denim fabric, if the pattern of warp threads (usually the dark blue threads) goes from lower right to upper left, it is known as left-hand twill. A left-hand twill pattern is produced by the shuttle of the loom starting at the upper left corner and traveling down to the lower right corner. Jeans made with left-hand denim are much less common than jeans made with right-hand denim. The Lee company popularized left-hand twill denim jeans. Left-hand denim has a softer, more open or lofty feel, especially after washing, due to the combination of the left-hand weave and the direction of yarn twist. They also give a more “vertical” visual appearance when worn. Several styles of 7 For All Mankind jeans use left-hand denim.
Loose fit: A cut of jeans originally based on the oversized dungarees worn by inmates in penitentiaries. If you’re a convict, you probably wore jeans like this. Alternatively, you might wear loose-fit jeans because you’re fat. Or a hypertrophied bodybuilder. Some jeans companies are now terming some of their styles “Loose fit” that would more accurately be called “Easy fit.” That’s mostly for marketing. If you wear traditional loose-fit jeans, you may as well draw an “L” in magic marker on your forehead.
Raw denim: Denim that is not pre-washed. See the extensive discussion of raw denim above under Samurai jeans. Also known as “unwashed denim.”
Pre-shrunk jeans: Jeans that have been treated — either Sanforized, washed, or both — prior to being sold so as to reduce or eliminate the shrinkage that can occur when cotton fabric is laundered. Pre-shrunk jeans can still shrink a little bit, especially in the length, but will usually stretch out again with wear. If for some reason you want to shrink a pair of pre-shrunk jeans, try boiling them, then dry them on the highest setting in the dryer. Better yet, take them to a tailor and have them altered. (And congratulations on losing all that weight!) Jeans that are pre-shrunk are usually designated such on their label.
Right-hand twill: Most jeans are made of right-hand twill denim. Early versions of Levi’s popular 501 jeans were made with denim produced by Draper looms and those looms produced a right-hand twill weave. Thus, most jeans companies went in that direction. If you compare right-hand twill denim and left-hand denim side by side, you’ll note that the right-hand denim has a flatter, harder feel than the left-hand denim. On the face of right-hand twill fabric, the twill line runs from the lower left to the upper right. Because of this pattern, right-hand twill is also known as “Z” twill. Depending on the weight of the denim and the twist of the yarn, there are subtle differences in the wear marks produced by jeans made of right-hand denim versus those made of left-hand denim.
Rigid denim: Rigid denim usually means raw or unwashed denim, but there is some latitude when it comes to the definition of rigid denim. It can also indicate that the jeans have had one rinse, or even one wash, so some shrinkage has occurred. However, rigid denim jeans will still be stiffer than standard, pre-washed denim. Rigid denim can also be Sanforized (as can all denim, including raw denim). And some say that rigid denim simply means that it’s made of 100% cotton (as opposed to incorporating a stretch fabric in the cloth). You have to take context into account when you see a description of “rigid” denim to figure out what the manufacturer means. For example, Wrangler makes a Cowboy Cut Rigid Denim Work Shirt and Carhartt makes a Denim Bib Overall that use rigid denim. Both are extra tough garments.
Ring-spun denim: The process of spinning cotton fibers into thread is technologically complex. All denim fabric was woven with ring-spun yarn prior to the late 1970s, but there are now additional mechanical systems for producing denim fabric that are more economical than ring-spinning, such as open-end or break spinning. Ring-spinning involves a rotating spindle that puts a twist in the yarn, while the yarn is simultaneously wound on a bobbin. A ring traveler carries the yarn around a ring at high speed, making over 10 trips around the ring for every inch of yarn taken up on the bobbin. The engineering involved in building modern, high-speed spinning machines is highly complicated, but the takeaway for the average jeans-shopper is that ring-spinning generally produces a stronger yarn. Ring-spun denim also has a softer feel on the skin and a more vintage appearance (more slubby) than denim produced by open-end spinning.
Rise: Jeans have a front rise and a back rise. The front rise is the distance (given in inches when you shop for American-made jeans) from the middle of the crotch seam to the top of the waistband in front, parallel with the zipper. Similarly, the back rise is the distance from the crotch seam to the top of the back of the waistband. Usually the front rise is shorter than the back rise. To measure the rise, you can lay the pants flat, zip or button them up, and use a measuring tape to measure from the crotch seam to the top of the waistband. To wear jeans that hit at about your waist, you’ll need a rise of about 11-12 inches in front. This is often known as a medium rise, occasionally called a natural rise (depending on the manufacturer, a “natural rise” can also hit about 1 inch below the navel). Low-rise jeans top out at about 3 inches or more below your navel. Low-rise jeans generally measure about 8 inches or less in the front rise. You’ll find great variation in the rise of different styles of jeans. Many styles of men’s jeans from 7 For All Mankind, for example, have a front rise of about 8-9 inches. Wrangler jeans, on average, have a rise of about 10-11 inches (although they also offer a low-rise style — the 77 MWZ Retro Jeans Slim Fit). When you find a pair of jeans that fits you well, be sure to measure the rise, so you can use that measurement when shopping for other brands. Note: extreme low-rise jeans, though currently popular, look bad on everybody, including athletic guys and supermodels. They don’t flatter the body. The visual landscape will be much improved when ultra low-rise jeans become extinct. Actual male adults do not wear super-low rise jeans. That said, if you have a body like Brad Pitt in Fight Club, you can wear regular low-rise jeans (especially if you fight).
