A post about jeans with a difference, I want to talk about every aspect of jeans other than denim. The reason for this is that many manufacturers out there use the same, or very similar denim (see ubiquitous use of Cone Mills 13oz and Kaihara 13.5oz). So unless you’re buying from a brand who have proprietary denim how do you choose? What are the other differentiators? What makes the decision to give your hard earned cash to Brand X for their 13oz, straight cut, Cone Mills denim rather than Brand Y, who on the surface of things offer the same product? As is usual in this scene it is the little details which end up meaning so much, and in many cases can be deal breakers, lets take a look at a few.
Probably the easiest way to spot which brand of jeans a person is wearing for an experienced denim head. Whilst some brands favour a “homage” to a certain well known San Francisco based manufacturer others prefer to go their own way. Pocket arcs range from the sublime to the ridiculous, from elaborate stitched patterns, to simple lines, to completely blank pockets and everywhere in between. Opinions and taste vary as much as the arcs themselves with some preferring the simple yet easily recognizable style favoured by brands such as Iron Heart and Samurai and others preferring the minimal approach of the The Unbranded Brand or the straight line of Trophy.
My personal feeling on arcs is that I don’t really mind what they look like so long as they are not too over the top, I have already mentioned Samurai, Iron Heart and Trophy which are all amongst my favourites. Weirdly, I don’t much care for the arcs of the San Francisco brand perhaps due to being an overly familiar sight and possibly also as a hang over from some minor resentment over the harsh and forceful way they handled the arcs and tab debacle with several Japanese brands a few years back.
Either way my tastes when it comes to pocket arcs is fairly varied, something I did like though was when Samurai introduced the “ghost arcs” where the stitching was placed on the inside of the pockets and only appeared through the denim with wear. On the Iron Heart MBB’s I asked for the arc stitching to be done in a none fading dark blue cotton to make the arcs almost invisible when new, but become more and more visible with wear.
When we talk about stitching we are talking about three things, the type of thread used to do the stitching, the contrast colour of the stitching and the varying ways of using stitching to close a seam. Once again these are subtle but noticeable details to the committed denim head and many people place a surprising factor of importance on this small detail.
Most traditionally we see contrasting constructional stitching which is usually a colour anywhere between a yellowish gold and a orange almost copper colour, but the rule is no longer without exception. Brands now use none contrast constructional stitching, especially on over dyed jeans and indigo/ indigo jeans with a dyed warp and weft which removes the framing effect of contrast stitching. Oddly, this plays a strange trick on the eyes by changing the shape of the jeans visually without changing the cut by softening the lines and removing the definition which having visibly defined seams gives.
The type of thread used is an endless debate between traditionalists who favour 100% cotton thread and those who appreciate the greater durability of polycotton. The real difference here, as I have already alluded to, is that cotton thread is seen as more authentic owing to its use in jean making since day one, whereas newer polycotton thread is a mix of man made fibres and cotton providing much more strength to your seams. I choose polycotton to hold my pants together every day.
Buttons And Rivets
Most manufacturers use buttons bearing their own logo these days, with some really nice and intricate designs to be found, but I must confess a soft spot for the old style plain donut button or laurel leaf design which have been in use for over 100 years, not for any sort of vintage fetish simply because I enjoy their minimal appearance. While brass might be the most common material which buttons are made from it is not unusual these days to find zinc alloy or even in some special cases silver buttons.
Rivets are generally copper, with most universally recognised brand being Universal. Some manufacturers use proprietary branded rivets, some plain, I have even seen silver rivets. In most cases we concern ourselves not so much about the colour or brand of the rivet so much as its positioning and whether or not it is visible, with some having preference for the more vintage styled visible rivet, often complete with the most prominently seen rivet being on the crotch seam. My personal preference is for mainly hidden rivets, only visible from the inside of the jeans, going a step further than that some of my favourite jeans do not use rivets at all and instead a stitching bar is used to add strength to points of high stress.
To some denim heads the zipper is the anti Christ, something not be associated with quality denim, however if you choose the path of zipper ignorance then you choose to disregard that zippers were most popular on blue jeans at a time which most of us consider to be the denim hey day, the 1950’s. Back in the decade of Elvis, Brando, greaser gangs, teddy boys and the Nashville sound it was the zipper which was utilised most on the working jeans of working men with only the larger brands (mainly) standing firm with the button fly.
These days it is fairly common to find reproduction vintage Waldes or Talon zippers used on work pants made by the best Japanese manufacturers, but still rarely spotted on jeans. I have to say that I was firmly in the anti zipper camp for a long time, right up until the moment I owned some Garage Denim jeans by Trophy Clothing. I found the convenience of a zipper a complete change from fiddly buttons, but after so long with a traditional fly I found myself trying to pull the fly open as if it had buttons.
Controversially I will state that 99% of pocket bags in jeans suck, they are always the first thing that I ruin due my phone, keys and money, but surely I cannot be the only person keeping such everyday basics in my jeans pockets can I? It generally takes me about 6 months from beginning to wear a pair of jeans before I am asking my wife to break out the sewing machine again and salvage my shredded pockets. The simple truth of this is that whilst twill cotton might be the normal material used for pocket bags but it just isn’t strong enough.
Without a shadow of a doubt my favourite pocket bags are those on Trophy jeans, who have clearly spotted this issue themselves and decided to make the bottom of the pocket double thickness by adding an extra layer of twill cotton. The only thing I can’t figure out though is why not use a different material (I am sure there is a technical reason beyond my understanding).
After the arcs it is the patch which makes similar pairs of jeans different, quite often the patch may be the only external branding on a pair of jeans so this is the main area for the brand to communicate their concept and identity to the customer. There was a time when you could confidently state that almost all patches were made from a stamped or inked piece of cow hide leather, not any more though as some brands have taken to more inventive methods of expressing their identity.
Many brands have taken to using deer skin patches as they feel that deer skin evolves better along side denim, Sugar Can have been rather inventive in using hairy horse hide in their Hawaii jeans and a locally found snake skin for their Okinawa jeans, whilst Elhaus of Indonesia hand engrave their patches individually on thick steer hide and period model jeans are still produced with paper and cardboard patches as they would have been in times of shortage during World War II.
Every denim head has their own preferences from the myriad of options available and honestly some people care more about the small details than others. I like the details of a pair of jeans but I would not let any single aspect deviating from my preference stop me from buying a pair of jeans, except maybe ridiculously over done pocket arcs. My choices are simple arcs, orange/ gold stitching, plain buttons, hidden rivets, buttons over zippers (but only just), double thick pocket bags and a deer skin patch, but I know that there are people who would disagree with every single one of my choices, that’s what keeps us interested though right?