Photo by Salt Water New England

Monday, June 13, 2022

Jeans

Calvin Klein Jeans and Jacques Cohen Espadrilles, 1982. Photo by my Father.
Jeans are a casual style of trousers, classically made of sturdy indigo denim, a heavy, cotton twill-weave fabric, which we always called dungarees.  

More than any single item, (blue) jeans define the Americana casual style.  Practical and tough, they are popularly considered wardrobe staples.   

Denim’s name comes from ‘serge de Nimes,’ a French denim-like fabric that became popular in England in the 1600s, that was shortened ‘de Nîmes,’ which would evolve into ‘denim.’  And it was in 1873 that Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis were awarded a U.S. patent on the process of putting rivets in work pants.  

Jeans have been rebranded and re-imagined ever since, of course for cowboys, then as counter-culture, then as fashion, then...     

I lean more towards the camp that views today's ubiquitous jeans as a success primarily of marketing. Objectively, jeans are dark, matte, and too often unflattering.  They don't necessarily look great new or old.  And denim doesn’t breathe (or dry when wet) as well as other cotton fabrics.  Khakis almost always look better, and feel better.  

Summary:  Blue jeans.  Unflattering, yet uncomfortable.  

74 comments:

  1. They're good for gardening and yard work, though. The tough, sturdy fabric is protective and the several pockets come in handy (seed packets, plant labels, tomato stake ties, cell phone if you must.)

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    1. Khakis work just as well for yard work.

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    2. Jeans for slumming only.

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  2. I couldn't agree more. It's the triumph of marketing, group think and mindless conformity over rationality, good taste and common sense.

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  3. Far be it from me to be disputatious, and I am often wholly in agreement with the sartorial tenets put forth in SWNE, but jeans to me could be a generational thing. As a guy in his mid-30s who likes to dress well and was raised in a world where well made, quality premium denim is a thing - with various slim, tailored cuts available and not just the dumpy, baggy Levis your Dad might wear, I would proffer that jeans can often be both extremely flattering and stylish without being overly trendy. And I'm all for upholding standards (on any front), but saying "jeans are bad" in 2022 is a little quixotic. Sometimes, dressing well is about finding the version of the current "uniform" of your peers but making it work for you.. and putting your own spin on it. An elegant shetland sweater looks pretty good paired with a tailored pair of raw denim jeans and Alden boots, for instance. I like a good khaki too, but very few people in the urban environment wear them - well-cut, often very expensive denim is the uniform.

    (And no offense to my Dad, who is 71, and also likes to dress well but lives in a rural wine country area where jeans are the uniform as well - and he's found some very stylish, well-cut jeans that he's comfortable wearing but are still are age appropriate and do not at all make him look like he's slumming!)

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  4. Frederick J JohnsonJune 13, 2022 at 11:40 AM

    Khakis, unironed for casual wear, old and beat up for house and yard work.

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  5. To pull of the jean look you have to meet 2 qualifications...skinny as a fence post & under 30 years old. I stopped wearing Levi's at that age. Previous comment referenced khaki's for yard work , could not agree more. Dickie's Khaki's 874 fits the bill.

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    1. Frederick J JohnsonJune 13, 2022 at 2:19 PM

      Amen for Dickies 874, I buy them at Walmart.

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  6. Yes, but look how TRIM this couple is post-baby.

    Kind Regards,

    Heinz-Ulrich

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  7. If one can find a pair of jeans that fits well, I'm fine with them for certain informal social situations. I own two pair, both Levis, both straight leg, and both well over a decade old. I prefer how khakis wear and fit, and I prefer patagonia's all-season hemp canvas pants for general casual wear, gardening, mowing, other yard work.

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  8. Khakis for prissy small scale New England yard work, perhaps, but America is a big land with a lot of different natural environments. Denim jeans are essential and well suited for Appalachia, the Great Plains, and the vast West, as well as those other places where one encounters more rugged terrain. I refuse to shun them on aesthetic or cultural grounds, and welcome their democratic bona fides.

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    1. Jeans for the deep and soft Midwest soils. Jeans for the vast and sandy West. Khakis for rough ‘n rocky, hard scrabble, New England. Thank you.

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    2. Some khakis are much tougher than jeans. Nothing wrong with jeans. Wore them as a teen but, not for 50 years.

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  9. I see this as a regional preference, where all opinions have merit. Still, "age appropriate" is a dicey topic, as many in the West see khaki pants or (any) shorts to be the old tourist's choice. Khakis were popular post-WWII due to returning GI familiarity, but had faded by the 1960s. Non-designer, non skintight denim jeans are a staple of the American West. Due to their popularity, denim jeans have been over-styled by clothing companies where even stretch pants are mock-jeans. Straight-leg and boot cut jeans have purposeful design which makes them a preferred choice over khakis in many situations.

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    1. This is a coastal New England site.

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  10. Well I am going to pull rank on you. I live in Texas & my family has been here since The Republic of Texas. Yep, I wear khakis....farming, ranching, oilfield, yard work, hunting, & dress. My antecedents are not from New England. Have spent more time outside working & hunting than my contemporaries. To sum it up, experience. Enuff said.

