shopping for blues
I love jeans. I've gone about this before so I won't repeat myself. I felt like I had to do this post, after a shopping expedition with my younger sister for jeans.
I don't believe in a "go-to" label/shop/style for jeans - what suits one person may not suit someone else. There's nothing to do except to try whatever you come across that appeals to you, and hopefully get lucky early. For example, my friends look great in Levis, but new or vintage, I've never found a pair I liked on me.
Jeans have become such an gold mine for retailers, to the point where spending US$200 on a pair of jeans doesn't raise as many eyebrows as you might imagine. A whole cult has also sprung up around denim, especially for men's jeans - the best mills are in Japan/Turkey/whatever; raw denim is superior; chain stitches versus loop. My favourite bit of denim bullshit has to be those Proportion of Blu jeans that claim to be cut according to the "golden ratio". Hokay. (Read this for a debunk of the golden mean.)
A lot of fancy jeans out there aren't worth the hype. At one shop in Singapore, I watched my sister try jeans from MiH, Rag and Bone, J Brand, and some of these "jeans" are 50% modal. How is that a jean? They may have a great cut but in terms of quality, it's little better than whatever you find in Topshop.
How did we get here? My first pair of skinny jeans were from Mango, a cheap buy when I was experimenting with the style. They're 98% cotton, 2% stretch, and have the thickness of canvas. They're 8 years old and awesome. I have another pair from H&M, 7 years old, thinner than the Mango ones, but also a mere 2% stretch and feel nice and substantial.
Today, I don't think you can find skinny jeans like that at both stores. It's a downer, to be awash in all this spandex masquerading as denim, with none of the grain and heft that makes denim special.
I haven't bought jeans since 2008, but if I were to shop for jeans today, I would skip most of the premium brands - J Brand, Current/Elliot, AG, MiH. They're fit great - buy them if that is your main concern. But I don't think the fabrics on par with the prices and you can find cheap versions of them in High Street stories if you care to search. And these premium brands aren't always manufactured in conditions better than your mass market brands.
I feel like for women, there's a lot of rubbish out there, designed to be fashionable but unappealing if you're more about how the material feels. One brand that still ticks all the boxes for me - ethical manufacturing, high quality denim, good price - is Nudie. That said, Nudies fit me well but they also look terrible on many people (they are unisex), because of the limited range of cuts.
I've never tried Raleigh Denim but they seem to have a reasonably sensible approach towards what can sometimes border on pretentious. One version of their women's raw denim (so rare!) has a small percentage of stretch, which is very logical if you want to sell skinny jeans in the stiffest material possible.
I don't much personal experience with other brands, so please do share your favourites.
When shopping, keep in mind...
Don’t be a brand snob – Sure, skip the brands/manufacturers that go against your personal principles (poor labour practices, offensive marketing) but keep an open mind otherwise. My impression of True Religion is pretty trashy but my sister has an all-black pair with no logos or contrast stitching or garish hardware that she found for a great price in an outlet mall. It fits great, it's made in the US, and the denim quality is pretty decent – substantial to the touch but washed to a comfortable softness.
Since no single brand fits every body type, sometimes you have to ignore the superficially objectionable things to find the perfect pair. Almost all my jeans are Diesel (mostly purchased over 7, 8 years ago) and I don't think I'm the typical Diesel customer. But there is quality to be found amid all that aggressive distressing.
Fabric, fabric, fabric - I loath jeans with too much stretch; they look and feel like leggings. But a bit of stretch is godsend for comfort's sake. As a guide, 2% is plenty stretchy. But I have also seen 98% cotton jeans that feel like leggings, so clearly the quality of the cotton matters too.
If you want to go into fine details, ask about the weight of the jeans - usually given in ounces. The heavier jeans the more substantial the fabric, and the less likely they fall into the category of "legging-jean monstrosity". Most women's jeans should be about 11 to 14 ounces. I've seen 23-ounce jeans, but they seem incredibly unnecessary unless you plan do some really manual work.
