Buyers guide to jeans

Jeans are a wardrobe staple: they’re versatile enough to wear for occasions both casual and smart (within reason), and when cared for, they can last for years. In this guide we’re going to talk a little more about where jeans originate from, plus how and where to wear them to give you the most flattering look. 

Where did jeans originate?

Jeans were created and patented by tailor Jacob Davis and cotton seller Levi Strauss in 1873. A customer asked Davis to make a pair of hardy trousers that could handle rough farm work without ripping or tearing. From this humble request, the first denim jeans were born.

What made them so revolutionary was the use of rivets to strengthen the trousers at points of tension. They were such a hit that Davis asked Strauss, from whom he'd bought the fabric if he'd like to form a partnership and the rest, as they say, is history.

Over time, jeans transitioned from a functional piece of work clothing, into a fashion sex symbol – helped by early cowboy films and James Dean’s films Rebel Without a Causeand The Wild One in the 1950s. Jeans developed an innate sense of rebellion

 and became synonymous with casual wear, a feature that other kinds of clothing don't possess. 

What makes jeans so popular?

There are two factors which make jeans such a loved fashion item: versatility and durability.

Jeans are durable because of a construction method that you won't find on any other trouser type. Rather than thread, rivets hold together areas that face strain (such as around the pockets and the side seams). The rivets reinforce the seams to make jeans one of the hardiest items of clothing around.

Jeans are made from a rigid type of fabric for durability but become more comfortable as you wear them, softening up the more you wear them, without losing durability.

Jean’s versatility comes from the variety of fabrics, dyes and styles available that span the fashion gamut from minimalist and smart to ripped and edgy. One pair of well-made, non-ripped, straight jeans can take you from casual Friday at work to hanging around the house on Sunday morning. 

What colour jeans are the best?

Initially, manufacturers made jeans with a dark blue (indigo) dye that would hide stains from the workmen wearing them. By only dying one of the two types of threads used to make the fabric (three blue to one white), the amount of dye needed for the jeans meant that it wouldn’t come through to the other side and therefore dye your legs (not a good look!). This method was equally advantageous for workers who would sweat when doing heavy hands-on work.

This type of dark denim is still popular today for casual wear. Dark jeans look the most elegant so if you want to wear your jeans for various occasions, choose the darkest you can.

Although they are trendy, light, faded jeans won’t cut it for the man who cares about his image. A lighter shade of jeans not only make your legs look larger than they are but can detract from the rest of your outfit. Quite simply, light jeans don’t look great unless you’re a member of WHAM.

At Alexandra Wood, we always recommend that you buy a rich, dark plain blue pair with minimal detailing. You’ll find that they’re far easier to dress up or down. We’ve created three shades which work well for a variety of looks and occasions.

Some jeans with a strong blue dye will fade over time to look more 'worn in'. We've chosen fabric that has been designed not to fade, so your jeans always look as fresh as when you first bought them. This does, however, mean you need to dry-clean them. It isn't an arduous task, despite expectations from our customers to the contrary. The jeans don't need dry cleaning all that often, and the extra work is worth it.

“I’ve worn these jeans in all settings from the office to gardening and even on the Orient Express (pre-lockdown). They have been adaptable, exceptionally light and great to transition from daytime to evening. I generally hate buying clothes and jeans in particular, but I find it easy here.” John Dunn 

What are the different styles of jeans available?

Jeans have had their fair share of styling changes since they were first designed back in 1873.

The humble jean has undoubtedly done the rounds in the style stakes from flares to baggy, skinny to slim fit or boot cut.

Skinny

This style is tight from the hip down to the ankle with a tapered leg opening. It generally is a low to mid-rise and a zip fly.

Stovepipe

Like the skinny but falls straight down from the knee—a very vintage style.

Slim fit

Slim but not tight, this style sits at the hip and flatters the line of the leg. It usually has a mid-rise and a zip fly.

Straight

As the name suggests, these classic jeans are cut straight up and down. There is a bit of variety in this style they can sit on the hips or waist and have a button or zip fly.

Bootcut

Bootcut jeans generally sit at the waist and are slim through the thigh before widening from the knee downwards to fall over a pair of boots.

Relaxed/Baggy

These sit at or below the waist and are roomy in the seat and thighs with a straight leg. They are rarely flattering.

Flares

A style best kept for the vintage fashion lover, flares sit firmly at the hip and thighs before flaring out to the ground. These often have a button fly in keeping with the vintage style. 

How should jeans fit?

Two words: Not tightly.

Yes, the high street has sold many skin-tight styles, from the stovepipes of the 1960s to today's ripped skinnies, but only a tiny fraction of the population is young and slim enough to make them work.

