That headline alone will draw ire, as we’ve become a society that dresses as if a spin class could suddenly happen to us at any time. In case we feel like doing some impromptu yoga at any given moment, we should be dressed accordingly. There is a rich irony in a culture that dresses almost exclusively for athletics while ultimately doing little-to-no athletics at all.

When I was a kid, we had one option for jeans: stiff, unwashed, raw denim that we had to break in. Levi’s, Wrangler’s, Toughskins… By today’s relaxed and rubberized standards, our jeans were like Kevlar when we got them. And they were glorious. Through the 1970s and into 1980s, before the advent of stone-washed or acid-washed denim, the creases, fade marks, and rips in our jeans were earned organically through real wear and tear. Those 100% cotton shrink-to-fits were a fun project that ultimately produced a truly personalized custom fit for a great pair of jeans.

But times have changed.

In these uber casualized days of hyper-comfort and sweatpantsification of just about everything, including suit pants with draw strings (I’m not kidding), real denim has gone down the stretch rabbit hole and become rubberized like so many other everyday garments. Most jeans people buy today are no longer 100% cotton. They’re maybe 95% cotton (or less), with the remaining percentage made from spandex or elastane, i.e. rubber, i.e. plastic, i.e. petroleum, i.e. a product that eventually stops stretching and breaks down into something toxic. This means a pair of jeans that is not only bad for the environment, but a pair of jeans that won’t last very long, yielding a higher cost-per-wear.

The good news: there are brands that still produce good jeans made with 100% cotton raw denim. The bad news: most jeans made with real denim tend to be more expensive.

My favorite brand is Tellason in San Francisco. With a nice variety of cuts and fits and in different weights of denim, all of their jeans are made in San Francisco with raw, selvedge denim sourced from Japan’s best mills. I have two pairs as well as one of their jean jackets. Very happy customer here.

Another good option (and also kinda pricey for some) is Todd Snyder, who’s collection includes a couple pairs of USA-made selvedge rigid denim jeans – one in a slim fit and one in a relaxed fit.

For a more budget-friendly option, there is the wonderful Dearborn Denim from Chicago, coming in hot with several different cuts and fits. Dearborn is a good American brand with a great product, and the jeans are cut and sewn in the U.S.A.

Last but not first is Levi’s, a company that seems to have lost its way and abandoned its denim DNA and American-made roots. There are, however, some diamonds in the ruff for diehard Levi’s loyalists. The 501 original shrink-to-fit in the rigid dark wash will always be there.

So get yourself some good jeans made with real denim. Wear them in naturally and get that invaluable patina that money can’t buy, that look that only raw denim can create over time. They’ll look a lot cooler and last a lot longer. Trust me.

A little favor…

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  1. Nick Grimm

    Love your site, but Dearborn Denim is a Chicago IL brand.

  2. I remember laying my 501s in a full bath tub with water and a cup of bleach to fade them slightly. That was after being caught in the rain in a new pair, my legs were blue for days!