This is the most comprehensive guide to jeans on the internet. I want to give everyone a place to find all the information they could possibly need about denim jeans.
I will reference all of the best materials, both videos and articles, so that you can continue your research.
I hope you enjoy.
The history of denim jeans is a rich one, from being strictly worn by miners as they carved to hell with pick axes, to girls wearing skinny jeans who cry when they see puppies.
Denim jeans have evolved into an essential piece of every person’s wardrobe.
This history includes Jacob Davis and Levis Strauss creating riveted waist overalls, to jeans becoming part of pop-culture as the cowboys most badass legwear, to the 1970-1980’s when denim became washed and distressed, to now, when raw and selvedge denim has started it’s come back.
Back when men were men, which I guess was in the mid 1800’s, denim jeans were exclusively used as work wear.
Every pair of jeans was made on shuttle looms giving them the selvedge seam and came to their customers totally unwashed.Jeans were popular with miners and other people who chopped things all day long.
These guys needed the most durable and rugged pants they could get, but they still needed comfort so they could chop things all day.
This is where Jacob Davis, who made clothing for miners, and Levi Strauss, a dry goods merchant, combined their power to make what were eventually become the jeans we know today.
Davis invented rivets to strengthen the jeans, and with Strauss’s help, got a patent on his new invention.
This made them the best jean brand in the world and started their evolution into pop culture.
After Davis and Strauss started making these highly improved jeans they started to make their way out into the rest of the world.
Hollywood cowboys started to wear them in western movies. In the early 1900’s if actors pretending to be bad-ass gun slinging cowboys were going to wear jeans, then everybody else was going to start wearing them too; "Jeans are my huckleberry" - Fashionable Cowboy.
This was also the beginning of men coming home from WWI and WWII who got back to work and started wearing jeans regularly.
That is when denim jeans started their evolution into something that people wear everyday, which caused the manufacturing and fashion of them to change.
Starting in the 1970’s and becoming very popular. This caIn the 1980’s, jeans started to be pre-washed and distressed.
This process gave them a pre-worn look before getting to the customer. Pre-washing and distressing made the jeans softer and broke them in, while also giving them a different look.
This is when modern denim was really born. Unwashed jeans totally fell out of favor and the modern jean took over our closets.
In the 1990’s and into today, raw denim jeans slowly started to make their comeback. Denim manufacturers started to bring back the old way of making denim by using vintage shuttle looms, re-introducing the clean selvedge seam and of course, delivering jeans to customers completely unwashed and raw.
With this resurrection the future history of denim will be a mix of both new denim and old denim. Both of which will need to fit correctly to look good.
We’re going to start out by going over the most important aspect of how clothes look, the fit. You could wear jeans made of Kim Kardashian’s hair, meaning expensive and narcissistic, and if they didn’t fit, they won’t look good; if they did fit, they might look okay, creepy, but okay.
That’s how important the measurements of your clothing is, especially your jeans.
As with all clothing the fit is a total personal preference with modern trends influencing our behavior.
Jeans will get tighter and looser between decades but a well fitting pair of jeans will always be a well fitting pair of jeans. Even if the coolest kids are wearing baggy or skinny jeans.
There are 4 main places to keep your eye on when fitting your jeans:
The waist is probably the most obvious. Most everyone knows that if a pair of pants doesn’t fit when they fall down their legs; “most everyone” being the key words.
The explanation of this doesn’t need to go too far. Make sure your jeans fit slug at the waist, but not too tight, and watch for bunching when you tighten your belt.
That’s really all there is to it.
The width of the legs are really where jeans take their shape. There are many different types of widths. The different types make up the style of ‘cut’ of your jeans, which we will discuss later.
It will generally make you look fitter and younger if your jeans fit closer to the profile of your leg; meaning tighter.
Generally, I recommend keeping away from jean that anyone would call ‘baggy’. That is a 4 letter word for jeans, except it’s 5 letters.
The ankle opening of your jeans is where your money is made and bagginess is defeated.
For your jeans to look good they have to fit well at the ankles. If you kick your leg around and your jeans flap in the breeze, that’s not good. You should only be able to pull your jeans out a few inches away from your ankle.
If you can pull them out 6 inches it’s way too baggy and you need to look for a different cut.
