An ode and a guide to tapered jeans

SLIM TAPERED JEANS


The first pair of “raw” denim jeans I saw that were not my father’s Levi’s Orange tabs ($29.95 at Zellers back in 1980) were Helmut Lang’s “Narrow” and “Straight” cuts, which I stumbled across the Beverly Hills Barneys in 1998. The hems of both seemed improbably tight and unfashionable to me at that time, when 16-18” hems were the norm, and the $300+ price was prohibitive to a graduate student without a trust fund.

A few years later, the North American premium denim movement, which started in LA, where the bulk of denim manufacturing is located, began in earnest. My personal favorites were Scott Morrison’s first brand, Paper Denim & Cloth, which was revolutionary for its time; and Levi’s Premium, among the first of Levi’s many attempts to gain a fresh foothold in the new fashion landscape. In the early 2000s Scandinavian brands, led by Nudie, gained a following in North America, helped by representation from the super agency WANT. During my honeymoon in Spain, finding Nudies in Madrid was a major goal, and I dragged my new wife on a several-hour walk just to find the small boutiques I was interested in – I know that more of you sympathize with this than would care to. ACNE (also represented by WANT) were the next to gain popularity in the US. My Norwegian friends told me that in Scandinavia, Nudie were for the douche-bro crowd, and ACNE was the jean of choice for the less objectionable, but my loyalty to Nudie – at this point ingrained – didn’t waver.

These were all gateway drugs to the Japanese denim that had been popular in Japan a decade earlier. In usual form the States were a decade behind, but our interests were stoked by retailers like Self Edge and Blue in Green, who were as much a product of the times as they were the flag bearers. Like everyone else swept up in the trend, I agonized over shrinking, stretching, and the much-sought-after wear marks, which Babelfish awesomely translated from the Japanese as “vertical falling.” Those were heady days for the raw denim crowd. Ultimately, I came to the realization – as did all of my denim-nerd peers – that forcing yourself to wait six months before washing a pair of jeans is madness. I always thought that the sizing-down-so-that-the-jeans-stretch-out stance was a terrible idea, so I didn’t have to learn that lesson at the cost of the months – even years – of testicular pain, that so many others paid.

“Shrink to fit” Levi’s commercial from the 1980s

Today, my denim collection resembles an archaeological dig site that spans the past 15 years and has its beginning with the premium denim trend of the very early 00s. And while I am sure that my preferences will continue to evolve, I’m at the point at which comfort, or at the very least, not-extreme-discomfort, will always be a consideration. This means that the recommendations below have some breathing room through the seat front and thighs, and hit comfortably at the hipbone. Since tapered is still the standard, both are slimmer from the knee down. Generally, I like the feeling of heft in my jeans – no paper-light stretchy jeggings for me – but super heavy jeans are never all that comfortable, so jeans between 13.5 and 17 ounces, light enough to be nimble, heavy enough to have some real power, hit that sweet spot.

If you’ve got big thighs, check out this article on Jeans for Men with Big Thighs

“Slim tapered” jeans from Big John’s “Rare” line have the minimalist trappings of designer jeans – a plain, midnight blue, deerskin indigo back patch, a placketless fly, and no gratuitous branding; and they are cut not unlike the Helmut Lang jeans that I used to think were too narrow at the hem, with a mid-rise and a tapered leg. But they are made from inky “Ransei” denim (meaning “king of denims”), which is the highest quality denim made by Japan’s “first” Americana-inspired denim brand and is designed to fade in an extremely attractive manner. I hesitate to describe them as versatile, since that’s only a few steps away from suggesting that they will go from “the boardroom to the bar,” but I will say that all of the very different people to whom I’ve recommended them have liked them.