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    1. How are you "pulling rank?" Nothing you said contradicts what James said, which is historically accurate.

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    2. I guess it's Texas' sense of superiority.

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    3. Shouldn't you be wearing Wranglers? Or is it that ranchers wear khakis and cowboys wear Wranglers?

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  11. I am glad I am not the only one who finds blue jeans to be uncomfortable and unflattering to anyone over 25.

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  12. Most blue jeans I buy are a thicker fabric than any khakis I can find. They are very handy in the garden and when doing rough work. I am, as I tell my doctor, an 'extreme gardener', and I would tear khakis to shreds. Maybe others here buy thicker, hardier khakis.

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    1. I too am an "extreme gardener" here in Essex County, MA, and I completely agree with you. Even the sturdiest khakis can't beat tough traditional denim for repelling the thorns of rugosa bushes when you're in there for pruning. Not to mention kneeling and scrabbling around while weeding & planting in wet soil, battling the horrendous bittersweet, and/or getting rid of invasive blackberries (again, thorns!) Khaki also shows embedded dirt stains more readily, even after washing with Oxi-clean.

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  13. Everyone has their story. There I was maybe 45 years ago one September Saturday splashing spontaneously somewhere along the South Shore, wearing dungarees. And they got wet. “Ach. These’ll be wet still at cocktail time. Why don't I get rid of them?” I thought. “Khakis dry much quicker.” I never looked back.

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  14. I agree somewhat, I hate wearing jeans, and would choose Moleskins every single time, I love moleskin. But I think jeans look flattering sometimes, especially with boots, tucked over cowboy boots.

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  15. Wear whatever is sensible for the outdoor work you do.... Indoors, jeans look like an affectation, which is bad, bad.

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  16. My business wardrobe is Western business. Denim Levi's are essentially all I wear: classic blues that fade and become ever more personalized with time, and khaki, tan, gray, or black for dress wear. In addition to original 501 shrink-to-fits, I have blue 511 slim fits. My dressy jeans are 511s and the now-discontinued 513 slim straights (a little looser knee-to-ankle than 511s). Always paired with a nice shirt and perhaps a bolo, a blazer, or both, it's a nice professional look that honors our region.

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  17. I've often contended that Ronald Reagan was the best dressed man of the late-20th century. And that guy wore jeans every chance he could ... and looked good doing it (imho).

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  18. I have only one comment on the khakis vs jeans regional dust-up: LL Bean jeans. I wear jeans when it is cold, khaki pants when it is cool to warm, and khaki shorts when it is hot.

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    1. Same here. LL bean makes very functional jeans. Climate will determine whether khakis or jeans are better suited for outdoor chores. I can’t imagine wearing jeans in the humidity and 90° weather. Rarely do I wear jeans out and about. Khakis or cords are usually a better choice for me.
      JM, VA

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  19. Although i hail from Boston and grew up all over the place, I have been in Texas since 1976. I still far prefer khakis for comfort, but there are just some occasions where jeans feel more appropriate. For about 65 years I wore Levi's 501s, but when I discovered Texas Jeans I changed my allegiance. They are made in North Carolina, fit better than dad jeans, and seem a tad lighter and more breathable. So you may see me out and about in jeans, but JDs are far more likely. I mean, jeez, it's over 100 every day!

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  20. Jean style pants do come in a khaki color also!

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    1. Very true. I wear Cordings moleskin and twill jeans in khaki (and several other colors) almost every day during the cooler months. They are made in Yorkshire, very comfortable to wear, wash beautifully and a great bargain when bought in the bi-annual trouser promotions. Highly recommended!

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  21. Agreed. And, with khakis the blue doesn't rub off on my Volvo's beige seats. Denim dye doesn't come off as easily as residual thornproof dressing.

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    1. What kind of jeans are you wearing that the blue rubs off on your seats??? I've had beige or gray seats for over 20 years, wore jeans maybe 50% while driving, and never experienced anything like that.

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    2. Brand new unwashed jeans, most likely. When we bought our townhouse about 40 years ago, we had some large pieces of furniture delivered, which they carried upstairs. One of them was wearing new blue denim jeans and, sure enough, some of the blue rubbed off on the wall.
      Although at the moment I'm wearing tan (or khaki) jeans that I bought in a Duluth Trading Company store (not to be confused with the Duluth Pack store but I've been there, too), I prefer full-cut logger-style jeans, which some call dungarees, still available unwashed "rigid."

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  22. I'd say if you find jeans 'unflattering, yet uncomfortable' you're either wearing the wrong jeans, the wrong things with them, or both!

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  23. more importantly, what are they feeding that child?

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    1. Exactly my question!!

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    2. Greasy, meaty, tangy, salty bit of heaven-
      Hotdog sausage-y thing, think County Fair, Concert, public happenings of that era...

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    3. I believe that is called a sausage.