Below are examples from skinny, to slim, to baggy jeans. Always error on the side of your jeans being too tight. Baggy jeans won’t do anyone any favors.
(pictures from idleman.com, washingtonalley.com and levi.com)
Length is another fairly obvious fit. It the jeans get very bunched up at your ankles, or are inches above your shoes, then they are too long or too short.
This is another intuitive aspect of pants that most people have a good feel for.
An example of good fit is below to the left. It touches right at the top of the shoe. If your jeans are too long cuffing can fix that and give you a stylish look.
To the right you’ll see jeans that are too long and been allowed to bunch up at the ankle, not good. You need to avoid this. It makes you look short and sloppy.
(Pictures from Continental Men - WordPress.com, and washingtonalley.com, magnificientbastards.com)
The 'rise' is what makes “Mom” and “Dad” jeans.
It is the length from the bottom of the crotch to the top of the jeans. This will make the jeans sit much higher on your waist, closer to your belly button, like your mom’s, or be low cut revealing more of your stomach, like your high school girlfriends.
For men’s fashion you generally want to stay away from jeans with a very high or very low rise. So try to keep it your jeans to a low or mid rise. Error on the side of lower.
The fit of your cloths is the most important thing to make them look good. For jeans keep a close eye on how baggy they are at the knee and ankles; those places make you the most money.
Then having a comfortable fit at the waist and the correct length and you’re golden.
Further references on jean fit:
There are many different cuts of jeans. There are a few main ones though: loose, straight, regular, tapered, slim and skinny.
Those are in order from baggy to tight. As a general rule you should try to stay between regular and slim unless you have a very specific body type.
Skinny: A pair of skinny jeans will be tight all the way down your leg. If the jeans are made of pure denim they can be pretty uncomfortable.
If you’re in great shape or on the skinny side they can make you look good. Anyone else is going to struggle to have the right profile to pull off a pair of skinny jeans.
Be real with yourself, if you don’t have the body don’t wear skinny jeans.
Slim Straight: This is the cut that you’ll see from Washington Alley jeans. It’s our personal favorite. It fits fairly tight but comfortable.
You can shred the dance floor or go to a football game. The key to a pair of jeans is having them make you look good. A trimmer cut will make you look taller and fitter.
This cut will work for most body types. You would have to have to be pretty big dude for these to not look good.
(pictures from WashingtonAlley.com)
Tapered: If a slim straight cut still seems too tight I would take a look at a tapered cut. This means that the jeans will have some width in the thigh and then get smaller as they get closer to the ankle.
The ankle is really the key place to keep an eye out on your fit. If you have a baggy jean at the ankle it’s going to look pretty sloppy.
That’s what tapered is all about, giving you some room in the thigh and butt, while keep a nice profile at the opening.
Regular cut: This is the first cut of jeans where it will be a little baggy at the ankle. It’s probably the most popular and standard type of cut. There really isn’t a body type that this won’t fit comfortably.
The problem is that they can look pretty baggy at the ankles.
We would only recommend these for bigger guys who have tried a tapered cut but for some reason prefer the regular cut.
In most cases a taper or slim straight will look much better but personal preference can come into play on these.
Straight cut: This cut is going to be the same width at the thigh as they are at the opening.
This will make them fit a little bit better on your upper leg and then get pretty baggy at the ankle. In almost all cases they will make you look shorter and not very professional.
Larger guys could feel more comfortable in them, but for looks, you should stick with a taper cut or regular, well before moving to a straight cut.
Loose cut: fit jeans are the baggiest of the cuts. They were much more popular in the 1990’s and generally aren’t very flattering.
Unless you’re still playing for the band ‘Days of The New’ you probably can’t justify a loose cut.
They just make men look short and sloppy; which is all bad.
We highly encourage you not to ever put a pair of loose jeans on or let anyone around you do it either.
We recommend start with a slim straight then flexing off of that.
If you want to get a little tighter move to a skinny jean, if you want something with more room in the thigh and butt move to a tapered.
Your final last resort should be moving to a regular cut.
Further references on cuts of jeans
The denim that jeans are made of comes in many different types. Generally though, there are 3 factors that you need to know about denim: raw or washed, selvedge or non-selvedge, distressed or nondistressed.