BIG JOHN Slim tapered jeans, 14 oz raw denim - via No Man Walks Alone

BIG JOHN Slim tapered jeans, 14 oz raw denim – via No Man Walks Alone

The other pair I frequently wear are even more of an amalgam of the trends of the last fifteen years than the Big Johns: a collaborative project (collaborations went from novel to ubiquitous between 2003 and 2006) from American retailer Blue Owl and Japanese manufacturer Momotaro; the very precisely-named (and discontinued) BOM005 (the closest analog is now the BOM008). The “modern,” mid-rise, tapered cut is borrowed from its sister brand, Japan Blue, and the heavy denim appeals to both denimheads and fashion customers alike, with weft threads (the colored threads in a jean) that are nearly black when first worn, and fade to a dark indigo with wear. They also have a black leather patch – plain or tonal patches seem to be popular with the minimalist set these days – and instead of the typical contrast stitching, the thread is tonal save for the single line of pink running along the inseam.

momotaro blue owl denim jeans tapered

These two pairs take me through most days. Not a decade ago, I would have recommended a much lower rise, tighter jean, possibly in the heavier denim. Those cuts and weights still exist, and there is always a race towards the heaviest possible denim, but as a retailer once said about super heavy (18-ounce and greater) denim, “that’s for kids.” I do have a pair of 23-ounce jeans that I wear when I get nostalgic for the age of sick fades, though. Jeans, after all, are about the memories.

Buying Jeans for a Tailored Wardrobe

The ‘blazer and jeans’ look is as common today as it ever has been, championed by retailers and social media accounts of all sorts. Most commonly, you’ll see narrow black blazers paired with narrow black denim or torn jeans, or you’ll find true dad-wear diehards wearing stonewashed Levi’s with too-big sport coats. On the other side of the spectrum are Styleforum’s SW&D posters, who have long been sharing less rigid and rule-bound takes on the same combination.

However, if you fall more on the Classic Menswear side of things, don’t lose heart. There is certainly – perhaps more so now than ever – a segment of the denim market in which you can find some very versatile jeans for a tailored wardrobe. If that sounds like you, here are several considerations you’ll want to keep in mind when you’re shopping for denim, along with some tips from Styleforum members to send you on your way.


1. What to Consider

Remember that Jeans are Jeans

First and foremost: jeans are not trousers. The key to wearing them with tailored clothing is understanding that they don’t need to be forced into a role as stand-ins for trousers, but that they offer new and different styling possibilities for your wardrobe. If you think that jeans are too casual to be worn with tailored clothing, then you’ll likely be happier if you stick with trousers than you would be trying to force denim into your wardrobe.

Consider the cut

Before you consider the hem width or color of your jeans, make sure that you’re keeping an eye on the rise. Are you planning to tuck in your shirt? If so, you’ll want to stay away from low-rise jeans, which will result in untucked shirts and unsightly bulges at the crotch and belt line. If your tastes tend toward the classic, you’ll probably want to look for a ‘medium rise,’ as most men’s jeans won’t be marked as a ‘high rise’ (if you’re looking for explicitly high-rise denim, your best bet is to search Western and Cowboy supply stores for brands such as Lee and Wrangler). This has the added benefit of making your jeans resemble trousers more closely in silhouette, which means that if you’re sticking with your classic clothing, it will be easier to work denim into your wardrobe.

Determining hem width

Do you plan to wear your jeans with espadrilles and camp collar shirts? With loafers and a polo? With chunky, English footwear and a sport coat? This will help you do decide on the inseam length and hem width that you prefer. I suggest not going wider than 8-8.5″, as denim has its own characteristics and quickly starts to look sloppy when overly wide.

For example, you’re looking for a pair of jeans to wear in the summertime, consider a cream fabric hemmed to no break, as these will pair well with loafers. If you plan to wear them with chukkas in the fall and winter seasons, a longer inseam and some tasteful stacking will look nice.

Similarly, too-narrow jeans may look at home in a streetwear context, but be out of place in a more traditional getup.

Fabric

Texture is as important in denim as it is when choosing trousers. Wearing thin, uninteresting denim that doesn’t stand out won’t necessarily elevate your look – however, pronounced slubbiness or neppiness may not be what you want either. The latter fabrics can be difficult to dissociate from their rugged, workcloth origins, and don’t necessarily pair well with tailored clothing, while the former can read as bland and unconsidered.

There’s no specific ‘best’ denim for wearing with tailored clothing, but I prefer to err on the side of textured. This limits the chances that you’ll look like a boring office drone.

What about the color?

My personal opinion is that very dark jeans look silly with sport coats and a tucked-in shirt, as they go too far in aping the look of trousers and instead ignore the characteristics of denim. Jeans are not a formal garment, even in this informal world, and that’s not changed by pairing them with more formal clothing. A highly-textured denim can alleviate this effect somewhat.