Sizing and fit - The rule of thumb is that you buy the smallest possible size you can fit in, because denim stretches. Sanforised (pre-shrunk) raw denim shouldn't shrink much. On the other hand, like all denim, they will stretch. Extremely distressed jeans stretch more quickly because the fibres have been weakened by the process. Jeans that have a bit of stretch hold their shape and size a bit better.
Although there's a lot of talk about sizing down, almost all my jeans are a size 30 and I've only sized down once, to a 29. For the most part, they have kept their shape and not stretched to a ridiculous degree (by one size or more). A few pairs have bagged slightly at the bum and knees but it's nothing unsightly, and that sort of stretching can't be helped.
When I try on jeans, I always walk around, sit down, and do a deep squat (in the fitting room). If the jeans are tight but still allow me to do these things without feeling like I'm about to give myself DVT, they're a good bet.
For raw denim, I don't find I have to size down, but I would never buy them too skinny or tight - raw denim by nature just isn't meant to stretch and buying them super tight doesn't make sense to me - it wears them out faster.
Workmanship - Waistbands are something I zoom in one - the best jeans have sturdy, lined waistbands and they're the foundation of good fit - they should never gap and never ride down when worn.
Stitching should look sturdy, especially in the outer and inseams. The seams should run smoothly in line that follows the curve of your leg and shouldn't twist when you put them on.
A word denim retailers like to bandy around is "selvedge". Selvedge simply means the ends of the fabric has been finished with tape to prevent unravelling (see here for visual comparison). Only one pair of my jeans has a selvedge finish - my raw denim Nudies - and while they certainly look nicer, it's not like my other jeans have started unravelling, so I've yet to see the difference made evident.
Also, as explained in the Rawr Denim post I linked above, selvedge is quite a trendy word and it's trickled down to mass market labels, and it doesn't always indicate quality.
There's always the tailor - Boyfriend jeans are easy enough to find now, but in the past I would buy skinny or straight jeans a size too big and alter them for the perfect slouchy skinny fit. I did that a pair of Sevens I found for 80% off and a pair of Diesels. If you have a tailor you trust to work denim well, little tweaks can mean perfection.
And when I finally realised bootcuts weren't my thing, I decided to alter one pair into a tapered/straight cut. They are 9 years old and in regular rotation and fit better than anything I can buy off the rack. Don't let old jeans go to waste, especially if they're good quality, like vintage Levis.
Wash and care
Denim enthusiasts will tell you to wash your jeans as infrequently as possible. This is rather overdoing it, I think, even though yes, I do wear my jeans for months before washing them. This is because you want to give it time to mould to your shape, and get comfortable. Also, for distressed denim, where the fibres are already weak, frequent washing - once a week, every week - means jeans lose their shape faster.
But on the flip side,washing once a year is a little extreme, especially for raw denim. All that dirt and grime building up isn't good for a stiff fabric like that and you risk wearing it out sooner too.
In the end, you just have to look at how your jeans look or feel after washing (not not washing) and go with your gut, and avoid extremes. Also, if they start to smell...
I wash all my jeans in a washing machine. There are very elaborate care instructions out there, especially for raw denim, but denim is a rugged fabric, and I think there's something wrong if it needs that much fuss. Generally, I'd say:
- Use cold water, and avoid the dryer. Heat is damaging to the fabric and the rinse.
- If you want to slow down fading, use a mild detergent, and wash inside-out. Whatever you use for delicate fabrics should work.
- Use the "delicates" mode on the machine. Actually I use this mode a lot for all my good clothing because it doesn't spin much - hence less abrasion of the fabric and less stretching. But your clothes come out wetter.
I'm not sure how useful this post is - I seemed to have raged on about what I hate but offered little by way of solutions. But I suppose beginning with a process of elimination isn't a bad place to start?