Denim is as American as apple pie and, well, blue jeans. Jeans are inseparable from the mythos of the rugged modern man, from James Dean to “Born to Run”. The U.S. denim market accounts for nearly $20b of yearly sales with no signs of slowing down. If you live north of the tropics, there’s a good chance you own denim in some form – if you live in Michigan, there’s a good chance you’re reading this in your favorite pair right now.
Jeans are a cultural phenomenon close to 200 years in the making. It’s no surprise that not every pair sold over those two long centuries is created equal: even Levi’s 501 “Original” has gone through numerous era-specific modifications and is now available in dozens of washes. Riveted cotton denim trousers are as varied as they are prolific, and if you want to up your style game, you’ll need to know a thing or two past “I like the blue ones”.
(photo source: rawrdenim.com)
The following series will break down everything you’ve ever wanted to know about jeans (fits, washes, fabrics, terms, brands). Every two weeks, we'll dive deep into all things jeans in order to help you find your new favorite pair – or at least understand why you love the ones you already have. Sound good? We're glad you're here. Welcome to Denim.
PART I: The Fit.
A pair of jeans consists of two distinct components (the top block and the legs) whose lengths and tapers vary to create the dozens of fits available on the market. The top block refers to the area from the top opening to the bottom of the pelvis. The legs are, well, everything else. These two components, when stitched together, make up every pair of jeans ever produced.
Consider the following four fits your best friends - no matter what you wear (or where you shop), they'll be there and you'll love 'em for it.
Slim fit jeans are tapered throughout the leg. The top block will fit tight, and the legs will taper all the way through to a relatively-tight leg opening at the bottom. Slim fit jeans are not the “skinny jeans” of mall stores past – when sized correctly, there is ample room to move. Slim jeans just have the least excess fabric (read: less volume between your jeans and your skin, but not skin-tight) around your leg and therefore create a more flattering silhouette, regardless of body type.
Straight fit jeans are best described as rulers: take the outside and inside of your hips, draw a line straight down, and straight fit jeans will follow. The top block is usually unstructured (but not relaxed), and the legs have little to no taper with a leg opening ~1.5-2” wider than slim fit jeans. Straight fit jeans are the top of the bell curve: they look pretty darn good on everyone.
Tapered fit jeans combine the top block of straight fit jeans with the tapered legs of the slim fit. The transition between the two is far from instantaneous – the taper begins gradually, but ends in a leg opening of equivalent width to the slims. Tapered fit jeans are the best option for athletically-built guys who still like the clean lines and silhouette of the slim fit, but who have legs too large for slim. If the phrase “3 plate squats to fail” means anything to you, you’ll be at home in tapered fit.
Relaxed fit jeans are the least constructed jeans available. They are roomy, they are comfortable, they are forgiving, and they are loose. Relaxed fit jeans are often constructed of lighter or more thoroughly-washed denim, aiding their “unbound” character and making them a great choice for the warmer months. The top block is as unsupported as can still stay on, and the legs are the widest that you’ll find on any pair. The female equivalent of the relaxed fit is the Boyfriend jean.
That's all for Part One. Next time: we talk washes and fabrics.
Bivouac: Where Outdoor Passion Meets Indoor Fashion.