Obviously, you may choose to go the raw route, and wear your jeans until they’re distressed to your tastes. Otherwise I’d suggest looking for a light to medium-dark blue, depending on the look you’re after. Faded indigo is a lovely color, and works very nicely with tailored jackets in a way that navy trousers can’t.

There are also more and more makers offering tasteful washes, should you prefer your jeans pre-washed.

To cuff or not to cuff

There’s no right answer here. Generally, I recommend avoiding thick, heavy cuffs – a single cuff or micro-cuff can look nice, but this depends greatly on the width of the hem and the shoe you’re wearing. Here are some examples that I think look good, followed by others that I think miss the mark. Ultimately, the choice is up to you.

A note on alterations

Don’t be afraid to hem or taper your jeans, the way you would alter any other garment. They’re still an off-the-rack garment, so the chances that anything you find will fit you or your tastes perfectly are as slim as they are in any other case. For example, Levi’s had so many customers request that the legs of their 501 jeans be tapered that they introduced a new fit, the 501 CT. Keep that in mind if you’re looking through thrift stores for the perfect, already-broken-in wash.

However, don’t get too precious – remember, jeans aren’t trousers, and part of what makes denim pleasant is its innately unkempt, casual feel.


2. Brands to try

The following are brands that offer denim in cuts amenable to tailoring or to a more classic wardrobe. Keep in mind that there are many, many others – a cruise through most of the Italian RTW brands on Yoox will net endless results. Levi’s offers numerous budget options, and would be my choice if you’re looking to keep costs down, but if you have the cash to spare there are far nicer options available.

Levi’s

Japan Blue Jeans

Orslow

Kapital

The Armoury


3. Member Tips

Lots of people have already figured out what works for them. Like other members, I happen to think that dark denim worn with a dark, office-ready blazer is a strange look. Here are some selected tips and impressions. For more, check out the Sport Coats and Jeans thread. I’d also direct you to our contributor Mitch, who nails the blazer-and-jeans look.

“I think the best way is to just throw it on and think no more of it. A very casual jacket helps of course.”

– E.F.V.

“I don’t do the denim+SC look often – I generally prefer chinos – but I do think it can work. When I’ve done it in the past I’ve usually reached for gray tweed, brown flannel, tan linen, things like that (depending on the weather). I’ve never tried the navy on navy, I just haven’t felt good about it whenever I looked in the mirror.”

– Brillopad

“It helps to have awesome hair. Or some interesting detail so it doesn’t feel like ‘I just got home from the office but only had time to change half of my outfit before going out to dinner.'”

– ChetB

“I’ve debated this with folks here before, but I think for all but the tallest of dudes, jackets worn with odd pants generally and jeans particularly should be shorter than a standard suit jacket. If this isn’t done, the jacket makes the look top-heavy and dumpy. One inch minimum, probably no more than two.”

– Sugarbutch

5 Best Jeans for Men with Big Thighs

One of the most common questions that is asked on the forum – alongside “Where can I buy Common Projects on sale?” – is “How do I clothe my athletic thighs with denim?”  It seems that, while malls across America are well-equipped to outfit the girthier amongst us and fashion brands like Saint Laurent Paris can clothe kale-eating hordes of models, there is a dearth of denim choices for the mesomorphs in our midst: those who begin and end each day with a strong dose of creatine, and whose Instagrams and Snapchats are riddled with words such as “swole” and “gainz.”  Styleforum, alway inclusive, is happy to present the 5 best jeans for men with big thighs: powerlifters, strongman competitors, or those who aspire to be Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (or just want a pair of jeans with some room in the thigh).

