In pursuit of the perfect pair of jeans
Words: Nhlanhla Masemola | Photography: Ian Engelbrecht
With an enduring ability to tell our stories and capture our personalities through rips, fades and creases, there is arguably no fabric that has had as long a relationship with us as denim. We glance at fits such as straight and bootleg in the hopes of finding something in our size, but finding the right jeans takes more know-how than that. Discover a little more about exactly what you’re wearing, whether you consider yourself a raw denim purist or occasional denimhead. Shall we begin?
A LITTLE HISTORY
Denim originally emerged in the cities of Genoa, Italy, and Nîmes, France. Gênes, the French word for Genoa, is considered to be the origin of the word "jeans". In Nîmes, weavers tried to reproduce the jean fabric, but instead developed a similar twill fabric that became known as denim, derived from the term de Nîmes, meaning "from Nîmes". Today, when we talk about jeans we refer to a particular style of blue jeans invented by Jacob W. Davis, who partnered with Levi Strauss & Co. in 1871 and mass produced them.
KNOW YOUR FITS
The first thing you need to consider when buying jeans – or any pair of trousers – is how they fit. Try them on and take note of what does or doesn’t work. It’s also worth knowing your measurements as all fits are not made equal. Choosing the right fit is largely determined by your body type and what works well with it.
This is the most flexible style for men who don’t want the tightness of the skinny or the conventionality of a straight or regular fit. If your legs are on the slimmer side, this is a great solution.
Occasion: Ideal for everyday wear at work or after, in lighter and darker washes.
Styling tips: For a sharper look, tuck in your shirts and tees or wear with a belt. If they’re too long, hem or cuff them. Boots and sneakers work best here. Wear more formal shoes with caution. Double the denim and wear with truckers or denim shirts in similar shades for a modern look.
Tapered jeans are slightly slim at the bottom, gradually narrowing or “tapering” as they go down the leg. They’re a great alternative to the slim fit and work well as a slim fit on someone with an athletic build.
Occasion: Can be worn to the office, but ideal for going-out and off-duty looks, especially in dark washes and when distressed.
Styling tips: Wear with a pair of statement kicks or boots to catch the eye. For a younger look and in cases where the jeans are too long, stack them, ie, let the longer length do its thing by folding and creating creases over your shoes. This silhouette also works best with a turn-up at the hem, selvedge (more on this later!) on display. Don’t be shy to finish off the look with a chain or two or carabiner for your keys.
Largely thanks to French photographer and designer Hedi Slimane and the revival of the Saint Laurent brand, the skinny jean has been having a serious moment for the past decade.
Occasion: Undeniably the more youthful silhouette of the group, the skinny is known for its rock ’n’ roll sensibilities. This is a style for the brave and slim built.
Styling tips: Naturally, be prepared to find another place for your wallet, keys and mobile. Any wash will suffice, but take note that black often looks edgier. Best hemmed, but can be cuffed if required. Unsightly when stacked.
A timeless jean that’s the most casual and mature of the fits. This is the go-to for a stockier man who wants to look great without squeezing into slimmer cuts.
Occasion: Works anywhere except formal or semi-formal occasions.
Styling tips: As a classic, the straight leg looks better without too many details. There’s a certain snap to this style when its cropped, so hem where possible. For an update, opt for white jeans in this style.
Here are a few of the essentials we think it’s important to know.
Cut: Used interchangeably with the fit of denim jeans.
Dry or raw denim: Synonyms. The dye is generally dark and the fairly stiff jeans likely contain starch that will rinse off in the wash and soften gradually over time, after being worn in. The deep indigo colour of these jeans is the result of not being washed after dyeing.
Five pocket: Most common type of jeans. Two pockets at the back and two pockets in the front with a coin pocket inside the front right pocket.
Japanese denim: Japanese people are considered experts in selvedge denim. Japan is known for it slow process of denim-making through traditional Toyoda looms using high-quality yarn. The denim goes through several indigo dyes and the end result is extremely durable denim in intense shades.
Rise: The length from the crotch to the waistband of your jeans. Low rise sits below the navel and a high rise, above. A regular rise sits at your natural waist.
Rivets: Little metal fastenings that reinforce denim at certain points to prevent rips.
Sanforisation: The process of pre-shrinking fabric before its made into a garment. Some denimheads enjoy jeans that are unsanforised, because they enjoy shrinking their jeans themselves.
Selvedge: A popular word in the premium denim world, selvage refers to the finished, non-fraying edge of denim. It’s commonly used in the outseam and detailing of higher-end jeans and usually stitched with coloured threads.
Twill: Material with a diagonal weave. Denim is a type of twill and most denim has a right-hand twill – the diagonal lines rise from left to right. Left-hand twill that runs in the opposite direction is much softer and is prized by some denim connoisseurs.
Washes refer to the amount of dye in pre-washed jeans. Know your acid from your stone wash?
Indigo: This is what makes denim blue. Indigo molecules bind externally to cotton fibres, allowing jeans to gradually fade.
Coatings: Often used to prevent staining and fading in denim, which results in a leather-like sheen. Applied using pigment or acrylics.
Dip dyeing: Traditional dyeing of cotton yarn used in making denim. The yarn is dyed in indigo dye from six to eight times or more for the desired shade.
Acid wash: The result when pumice stones soaked in chlorine are used to create bleached patches on denim.
Stone wash: The result when jeans are washed with pumice stones, which gives jeans a more worn-out look.
Distressing: The various worn-in effects achieved with chemicals and abrasion.
Garment dying: When dyeing occurs after the jeans are made and not in the colouring of yarns before.
Enzyme washing: A process that gives a softer worn-in look by breaking down cellulose molecules found in indigo dyes.
And last, but not least…
Tobacco stitching: The brown thread used decoratively on jeans.
Chain stitching: A single thread is looped over itself, giving a continuous line of stitching.
Roping: The crinkled effect found on the hems of denim jeans. Often sought out even if the effect is technically the result of an error in old sewing machines.
Whiskers and honeycombs: Deliberate creases around the thigh area are called whiskers and honeycombs are these types of creases around the knees, inspired by the way that fabric naturally creases.