In 1853, Levi Strauss was repairing pants in Gold Rush-era San Francisco and found that reinforcing points of strain (such as pockets) with rivets made a sturdier pair of pants. By the 1890s, the first pair of Levis 501 jeans was produced, and the garment was worn largely by laborers (railroad workers, lumberjacks, cowboys) until after the second World War. Today, jeans exist as a far cry from their humble beginnings as miners’ and cowboys’ garments. “Denim has transcended all social classes and levels of fashion,” says Kiya Babzani, the cofounder of Self Edge, the world’s leading selvedge denim retailer, which started, fittingly, in the Mission District of San Francisco.
When buying good jeans, your focus should rest on two things: fabric, then fit. High-quality jeans are often made from selvedge denim, a fabric that ages over time in a way that reflects the lifestyle and habits of the wearer. Raw denim typically develops two distinct types of fades: whiskers, which are long creases found around the waist and crotch area, and honeycombs, which are fades behind the knees that look like honey combs. Though a new pair of jeans made from raw selvedge denim can take up to a year to break in, the results are unique, and well-made denim will continue to age in a graceful manner for many years. “You don’t know how good a jean is until it’s worn in,” Babzani says.
Most jeans are offered in different washes and even come pre-distressed. But according to Todd Barket, owner of Unionmade in San Francisco, these jeans “can feel inauthentic sometimes, like the work has been done for you.” Over time, selvedge jeans become an expression of yourself, so focus on fit and quality, and those fades will tell stories for years to come.
The Expert’s Rules for Buying Denim
Kiya Babzani: “Always buy jeans in person. Go into a retail store, try them on and feel them. You’ll be able to get the fit right and compare the fabric. Any manufacturer can make any fit of jean, but the fabric is what makes one brand stand out from another.” Babzani is a cofounder of the selvedge denim retailer Self Edge, with locations in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Portland, Oregon.
Todd Barket: “If you’re buying quality denim, start with the fit. You want your jeans to feel good and suit your body. When buying unwashed, raw denim, make sure the fit is a little tight, because they will stretch after a few wears.” Barket is the owner of Unionmade, one of the nation’s top menswear shops, with locations in San Francisco, Marin County and Santa Monica.
Men’s Selvedge Slim-Fit Jeans by Uniqlo $50
The Slim Jean by Taylor Stitch $145
770 Jean in Indigo Raw Selvedge by J.Crew $168
Petit Standard Slim-fit Selvedge Denim Jeans by A.P.C. $195
Ankara 12.5 Ounce by Tellason $220
1967 505 Slim-Fit Selvedge Denim Jeans by Levi’s Vintage Clothing $225
SL-120XK Kibata Shadow Selvedge Jean by 3Sixteen $230
Barton Slim Rigid by Imogene + Willie $235
Standard Kojima by Shockoe Atelier $250
633S-14 Lightweight 14 Ounce Denim Jean by Iron Heart $275
M4 Low Rise Straight by 3×1 $295
Model No. 3 Indigo Selvedge Jeans by Drake’s $295
340 Calistoga Jean by Stevenson Overall Co. $320
14 Ounce Denim in One Wash by Kapital $320
Jones Thin Fit in Original Wash by Raleigh Denim $325
1002 16 Ounce Selvedge Jean by The Flat Head $330
Cotton Selvedge Twill 5 Pocket Jean by RRL $340
Social Sculpture 01 Jeans by Visvim $505
Strike Gold SG 5109
Babzani’s Pick: Strike Gold from Okayama, Japan produces only a few styles of jeans, but they are all “unreal,” according to Babzani. The SG 5109 is made from a loosely woven denim, giving it a very unique look, both raw and worn. The beautiful uneven texture of this denim can be “compared closely to a vintage hand-woven Persian rug.” The SG 5109’s custom rivets have an inside piece made of iron that will rust over time, ensuring the jeans will age in a individual and beautiful way.
Levi’s Vintage Clothing
Barket’s Pick: Levi’s Vintage Clothing was introduced by Levi’s in 1999 to produce faithful archival reproductions of garments dating back to 1880. “I only wear the 1947 501,” says Barket. “They’re the best-fitting 501 Levi’s has ever done.” Made of 12-ounce Cone Mills White Oak selvedge denim in a democratic straight-leg fit, these classic jeans are “the ideal.”