  1. Jeanshop  “Rocker”, $260 at www.jeanshop.com

    I’ve visited the flagship Jean Shop store in lower Manhattan, and like many stores who can trace their genesis to the mid-noughties, it looks like ye olde general store, with a lot of wood and wrought iron. The brand is famous for its thick leather jackets (which I once coveted as a broke postdoctoral scholar), and of course for its jeans, which are topstitched with a distinctive orange thread.  The owner of Jean Shop, Eric Goldstein, is a big guy (in one conversation with him he told me that he was “not a small guy,” and the cut of his earliest models reflect his understanding that big guys like to wear nice jeans too.  The Rocker cut is a straight legged model with ample room through the seat, thighs, and legs. Best Jeans for Men with Big Thighs styleforum lifter's jeans weightlifter's jeans weightlifting jeans jeans for lifters

  2. RRL straight fit denim –  $275 at www.ralphlauren.com

    Possibly the most comfortable jeans that I own are a pair of 15 ounce straight fit selvedge jeans from RRL.  The denim is washed, and so there is very little break-in time required, which means that even though they have the look of dark denim, they don’t have the stiffness that often accompanies “raw,” a.k.a unwashed, jeans.  A lot of guys talk about the thighs on their jeans being restrictive, but if you are doing squats, you are probably going to want some extra room in the seat – which these offer. Ralph Lauren is a billion dollar company, and with that much money, you can afford to hire good pattern makers.  This pair of jeans shows that. Best Jeans for Men with Big Thighs styleforum lifter's jeans weightlifter's jeans weightlifting jeans jeans for lifters

  3. Naked and Famous Easy Guys, in black for $170 at East Dane

    One of the most popular styles of jeans right now is a tapered black jean, and this is a relaxed fit pair that tapers down to a neat hem. Naked and Famous, hailing out of Montreal, is the brainchild of Brandon Svarc and is known for putting out crazy denim blends.  It’s been a while since I’ve run into him, but he always has a demonstration set up at trade shows – a pair of jean that stand up by themselves, or a pair of jeans in tricolor (all blended into the yarn), or whatever else comes to his mind that season.  Behind all of the theater, though, is a family of jean styles designed so that everyone can wear a pair.  The Easy Guy is the high end denim answer to those Wrangler jeans commercials, in which guys are playing football in jeans. Why you would want to do that is beyond me – it’s easy enough to tuck away a pair of technical fiber pants or training pants.  That said, if you are drawn into that madness, the Easy Guy will carry you through. Best Jeans for Men with Big Thighs styleforum lifter's jeans weightlifter's jeans weightlifting jeans jeans for lifters

  4. Japan Blue High tapered $127 at www.denimio.com

    The “carrot” shape is very in fashion right now, but it can be hard for bigger guys to fit into typical carrot jeans.  However, Japan Bue developed  their high tapered cut specifically for lifters – apparently being swole has caught on in Japan as well. The jeans feature a higher rise, generous seat and thighs, and a very deep taper. They come in a variety of denim types and weights, from the standard 14.5 ounce denim (linked) show below to a beefy 18 ounce “monster” denim.  Best Jeans for Men with Big Thighs styleforum lifter's jeans weightlifter's jeans weightlifting jeans jeans for lifters

  5. Levi’s 541, 50$-70$ at Levis.com

    These jeans really don’t require that much explanation.  They are Levi’s standard “athletic cut” and meant for men who need, or just want, jeans that hit at the waist, have a bit more room in the seat and thighs, and have a whisper of a taper.  These are jeans with no time for nonsense.  Best Jeans for Men with Big Thighs styleforum lifter's jeans weightlifter's jeans weightlifting jeans jeans for lifters

5 Best Jeans for 2016 and Beyond

The streetwear and denim forum within Styleforum started in large part because I wrote a “10 Best Jeans” post years ago, in the days when “premium denim” was blowing up in LA and the North American Market was just starting to get imported jeans from Scandanavia and Japan.  In those days, the threads were named “5 Best jeans,” or “10 Best jeans,” but it’s really impossible to make a superlative list in such a varied category, so I always tried to make these representative of different styles and needs rather than pointing to one model and saying “Yeah, best jeans right there.”  I do think that the below is a representative list of “best in class” jeans.  Of course, it’s like the 100m dash (or at least, the 100m dash, pre-Usain Bolt).  There are many contenders for the #1 spot, and the winner is usually the first among peers.

This is the first such list that I am writing for the Styleforum Journal, so I’ve chosen the below 5 great jeans with a nod to the past and a eye on the future.