Rivets: Around 1871, Jacob W. Davis, a tailor in Reno, Nevada, came up with the idea of using rivets to fasten pockets to work pants (his customers, who worked as miners, ranchers, and lumberjacks, found that conventionally-sewn pockets were not strong enough, especially for carrying tools). Davis was already using rivets to fasten leather straps to horse blankets, so it wasn’t a big leap to try riveting pockets to pants. His work pants reinforced with copper rivets were a hit with the working men who bought them. Producing the pants by hand, Davis soon found he couldn’t keep up with demand. He was getting the heavy-duty cotton cloth (serge de nimes) he used to make tents, blankets, pants, and other products from a dry-goods company in San Francisco run by Levi Strauss. He wrote to Strauss, proposing that the two men apply for a patent for riveted work pants (Davis didn’t have enough money for the patent application fee at the time). Strauss agreed, and in 1873, a patent for “Improvement in Fastening Pocket-Openings” was granted to Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss & Company. The first pair of “waist overalls” (eventually to become famous decades later as “blue jeans”) was produced shortly thereafter. Though Davis was the innovator, the pants he and Strauss made came to be called “Levi’s” rather than “Davis’s.” Jacob Davis was originally from Russia — somewhat ironic, given the popularity Levi’s jeans would later have on the Russian black market. Also ironically, many brands of jeans, including Levi’s, no longer have rivets on the back pockets (Wrangler still offers some styles with back-pocket rivets).
Rope-dyed denim: A method of applying indigo dye to denim where the denim yarns are twisted together into a rope, then suspended in long strands from a machine and dipped or run through a dye bath. After a quick dip, the dye is then allowed to oxidize (a chemical process which results in the typical blue color). The process of dipping and oxidizing is repeated, sometimes dozens of times. Rope-dyed denim is known for its beautiful fades. This is due to the fact that, since the rope dyeing process does not immerse the denim in the dye for very long, the indigo color builds up on the yarn in layers, rather than saturating it. It will then fade in layers, yielding many subtle shades of that unique blue jean color. In other words, rope-dyed denim is cool. Other methods of dyeing denim include slasher dyeing, loop dyeing, and double-sheet dyeing.
Sanforized: A process patented in 1930 by inventor Sanford L. Cluett (and named after him) and his company, Cluett Peabody & Co. Sanforization mechanically treats fabric to keep it from shrinking. If a garment bears a Sanforized label, it means the garment possesses dimensional stability; it will not shrink when washed. Prior to its invention, people expected their new garments to shrink after washing and it was often uncertain how much they would shrink. Cluett designed a machine to process fabrics made of cotton and other natural fibers to produce “controlled compressive shrinkage,” which became permanent. The process consisted of first wetting the fabric, then running it through a series of rollers, compressing it between a rubber band and a cylinder, and then carrying it away from this pressure zone, where the rubber belt, first deformed by the pressure and heat, would return to its original size, causing the fabric that was “stuck” to it to also shrink. The fabric would then be dried in its shrunken state and its fibers would remain in that state thereafter. Fabric bearing the Sanforized label must exhibit shrinkage of less than 1%. The Lee company was one of the first to use “pre-shrunk” — i.e., Sanforized — denim to make jeans in the 1930s. Levi’s held off on producing pre-shrunk jeans until the 1960s. Raw denim can be either Sanforized or un-Sanforized. If it’s not Sanforized, it will shrink about 7-10%, or about 2 inches in the length and waist, when washed. (See more on raw denim above.)
Selvedge (selvage) denim: Selvedge denim is denim made the old-fashioned way — on a shuttle loom. The term selvedge (aka selvage) combines two words, “self” and “edge,” and refers to the fact that, when denim is woven on a narrow shuttle loom, the cross thread (weft) is woven back and forth continuously, creating a finished edge on each side of the fabric — a “self-edge.” This is in contrast to denim made on a projectile loom, where the cross threads are inserted individually, resulting in a frayed edge. Selvedge denim is finished with a binding weave at the very edge of the fabric, often using colored thread. If you want to identify selvedge denim, turn the leg on a pair of jeans inside out and look along the outseam. Selvedge denim will have a neat-looking, “taped” appearance, whereas non-selvedge denim will have a cover stitch to hold the edges of the fabric together. Selvedge fabric has less tendency to unravel at the edges. However, jeans with selvedge seams are not inherently superior in durability to jeans with cover-stitched seams. Denim fans often like selvedge denim because of its connotations of history and exclusivity — after all, modern industrial textile operations rarely use projectile looms anymore. Denim woven on a shuttle loom can also have more subtle variations in the weave, adding interest to the finished cloth. Selvedge denim is not necessarily higher in quality than denim woven on other types of looms. Much depends on the type of cotton, how the thread is prepared, the dyeing process, the wash, the stitching, and so forth. Note: you can find selvedge denim used in both pre-washed and un-washed (i.e., raw) jeans.