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  24. For some women, myself included, jeans are up there with mascara as one of those Holy Grail items. Good luck finding "The One". And don't get me started on those variations like "skinny jeans" and "distressed". My beef with most jeans made today is a) inferior quality denim and b) try finding a pair that don't have lycra or another sort of stretch fabric added. The latter totally ruins the fit after just a few wash and wearings. Chinos are much more comfortable, look smarter and are easier to care for.

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    1. Agree! It took me a loooong time to build my arsenal of favorite jeans and I am diligent to be sure to continue to fit into them so I don't have to do that whole purchase over again! LOL

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  25. Ralph Lauren, Paul McCartney and Kate Middleton wear jeans well.

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  26. Jeans are not worn as a fashion statement!

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    1. While many, perhaps most, on this blog eschew fashion, for those who are fashion oriented, jeans can indeed be a fashion statement. Most, however, fall short in the eyes of fashionistas.

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  27. I don't own a single item of denim. Khaki's everyday. Frayed ones for yardwork.

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  28. Nothing wrong with well fitting pair of Levis.......

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  29. I’m a child of the 60’s. I like them both! Is there anything wrong with that?! I say leave your options open. With new textiles, it’s easy to find styles that look good.

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  30. I'll never forget in the early 80's when my grandmother got her first pair of jeans. She was dying of cancer and apparently decided to live on the wild side for a bit, referring to them as her "dungarees." I don't think my grandfather ever owned a pair. My husband (and my father) each have one pair, flannel lined jobs from LL Bean, which are apparently quite nice in the winter. I, too, wear them in the winter for tromping around, but pair them with long silk underwear. Jeans are always a third choice for me, I feel as if I've aged out of them.

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  31. I don’t wear jeans. It’s not that I have an objection to them, but I have never found a comfortable and flattering pair. My husband, on the other hand, lives in Levi’s 501’s, and has for the last 40 years.

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  32. Did anyone notice the pants preference of the mob on 1/6? Jeans-all.

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  33. Jeans are a strict No for me. I have always hated them with a passion. I can't stand the way they look, how they feel, or how they fit. Khaki's are my primary long casual pants.

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  34. Agreed! I don't prefer jeans either and don't know why people associate them with comfort, especially as office attire. I'm also team khakis for yard work - so much cooler in the summertime.

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  35. I wear khakis as a rule but do own jeans for yardwork. The idea of digging up an old stump or doing a couple of hours' planting in khakis seems a bit impractical. Jeans are tough, forgiving, and hard-wearing.

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  36. I don't look particularly good in either jeans or khakis but, for my shape, jeans are more flattering. Here in Atlanta, I nearly always wear white or sand-colored pants in the summer.

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  37. Yes, I have a pair of Jeans - from L.L. Bean. Mostly used for yard work due to their durability. Several pair of Khakis, at least one reserved for casual, but more dressy wear.

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  38. I have a couple of pairs of jeans but I can honestly say that they are rarely my first choice for wearing. And haven't been for years. I just don't find them all that comfortable most of the time. But I know people who love them and that's their choice.

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  39. https://www.washingtonian.com/2021/12/06/far-right-group-patriot-front-marched-down-the-mall-on-saturday-night/
    not all the 1/6 rioters were wearing jeans, these fascists (recently arrested at the Pride event in Idaho) were wearing khakis

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  40. Well... methinks we protest too much. There are different kinds of jeans and as long as they're not tight and we're not venturing into "jeggings" territory (how awful), they're okay. I find them very functional and tend to wear them when playing the "flâneuse" in my neighbourhood (denim trousers, Breton shirt, and a "vareuse"). I like khakis, too, but they're less readily available where I am in Europe than jeans are. And let's please not weaponise either one into left or right-wing symbols. They're just clothes, for crying out loud!

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    1. If we had a like emoji, this should be plastered with a bunch of them.

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  41. I prefer khaki's, cords, they are more comfortable and look better in my opinion.

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  42. I love jeans. I've got about 2 dozen pair in a few different styles, shades of blue, cuts, for different styles of dressing. My favorite is with a tall boot and good blazer in the fall/winter and rolled up with a pair of Jacks in the summer! Jeans were my father's go-to and he called them, "dungarees." In fact, he is buried in his favorite pair with his favorite oxford shirt. --Holly in PA

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  43. Being from a rural portion of the superior state of Texas, I was raised in a blue jean wearing western culture. I wore them with decreasing frequency into my 40's. I keep a cheap pair of inexpensive wranglers around for fall and winter yardwork and a nice pair of dark Levis because invariably I will be invited to one or two charity functions a year with a western theme. As I have grown older, I've switched mainly to khaki's. I think they make a better presentation for more mature men. (I recently turned 60) With the summers growing increasingly hot, khakis are much more comfortable.

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  44. Superior to what ?

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    1. Any place filled with snobs who feel a need to comment on the attitude, culture and personality of someone's home while likely never visiting there.

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    2. Been there many times. By far the best thing about it are the restaurants with a picture of Johnny Cash on the door. And underneath is written just one word, “ONLY.”

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  45. On the contrary; no one looks good in beige formless pants; especially women. Well-fitted jeans are better.

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