Best wearable art – Kapital Cisco Century Jeans, $375 at www.standardandstrange.com

Cisco - Century Denim No5 kapital styleforum best jeans for 2016

Kapital is perhaps the exemplar of the “mythological folklore by way of Japan” brands, and there are many.  It borrows liberally from Native American imagery, old military uniforms, American workwear, the clothing of some tribes that may or may not exist outside Kapital’s famous photoshoots, and mashes them up with Japanese textile traditions like boro patchwork and sashiko stitching.

Kapital’s cinchback “Cisco” jeans are made from Kapital’s “Century” denim that has been dyed using the kakishibu method, with fermented persimmon juice to produce a deep brick color, and then sashiko stitched using indigo thread.  They are a good (and not inexpensive) example of the combination of Japanese and American clothing and textile traditions and the brand’s general obsessiveness with their production process.  They were first introduced in 2012, but have been popular enough to be kept in the list of “best ofs” that seem to accompany each of Kapital’s collections (other best of Kapital pieces include their moleskin ring jacket and their Old Man and the Sea caps).


Most comfortable heavyweight jeans – The Ironheart 17 ounce straight tapered jeans, $295 at www.selfedge.com

ironheart self edge styleforum best jeans for 2016

I’ve owned and worn many jeans that range between “heavyweight”, usually defined as 16 ounces and above, and “monster weight”, which is my personal term for anything about 20 ounces (per square yard).  To put this into perspective, most military tents are made from 12-14 ounce canvas, and lighter weight stretch jeans are often about 9-10 ounces.  It’s rare that I’d call any heavyweight jeans the “best jeans,” but of all of these, Ironheart makes the most comfortable.

Kiya, who owns Self Edge – one of our oldest advertisers – once told me that this is because they use the longest staple yarns, even longer than do luxury brands, which gives the jeans a cool feeling, and because they use a cold water rinse, instead of the usual, hot, industrial rinse,  Back in the day, the consensus on Styleforum and other forums was that you had to (physically) suffer for the perfect fit, that the first few weeks of wearing jeans three sizes small was a trial by fire to be endured for excellent fades.  Luckily for us all, that insanity is behind us.  Also, I am way too old for that now.  I need my jeans to slip on and off effortlessly.  This is especially important in heavier weight jeans.


Best “Starter” jeans – The Japan Blue tapered model, $220 at www.blueowl.us

japan-blue-tapered-jeans styleforum best jeans for 2016

If you want a pair of jeans that fits well, is neither too slim not too loose, is neither too heavy nor too lightweight, neither very high rise, nor very low rise, and without features like a drop crotch that will date it easily, and will generally stand up to the test of time, Japan Blue’s “Tapered” model is a good choice.

The cut is mid rise, with a slowly tapering leg.  They come in a variety of denim weights and types, and I’ve seen them worn in “full workwear”, and as part of our editor in Chief’s indigo patchwork outfits, and I wear them as part of what was once called my “killer cowboy” style, but that I suspect might be considerably less romantic and cool.

While “versatility” of often code for “really boring”, Japan Blue rescues us by using very interesting denim on any otherwise fairly standard, well made, jeans that lack the bells and whistles of jeans by its sister brand, Momotaro, both produced by the Japan Blue Group.

My favorite are in indigo warp with a black weft, and tonal stitching, made in an unsanforized version of Japan Blue’s “Monster” denim, exclusively for Blue Owl (shown above).  They are heavier than most like their jeans, but don’t worry, there are many lighter weight jeans in the same cut.


Best skinny jeans – Saint Laurent Paris low rise slim fit black jeans, $290 at www.ysl.comstyleforum best jeans for 2016 saint laurent paris slp skinny

I heard a story about Jim Morrison once – that he was a skinny, awkward kid with a crew cut, and that over a summer in California, he grew out his famous mane and transformed into the Lizard King.

This is the revenge of skinny, awkward, teenagers everywhere on the world.  According to recent polls, 95% of all models, male or female, report having been “awkward and nerdy” as teenagers.  (the remaining 5% were jock douchebags – sometimes life remains the same).

If you still have the chops to look like a young Axel Rose (as opposed to the much less attractive 50-something middle-aged Axel Rose), you might want to go for Hedi Slimane’s (they are still his) Saint Laurent Paris jeans, that make his Dior Homme era jeans look baggy and overly comfortable.  How times and our perceptions have changed.