The haves and have nots.
Selvedge vs non-selvedge
Denim is a cotton fabric that back in the day was made on shuttle looms. These looms typically made heavier fabrics that were very tightly woven and were produced in one yard wide strips.
These strips were finished on both sides with a band that made them more durable.
In the 1950's when the demand for denim started to increase, companies looked for ways to cut costs.
This led them to start making denim in projectile looms which were able to produce much more denim for cheaper.
Denim that comes from a projectile loom does not have an edge like you see from a shuttle loom, making them more susceptible to fraying and common wear.
Raw vs washed
Raw, dry or unwashed denim is denim when it is at its purest.
It will come to you as a product that is virtually untouched and unbroken in.
Most denim products go through an extensive washing or distressing process, raw denim products skip those processes, which gives raw denim a very different feel and experience.
Denim has also gone through a washing process which is intended to soften, even out the coloring, and shrink the fabric. This gives the customer a better idea of what the denim will look like throughout it's life; the color and size shouldn't change much over the life of a washed denim product.
Raw denim products do not go through this process.
Raw denim comes to you unwashed. This gives it a much stiffer feel.
The fabric went from the loom, to the seamster, to your body. This allows your jeans to break into you. They will mold to your lifestyle as you wear them.
You will start to see feathering and wear spots on your denim from the movement of your body. From the common things in your pockets, to where you knees bends, everything will weather your jeans to you.
You will avoid wash your raw denim for as long as you can take.
A second process that most modern denim goes through is a distressing process. This will give it a look of being worn.
It will fade the denim, break in the seams or maybe give it some holes. The distressing process will give the denim whatever look the designer is going for.
As you can probably expect by now, raw denim products do not go through any distressing. All of the wear of the denim will come from you.
The distressing will match the experiences that you put it through.
Below is a picture of a pair of raw denim jeans from their purest form to when they are fully broken in by their wearer.
(Picture from esquire.com)
Raw, dry or unwashed denim is a product that is delivered to the customer with no washing or distressing, it is in the purest form possible.
Once you become the owner, the denim becomes an extension of yourself and your lifestyle and that is what makes raw, dry and unwashed denim different.
Regular denim will come to you washed and broken in so it will fit similar to how it always will. It is also cheaper and will have more exotic looks.
Further references washed and unwashed denim:
There are really 2 base spectrums of jean colors light blues to darks blues, and black to gray.
The color of your jeans is purely preference but there are some overall rules that you can follow to match the color with the occasion.
Starting with the blue spectrum. Your dark blue and light blue should be the first pairs of jeans that you get. These two will cover you on all occasions.
A dark blue pair of jeans can be dressed up or down. They are definitely the most versatile color that you can get.
They look awesome in a button down and blazer, or in a white T-shirt. If you get washed denim this is usually called a ‘dark rinse’ or ‘dark wash’. If you get raw denim, meaning unwashed, it will almost always come in a pretty dark blue.
Light blue denim jeans are usually going to be saved for more casual events.
They look great during the day. You will struggle to be able to dress them up very much. This limits some of the occasions that you can wear them in the evening.
In my opinion, light jeans are best during the day in warm weather and worst in a semi formal event in a cold winter evening.
(Picture from locastic.com)
The black and gray jeans will follow similar rules to their blue brethrens.
The darker they are the more formal and evening of a look you’ll have.
The lighter they are the more casual and day time you’ll look. Anything in between will also be somewhere in between.
(pictures from asos.com and theidealman.com)
Base your jean color on your needs. It’s common to really like one color and end up with more pairs than you need in that color and no others.
Be deliberate with what colors your purchase to fill holes in your wardrobe.
Having one dark and light pair in both blues and grays should cover you for almost any denim occasion.
Further references on jean color:
Jeans are versatile pair of pants. We’d like to go over the many ways that you can dress them up and down.
In a pair of jeans you can go from a button down with a blazer, to a T-shirt with the same sneaker. That’s what makes jeans so special.
A classic way to dress Jeans up is by wearing them with a blazer.
You can wear a button down or crewneck under the blazer. You won’t be able to get your look above semi-formal or business casual if you’re wearing a pair of jeans. For most people going to semi-formal is as dressy as they need to get.
