Denim HQ – Indigo Communities In Cyber Space

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The vast expanses of actual space are now challenged by the limitless void of cyberspace. Some would argue that the internet has made mankind more insular and likely to spend time with his laptop, tablet or smart phone than with other humans whereas some would argue that the ease of communication and sharing of information which it affords has been mankind’s greatest achievement. For the niche of denim and work wear there can be no doubt that the internet plays a major role in the success and failure of any venture.

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Increasingly brands and enthusiasts are learning about the exposure that they can get for their wares and endeavours through social media, forums and other internet based platforms. Mediums such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram allow for an image or a message to be communicated on a massive level extremely quickly, whilst facilities such as tagging and sharing can send the “right” posts viral to an audience the size of which conventional advertising could not hope to match. The only limitation of using this method of spreading a message is that it is not particularly personal, and in our industry the personal touch is almost as valued as the product itself.

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Central to this burgeoning realm of social interaction and information exchange is the forum, and maybe more than any other form of exposure the forum is a tool for driving whatever you set it up drive, be that products and services, social discourse or a community based around help and assistance of the members, by the members. The best forums manage to do all of this at once, and I want to take a few paragraphs to discuss the communities and forums with which I am best acquainted.

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I started reading Superfuture after my first trip to Japan, and I joined a little time after. Like a good “newb” I resisted the urge to post straight away and instead I read every discussion that interested me. From this I discovered that SuFu, as it is affectionately known, had a great deal of Frat Boy humour spread through most of its sub forums, this is totally not my thing. Further research lead me to find that for some reason this most juvenile of pettiness did not extend to the Superdenim forum and so this is where I found myself most of the time. It was on Superdenim where I learned just about everything in those early days, I saw what people were wearing and how they were wearing it and I learned what was good, authentic and respected and I also learned what was bad, frowned upon and lacked soul. The Superdenim community is where I made my first real connections and friends in the denim community, it was here where I began the HWDC and most importantly it was here where I honed my own taste in denim and continue to do so to this very day.

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From my friendship with Beatle, and the HWDC, I found myself at the Iron Heart summer party in 2011 and signed up for their online community slightly before that. The IHF (Iron Heart forum) is very different to Superdenim, it is brand focussed but the community there is close and discussion flows in directions not often seen in most online communities. It is the closest online experience I have had to having a chat with some mates in the local pub, and it has also taken me into actual pubs and having actual conversations with people I have met through the forum, in locations as diverse as New York, Tokyo, Jakarta and Birmingham. I have made real and genuine friends through the forum, had arguments that have actually pissed me off in real life and made me question how seriously I should be taking the internet and I have helped and been helped out by numerous people in all corners of the globe. It isn’t perfect, but it is unique in it’s ability to draw people together. The forum is welcoming, knowledgeable and is moderated discreetly and is the best place to go if you like to chat more broadly than just about denim.

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Online communities are fantastic conduits for learning, networking, finding deals, giving and getting help and making genuine friends. Before posting it is always best to spend a few days reading the forum in question to get into step with the humour of the place and what is tolerated and acceptable along with what is not. My experiences have been far more positive than negative, and if you can take a step back from your keyboard every now and then to think about what you have just read (something that I sometimes struggle with), you will stay out of trouble and have a great time.

Denim HQ – Flannel, The Other Cotton

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I’ve already pitched my flag in the sand as a guy who prefers denim and chambray to flannel when it comes to shirts, but that doesn’t mean that I have an aversion to the lumberjack associated material, quite the opposite in fact. For a long time I was an obsessive collector and wearer of checked and flannel shirts, I love flannel, I love checked shirts but they do have to be interesting as years of being so enraptured by this particular item have left me jaded to all but the exceptional.