Best Discount Jean – Uniqlo slim fit selvedge denim jeans, $49.90 at www.uniqlo.com

styleforum best jeans for 2016

Over the years, on Styleforum, one of the most commonly asked questions, was “What is the best selvedge denim (jeans) for under $100?”  For a while, there was not much at that price range.  During the era of the $300 jean, you could either go to your local Sears for standard Levis, or you could shell out.  Or you could try to get your friend who was living in Japan to buy and send you a pair of Uniqlo selvedge denim jeans.

These days, particularly with the advent of the direct-to-consumer model, there are many more choices, but the under $100 beacon jean for all those years still remains also the standard bearer.  Of course, these days, there is no need to wheedle a favor out of a friend visiting Japan.  If you can’t get to a Uniqlo in person, it’s only a few clicks away.  At $49.90, the Uniqlo slim fit (these days with a bit of stretch) give a good fit and very passable construction.  If you want 100% cotton and a more relaxed fit, the “normal fit” is also available for the same price.  Both look good on, and age reasonably well.

Are they the best jeans for under 100$? They’re bare bones, to be sure, and all the bells and whistles of the higher end Japanese brands are not there, nor are you likely to develop one of the very distinctive fade patterns of hardcore denimheads, but at just under $5o, you can’t do better.

 

There’s No Such Thing as Dress Jeans

Let’s get this out of the way right now.  Dress jeans don’t exist. Stop using this term.  They don’t exist in real life, except here, but that’s not the life you want.  Trust me on this one.

About 10 years ago, when the NBA elevated its dress code to eliminate jeans, shouts of resistance erupted everywhere, from the players as well as the public.  Eventually, the NBA capitulated and allowed the term “business casual” (quotations theirs) which included dress jeans.

“I’ve never heard the term (dress jeans) and it’s a little scary to me,” wrote Jim Moore of GQ.  “A jean is a jean.  I think that’s a crazy, nebulous term.”

Back in the late 90s, after the grunge look of my high school years faded away like so many Miller’s Outpost stores, I remember buying my first pair of non-stonewashed jeans from JCrew.

As a San Diego transplant living in New York, I abandoned my shorts, Docs, and thrift store flannels and adopted the New England “khakis with everything” look, along with the iconic roll-neck sweater with un-hemmed edges and raglan sleeves.  It was fresh, clean, presentable.  Things were starting to get dressier.

Shortly thereafter, dark denim debuted on the scene, and ads promoting “dressing up your denim” were plastered all over New York.  Mostly with v-neck sweaters and t-shirts.  Were men ready to start dressing up again? Oh yes, and with enthusiasm that would rival Gettysburg reenactments, with tweed vests to match.

Fast-forward twenty years, and the term “dress jeans” is universal.  But its meaning remains unclear.  What are dress jeans?  Are they simply new, unwashed, and untreated denim?  Do you iron them?  Dry-clean them for colorfast-ness?

“DRESS JEANS” DO NOT EXIST. DENIM IS A RUGGED CLOTH.

Specifically, it’s an abrasion-resistant twill that was designed to be workwear – and that’s still it’s most comfortable use. That said, jeans will never go away, at least not in the near future, and it’s fine to embrace that. Will jeans ever be “dressy?”  No, they won’t.

But you can “dress them up.” There’s a difference. Here’s how.

Key to avoiding the dreaded “trying too hard” look is accepting that jeans are casual; you can only dress them up so much. Therefore, ties with jeans are out. Don’t argue. Would you wear a tiara with jeans? Of course not.  Ditch the tie; it’s reserved for formal occasions. In its place, consider the roll-neck, turtleneck, or open collar button-down shirt. Just no orphaned suit jacket, please – remember that these are jeans, not trousers.

Try a cardigan, or if you prefer a jacket, try the Harrington, trucker, bomber, moto, corduroy, or tweed sportcoat.  Jeans are great, and they’re a wonderful, versatile part of a man’s wardrobe. But know when enough is enough. Say it with me: dress jeans do not exist.

If you’re feeling stumped on how to dress up your denim without looking ridiculous, here are a few classic examples (along with a few of my own):

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