Shrink-to-fit jeans: Jeans that are not pre-shrunk. These types of jeans will tend to shrink quite a bit when washed, so they must be bought with that in mind and sized accordingly. See more on this above, beginning under Samurai Jeans. Jeans made out of raw denim, not pre-washed or Sanforized.
Slubs: Slubs are imperfections — either accidental or deliberately created — along a length of yarn that consist of thick and thin sections. These nubby places (imagine beads of dew along a spider web) can be created by twisting the yarn or by using a combination of different lengths of cotton fibers to produce it (something that modern manufacturers usually take great pains to avoid). If a pair of denim jeans is “slubby,” then the fabric is made of yarn that has slubs in it. This slubbiness is often considered a desirable trait, as it gives the denim more texture, a vintage appeal, and sometimes makes it tougher. Slubby cotton fabric can feel either softer or rougher against your skin, depending on the cotton used, the twist in the yarn, the tightness of the weave, and so forth. To go with your slubby jeans, slubby cotton T-shirts are becoming more popular now. Samurai is known for making jeans with slubby denim woven from 100% Texas cotton that consists of fibers of varying lengths.
Stone wash: Stonewashed jeans are just that: jeans washed with stones. The Guess company often gets credit for introducing stone-washed jeans to the marketplace in the early 1980s. How do you wash something with stones? Jeans or denim fabric are tossed in a large, industrial washing machine along with a bunch of volcanic rocks (usually pumice) and run through a wash cycle. Sometimes bleach is added to further degrade the fabric. This process is problematic, however, due to its inconsistent effects. It also wears out washing machines and there are undesirable environmental effects from pumice residue. Nowadays, jeans designated as “stonewashed” are generally washed using enzymes (also known as “biostoning”). Stone-washing gives jeans that lived-in, worked-in, distressed look that some people like. It was popular in the 80s and you can still find stonewashed jeans at various retailers. You pay a premium for them, of course. If you don’t want to pay the extra freight to get jeans that start out looking worn, you can stone-wash your regular, undistressed jeans at home. Do it by soaking them in a salt-water solution for a couple of days to soften the fabric, then attack your jeans with sandpaper or a pumice stone. Wash them afterwards and dry them in the sun. Some people even try washing jeans with actual rocks and a bit of bleach in the washing machine (small, smooth rocks are recommended). You can find out further details about these processes on the Internet. Your once-pristine jeans can be made to look rather tapped-out — like they’ve been worn frequently by a clumsy guy with a mullet who likes to ride 3-wheel ATVs in his spare time.
Straight cut: Like the term “boot-cut,” straight cut refers to the design or “cut” of a pair of jeans. Straight-cut jeans are probably the most common style of men’s jeans — they certainly are the design with the most history. Viewed in profile, this design features a straight silhouette as the legs of the jeans drop more or less straight from the thigh, with no flare or taper (i.e., no change in circumference) from the knee to the hem. The diameter of straight cut (also known as “straight leg”) jeans can be either generous or slim in the legs, depending on the overall style — for example, relaxed fit versus traditional fit. Straight-cut jeans are functional, classic, look good on active, athletic guys, and are made with rises of various lengths, depending on the brand. Pictured at right are Carhartt Traditional Fit Straight-Leg (straight-cut) jeans. The rise of these jeans hits just below the waist and the seat and thigh are fairly slim. Good jeans for work. Or riding your Bultaco.
Twill: A fabric weave characterized by parallel diagonal ribs. Twill is one of the three basic textile weaves, the other two being plain and satin. (By the way, weaving simply means to interlace two sets of yarns so they cross over and under each other, usually at right angles.) Twill is one of the most comfortable, durable, and versatile weaves and is used for many different types of yarn and products, from men’s dress shirts to curtains. Denim is the most popular type of twill fabric. Basically, jeans are a type of twill pants.
Unwashed denim: See the definition of “Raw denim” above, and also see the info under Samurai jeans.
Whiskers: The faded, worn lines or creases on the front of jeans around the pocket and crotch area. Some people like whiskering on jeans, thinking it gives them character. And we all want character, right? It’s cool if the whiskers on your jeans come from wearing and using them. If you buy pre-whiskered jeans (which are offered by a number of brands) — well, it’s a little like plagiarizing, isn’t it?
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Til we meet again, may your denim trails be happy…