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I wore flannel shirts as a teenager in the hay day of the grunge scene, I wore flannel shirts through to my early 20’s as they became standard uniform for skateboarders, and when I began my obsession with quality Japanese attire I was joyful to see that checked shirts were also loved in this niche. I became jaded by flannel when I opened my wardrobe one day and could not focus my eyes due to the vast array of multi coloured, multi patterned Americana which greeted me. I blame myself, I went too far. The Japanese clothing scene had taught me that checked shirts and flannels could be worn all year round, I needed lightweight versions, medium weight versions and that most coveted item the heavyweight flannel and I hoarded them all into my wardrobe at the expense of denim, chambray, knitwear and sweatshirts…..what was I thinking?

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As usually happens when someone with a compulsive obsessive personality like mine wakes up to their behaviour I quickly did a 180 degree and completely rid myself of all my flannel, an epic mistake only rivalled by previous fixation with flannel. I sold the lot and restocked with denim, chambray, hoodies, sweatshirts, linen and canvas and guess what happened then? I wanted my flannel back, but not as I had before, my excesses had given me perspective, sharpened my taste and made me realise what I actually liked and wanted rather than what my conditioned behaviour had convinced my subconscious that I needed.

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Flannel is a working fabric made for comfort and warmth, the checked pattern adds a splash of colour and interest to a world that is often seen as bland and utilitarian. In many ways the checked flannel shirt is as Americana as blue jeans, which goes some way to explaining their popularity in the denim community, and much like jeans there is a certain amount of experience and confidence required to learn what works for you. The cut, colour combination, pattern and length are all key components when wondering if a flannel will work for you, so there are far more variables than with jeans. My mistake was buying anything that I thought looked cool (a pretty common mistake), just because it looks cool on the hanger does not mean it will look cool on you.

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Through a process of elimination I have learned that darker colour combinations work for me, along with looser (work) cuts and shorter to mid length shirts make me look slimmer than longer shirts. This has lead me to re-invest in vintage flannel shirts by reputable American brands such as Frost Proof and 5 Brothers, their patterns are bold and very different from the majority of what you see in many brand line ups today, the cut works for me and the quality of the shirts (some of which are 45 years old) is superb. Increasingly Japanese brands are getting their inspiration from these types of shirts and I look forward to seeing more of their interpretations, Jelado are one of the first and best to do this and their flannels are currently their biggest selling item for this great reason.

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The lesson here is that whatever your taste there is bound to be a flannel to match it, a cut to suit you and maybe even a vintage, American made shirt for that most valued and increasingly illusive thing……authenticity.

Denim HQ – People Who Like Denim Like…..

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Have you ever noticed how people who share one common interest invariably share more common interests? Like guys who are into team sports usually have a more than healthy interest in beer, or people into hiking tend to enjoy another outdoor activity such as fishing or climbing, and so it goes with denim. The ridiculous amount of time I spend as a voyeur into other people lives via social media and forums has made me mentally associate certain interests with folks in the denim scene, these are the top 5.

1) Motorcycles – Although denim may originally have been the casual wear of the cowboy in the 1940’s it was passed over to the biker, and there it has remained ever since. From Japan to the USA to Finland you will find cool bikes wherever you find quality denim in abundance, and the two compliment each other really well.

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2) Automobiles – Just like bikes, denim heads also love their cars. They like them classic and loud mainly with American muscle cars being a prominent choice but with classically styled European cars also being surprisingly popular. Jeans have always been greaser wear, and that remains true to this day.

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3) Travel – We denim heads are a nomadic bunch and any brief study of social media or forums will very quickly yield a plethora of pictures of denim clad folks cropping up in all corners of the globe. I have personally travelled great distances in the name of denim, and I have not been alone in these treks.

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4) Facial hair – Mainly for the male denim heads, we do seem to have a thing about facial hair though. Maybe it’s the masculinity of jeans and facial hair, combined with fast things on wheels….. who knows, but a lot of men in denim also have beards, me included. Discussions rage about clippers and beard oil, the maintenance of the beard becomes all consuming and it’s girth a sign of virility.

