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ALPHA MALE: Finding the Right Denim

Wednesday, August 08, 2012


Miners may have been searching for gold, but Levi's created work pants for them that have long outlasted any gold rush. Photo: WHARF Clothing.

In my last column, I touched upon your favorite articles of clothing and brands, how they become that way and finding items for your wardrobe that are perfect for you now. Chances are that your favorite piece of apparel might have been that well-worn pair of denim jeans you just could not live without. But, like most items in a guy's closet, that pair of denim started out as a functional piece of clothing before it became the pre-eminent icon of modern day style. In today's men's market, there are more options than ever to give you the right combination of style, function and longevity in a great pair of jeans.

The birth of Levi's

Go back to May 20, 1873 when Levi Strauss and his business partner, Jacob Davis, patented the first pair of waist overalls (now the modern day "jean"). They were sold in the Wild West to miners and frontiersmen looking for a sturdy piece of workwear that could stand up to the rigors of the day and last its owner a very long time. Like most of a guy's uniform, these overalls were function first. It was not until decades later that the famous denim 5-pocket pants would become engrained as a style icon around the world. But Levi Strauss & Co. had struck a chord that has resonated for over 135 years.

You need: a timeless pair of jeans

If you look at the evolution of Levi's or any other denim brand, most have experienced changes over time in fit and subtle style modifications, typically made to suit the customer of the period. But a timeless pair of jeans should be on every guy's list. And that does, ladies and gentlemen, typically mean unadorned—free of decorative details on pockets, imitation or additional patches, or graphics. In my opinion, aside from a hallmark detail like Levi's "Arcuate"—known by most as the "Double V" pocket stitching—or Lee's original triple stitching, the only thing on your jeans should be the distressing YOU put there with wear over time.

What to buy

I recommend a raw, dry, indigo-dyed pair of denim. This is the truest form of jeans, never worn, stiff at first, but will develop a buttery soft feel over time as you break them in and the fabric conforms to your body type. This heavier weight jean is more the "purist" take on denim, and I realize and accept it will not be for everyone. Typically too, this type of denim commands a premium price. In my store, I sell several premium lines such as Levi's Vintage Clothing (Levi's replicated line of previous 501 models), Baldwin and 3Sixteen. You may not have heard of some of these brands, but in today's industry, they maintain a standard of quality that was first employed by Strauss and Jacobs in the 19th Century, and use the best American or Japanese selvedge fabrics, metal hardware like button flies and rivets and quality construction. But be prepared to pay for the quality—this type of denim can run upwards of $220.

Great standards at reasonable prices

Premium denim not your thing? You can find well-constructed pairs of the staples from Levi's mainline or even places like J. Crew now, where the team behind the brand is very cognizant of today's denim standards, fits and pricing that is more acceptable to the average guy. Like the premium brands, these mainstream guys know that fit is paramount. All the brands I have touched on offer at least several models, but stick to a straight or slightly tapered leg, and a lower or mid "rise" in the top block (the top part of the jeans where your waist and buttocks fit). This tends to give you the best fit and look for your body type.

What about color?

While I prefer darker, dry denim as I mentioned, I would never hold every guy to this standard. We have more chances to show off our own personal style by infusing a different fabric like canvas or even a different color—natural or white even—to suit the seasonality of your wardrobe. Washed down denim does work too (think lighter blues in warmer months) and also serves a lot of guys well to avoid a break-in period and give you that buttery feel a lot sooner. For a night out, think darker denim with tonal stitching as opposed to the typical contrast, gold stitching on most of your jeans.

The bottom line

As always, fit and function for a guy's wardrobe go hand in hand. Your denim choices should not be any different and can really serve a variety of occasions while complementing your frame and style choices. And like Levi and Jacob more than 135 years ago, your wardrobe choices for denim can too stand the test of time.

Robert Babigian is owner of WHARF Clothing & Wares, a menswear retail boutique located at 212 Westminster Street in Providence, RI. A native Rhode Islander, Rob started WHARF after 2 decades in marketing and sales to fulfill his desire to combine his loves of consumer branding, small business and style that would fulfill a niche for desirable men's clothing in the Providence market. The apparel and accessories found at WHARF reflect Rob's own personal aesthetic—a combination of traditional New England staples mixed with modern fits, construction and fabrics blended together with a touch of European style. For more tips or to shop the store, stop in and see Rob and his staff or reach them online at shopwharf.com.


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