(Pictures from TheIdleMan.com)
The middle level of dress would be with a long sleeve button down or sweater, neither with a jacket.
This look is very versatile as you can untuck your shirt in a make it look semi formal or untuck it and and bring your look down to be pretty casual. These looks are probably the most versatile.
They can go from a pretty informal event to something fairly formal with ease.
(pictures from pinterest.com)
You then can easily switch up and put a T-shirt on and be good for a less formal event.
I think the looks that a pair of jeans really thrives in are T-shirts and short sleeve button downs. Those two types of shirts are an amazing combo with a nice pair of jeans.
(both pictures from pinterest.com)
A pair of jeans is a very versatile pair of pants. It can be dressed up with a button down and blazer, or down with a t-shirt.
I think that is what makes jeans so special. You could go on a weekend trip and your dark jeans would be all you need.
Further references on shirts with your jeans:
Further articles for reference:
The best looking shoes with a pair of jeans are a nice pair of leather boots or chukkas.
The brown leather and higher tops of the boots will give the jeans a nice accent. There only limitation is when it’s hot out you may not want to wear jeans and boots.
Even chukkas that aren’t as thick as a pair of boots could be too hot. The rest of the year leather boots or chukkas and jeans should be your top draft choice.
Next, is would be a pair of canvas shoes or sneakers.
This is more of a summer wear. They can be your filler when it’s too hot to rock the leathers. Canvas shoes are also a great way to dress down for really casual events.
They are really in their elements during the day doing casual activities but can be worn out at night as well.
A few pairs of shoes that it’s hard to pull off in jeans are oxfords and flip flops.
They both can be done.
They are just a little more dangerous than the above types of shoes. I think the reason for this is that jeans just don’t match the formality level of oxfords, formal, or flip flops, the most casual.
Jeans fall somewhere in the middle where those two are on the extremes.
Matching to those types of shoes takes matching the formality to them, so slacks or chinos for oxfords and shorts of cuffed chinos with flip flops. Certain dudes can pull it off but it’s risky.
Buy a nice pair of leather boots/chukkas and a pair of canvas shoes and you’ll have most of the solution for shoe choices with denim.
Further references on shoes to wear with your jeans:
Jeans come in many different prices. Mostly the cost is generated from how much the material and labor costs to make them.
Once that is factored in it’s how good the brand reputation is and how much premium wearing their jeans is.
The cost to make a pair of raw selvedge jeans in the U.S. is going to be much higher than denim off of a projectile loom from Asia.
That’s a fact. The quality of the jean will probably correspond though.
If you pay twice as much for a pair of jeans will it last twice as long? That would be logical cost benefit analysis. I would say that they probably won’t last twice as long.
I do think they selvedge denim will for sure last longer but probably not twice as long. I think you will find that you enjoy the jeans a lot more.
I spend time looking at my closet and figuring out what clothing I love and what I don’t.
I also ask myself if I didn’t own this piece of clothing would I buy it again?
That is a good gauge of how much you like an article of clothing.
Using that metric you will find that a pair of raw selvedge jeans that you’ve broken in for years that has a wear spot from your phone, wallet, and keys is a piece of clothing that you truly love. A pair of pre-washed standard denim will very likely not give you the same emotions.
Online vs offline jean shopping
We prefer to shop online.
The reason being that the risk of something not fitting, or me not liking it, is outweighed by the huge amount of selection along with customer reviews of the product.
In most cases it pretty simple to send back anything that you purchase online. As long as you bought it from a reputable website, which are pretty easy to identify.
Jean brands that we recommend
Being that we have a jean brand we’re obviously going to recommend Washington Alley jeans. This isn’t just because they own them.
It’s because we truly believe they are an amazing product. We have focused on American made craftsmanship. Along with being a classic style and fit.
Other brands that make awesome jeans:
Jeans are the most important pair of pants that you own. They are extremely versatile and reliable.
Buying the right fit and color are the first steps to looking good. Next is outfitting your jeans so that shirt and shoes compliment you and are appropriate for the occasion that you’re in.
We hope this information has helped you become more confident with wearing your jeans. If you have any questions about this article or WashingtonAlley.com please contact Eddy Beyne, eb@WashingtonAlley.com or Lucas Craig, lc@WashingtonAlley.com
Thanks for reading!
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