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5) Beer! – Just as we obsess over the details of our denim, so we also consume ourselves with the details of our beer. Is it Belgian or American, trappiste, lambic, pale ale, stout? Are the casks used for port or bourbon? Is it a fruit beer? A super strong brew? Limited edition? The questions go on and on…..

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Honourable mentions should be given to music and coffee, but music is far too broad of a subject and coffee is simply a tool to keep me awake so I do not fathom those who obsess.

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Denim HQ – Denim on Denim, a Fashion Faux Pas?

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In Canada and Texas it is simply known as “the tux”, for a generation of pop stars throughout the 1980’s it was considered de rigueur but in more recent years it has been a subject of derision from people who consider themselves to be fashion forward. Luckily we people who enjoy denim and work wear with an absolute nerd like devotion can never be accused of being fashion forward, and we do enjoy revelling in our differences from the dress code of the masses. To this end I proudly proclaim my enjoyment of the denim on denim look, and I’ll tell you why.

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The stigma which has been attached to the denim tux from the mainstream is based on two commonly held visions that present themselves when considering a denim outfit, cowboys and 80’s pop stars. Now, whilst some people may find the cowboy look appealing I don’t think that many would favour looking like a refugee from the Band Aid video, but this does not have to be the case. The two look previously described images are brought together by the over usage of stone washed denim, rather than good old deep indigo raw denim and whilst some will not favour being dressed in mono colour it is certainly not a look which can be tagged with the stone wash banner.

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The beauty of deep indigo is that it takes on a character with wear, and I don’t mind wearing twice as much character. I personally favour denim shirts over flannel, and denim jackets over duck so being dressed in double (sometimes even triple) denim is not a rare occurrence for me. Speaking as someone who enjoys subtlety and detailing in the things I own I do take a particular pleasure from mixing different weaves, shades and levels of wear to throw the look out a little, I enjoy mixing up my Dirt Denim tux with my Iron Heart tux as both give me combinations and slightly different aesthetics, whilst still being decidedly denim.

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In all honestly I would say the my Trophy Dirt Denim jacket and jeans, and my Iron Heart denim shirt and jeans and probably my most worn items, which probably says more about me that it does the double denim look, but is certainly an indicator of my lack of concern about people mocking the tux. Increasingly on forums and social media these days it is becoming apparent that the denim tux is a favourite of many as people in the work wear scene embrace the full covering with our favourite fabric. I for one applaud this, long may it continue, but if the scene ever makes a full turn to leather trousers to match the jackets then I am afraid I must hand in my membership card and bid you all farewell. Some things are just a step too far.

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Denim HQ – Boot Battle, Whites SD Vs Alden 405 Indy

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In terms of iconic medium weight work boots I don’t think that there is much argument that the Alden 405 Indy boot and the White’s Semi Dress boot are the two big boys. They are priced similarly and made by companies with a rich history in quality working footwear and both pride themselves in being a boot that you can work and walk all day in with discomfort. Only one however is big in Japan, whilst the other was the favoured boot of the worlds most famous fictional archaeologist, but which is king and why?

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I am fortunate enough to own both of these much revered boots, I have not owned either of them from new (both were gifted to me by friends) and I have far more experience with Whites than I do Alden but I take this as an advantage as the comparison is very fresh in my mind. The White’s boots are made from buffalo hide, whilst the Indy’s are made from Horween Chromexcel, chrome tanned leather, both have a block heel and a single leather midsole, the Aldens have and extremely hard wearing flat rubber sole whilst the Semi Dress come with the Vibram 700 sole unit and Quabaug heel. The Aldens weigh in at 4.4kg whilst the White’s weigh in at a slightly more substantial 4.9kg.

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Comparing the apprearance of both boots reveals that they are both share a relatively low profile toe box, with the Alden featuring the signature stitch pattern on the top, both sweep upwards into a 6″ shaft with the Whites being finished with a 1.5″ block heel compared to a 0.75″ heel on the Aldens. There are similarities, there are also differences, the Aldens have a slightly more refined appearance with a single row of visible welt stitching compared to the White’s double row (although single row stitching is an option in a White’s custom build) and the slightly lower overall profile of the Alden adding a touch of refinement to the total form.

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After the aesthetic the next area of comparison is build quality. Both of these boots are hefty, use great materials and are bench made, the Aldens feel like a boot you could cover many miles in, ideal for working on your feel all day, whereas the White’s feel like the kind of boot you could work, hike and possibly go to war in. It’s almost a term of stating the obvious when I say that White’s are well made, in contrast I had heard unacceptable things about Aldens slipshod construction, thankfully I find that reports of the demise of Alden have been greatly exaggerated…..at least in the case of these particular 2 year old boots.

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Moving on to comfort, and this is the area which could trip me up (pun intended). I have slim, girly feet, my wife describe them as being like a ballet dancers. I also have an unfeasibly high instep which renders Converse and Vans all but useless instruments of torture to me, so naturally I favour the patented White’s “arch ease” system and it has kept me loyal to White’s and away from other brands for a number of years now. My first couple of days wearing the Aldens did nothing but confirm my fears, I found them to be too flat and hard  for my high rise feet, but after the initial discomfort and my own mental denial process of all other boots they became almost (but not quite) as comfortable as the SD’s.

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In summary both boots are extraordinary and thoroughly deserving of their reputation at the top of the tree, but the White’s are still the imperator for me. In real terms both boots cost roughly the same, but with the SD’s you have seemingly endless custom options, superior construction and they are completely rebuildable for a surprisingly reasonable price by White’s themselves. This level of personal investment in the SD’s by the company makes a real difference to me, put simply if I was forced to replace both of these pairs of boots I would certainly replace the White’s first…..but the Aldens would not be too far behind.

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FWA Number 15 – The Persol 2712-S Sunglasses

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Steve McQueen is quite an icon of that most intangible and subjective quality commonly referred to as “cool”. He had that rare ability to portray real rugged manliness no matter what you dressed him in, equally at home in his Belstaff sat astride his trail bike or charging around San Francisco wearing a sharp blue suit in his Mustang. Persol Sunglasses were good enough for Steve, so they are good enough for me.

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The Persol company was founded in Agordo, Italy in 1917 to manufacture fine quality optical frames and lenses. Their inimitable style has seen them become the choice of movie stars from the Rat Pack onwards, their roots evoking visions of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra drinking Champagne whilst larking around with a speedboat on Lake Como with a bevy of swimwear clad beauties. It is from these lofty origins that they have made their way through the decades to become the sunglasses of choice for a bald man from middle England.

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My Persol glasses have been with me for around 6 years now, I bought them second hand for a very good price and have never felt the need to change them or look at other styles. They have accompanied me to such glamorous places as Singapore, Japan, Indonesia, California, New York, Barcelona, Berlin and Manchester (ok so maybe Manchester lacks a certain je ne sais quas), and have never let me down. This combination of style and reliability is irresistible in an accessory like sunglasses.

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I did not know this when I purchased my sunglasses but a little rudimentary research lead me to find out a couple of interesting things about my particular favoured type of Persol sunglasses. Firstly, they were discontinued in 2010, despite being one of the companies major sellers, and I cannot find out why. Secondly, they were worn in the movie “A History Of Violence” by Hollywood tough guy Ed Harris and were apparently much sought after due to this silver screen appearance.

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The frames are elegantly styled, as are just about all Persol frames, hand made in Italy and feature Persols much lauded crystal lenses offering maximum UV protection for your eyes. I add them to my FWA list as they must literally be the 100th pair of sunglasses that I have owned in my adult life and they are the first that actually look ok on my giant bald head, add this to the timeless styling and the build quality and I believe you have a winner.