Look for a pair of jeans that are slim enough to make you look sleek and elongate your legs, yet not so wide that they look in any way baggy. You should be able to see your shape, but they shouldn’t cut in or pull at any point around the waist, bottom or crotch. If you can't sit down comfortably without adjusting them or worrying that your shirt will come untucked at the back, they aren't for you.

They should be longer than your legs to give you a half or full break in terms of length. This break is where the fabric bends above the cuff, so a portion of the hem sits on the top of your shoes. If there is no break, your jeans are too short. If they are too long and bunch up at the ankle, please see your tailor and have them adequately hemmed. 

What is denim?

The traditional fabric for jeans is denim. The word denim was derived from a sturdy material produced in France called “Serge de Nîmes", named after the region where it was created.

Italian textiles producers in Genoa (hence the word Jeans) tried to replicate it but ended up with another twill-like fabric that became denim. 

What’s the best type of denim?

There are hundreds of types of denim from French and Japanese to raw and selvedge. A few of the more common types are:

Indigo– the ‘warp’ threads (those that run the length of the fabric) are dyed indigo, while the ‘weft’ threads (those that run the shorter width of the material) are white, so the denim is dark on one side, and white on the other.

Stretch– the thread is a blend of cotton and elastane or other plastic components to give it stretch and comfort.

Crushed– the denim treated so that it has a wrinkled appearance. Very 1980s

Acid wash– the denim is treated with chlorine and pumice stone to give it a marbled, worn look.

Selvedge– has a tightly woven edge or ‘self-edge’ that prevents the denim from unravelling. You can see the edge when you roll up the cuffs of your jeans.

Raw– this denim is not washed or treated, so it has rough, stiff texture. It can leave traces of indigo dye behind if it rubs against anything.

Japanese – this type of denim is quite expensive as it is made on slow antique wooden shuttle looms, rather than the faster projectile looms used for most denim these days.

We believe that denim with a slight stretch is ideal for comfort and movement. Jeans made from raw denim are too stiff and can be quite uncomfortable.

You’ll also find jeans made in fabrics other than denim such as cord or cotton twill. 

How to wear jeans for work or play

We attribute the humble jean's popularity to the fact that they bridge the smart to casual gap so perfectly. Jeans will never be part of a man’s formal or smart business wardrobe but can be styled easily to smarten up a casual outfit.

Casual looks

Jeans and a T-shirt combination

Nothing says casual like jeans and a plain t-shirt. The cut and quality of clothing are crucial to pulling off any look successfully, so for a more grown-up style, we recommend wearing a high quality, slim fit crew neck t-shirt. Make sure you pair with clean, smart trainers.

Jeans and jumper combination

Another classic. Choose a jumper made of 100% natural wool or cotton with a bit of texture, like our New York Moss Stitch merino wool jumpers. Layer a high-quality t-shirt underneath for comfort and pair with smart trainers.

Smart-casual looks

When the dress code is smart casual (more on that in this post), you can create an appropriate outfit with a pair of dark indigo jeans (no embellishments) in a few ways.

Sports jacket and knitwear combination

This is an excellent look for those chilly days between seasons when it isn't cold enough for an overcoat. Pair your jeans with a fine knit sweater in merino wool and layer a sports jacket over the top. The type of knitwear is significant here – you want it to be fine and 100% merino wool to keep you cool and comfortable under your jacket.

Sports jacket and shirt combination

The very definition of smart casual is wearing jeans with a button-down shirt with single cuffs (that means buttons) and a sports jacket layered over the top. We recommend avoiding business shirts as these can look odd with jeans and opting for a printed shirt to liven up your look.

Overcoat and jumper combination

An elegant overcoat like a covert, Chesterfield or car coat dresses up this otherwise casual look.  Pair this look with a lovely scarf and lace-up boots for a smart winter look.

What are the best shoes to wear with jeans?

Don’t underestimate the power of shoes – they have a massive impact on whether your outfit is casual, smart casual or formal.

Casual

  • Smart trainers: This does not mean running shoes! Simple trainers in leather or dark coloured canvas look great with jeans. Look for minimalist designs with few or no embellishments. Please only wear white if you can keep them immaculately clean.
  • Loafers: These are an acceptable option, but only in summer – their holiday vibe looks out of place in winter. 

Smart-casual 

  • Chelsea boots: These are ideal for a smart-casual look and work equally well with a shirt and sports jacket as they do with an overcoat.
  • Lace-up boots: These tend to have a bit more personality and look great with an overcoat.
  • Brogues: Ideal for the shirt and sports jacket combination for a more dressed up or business casual look.

What details should I look for on jeans?

The most important details are the rivets and the seams. Ensure the stitching is firm, and there are no loose threads.

Where should rivets be placed?

Some brands place decorative stitching on the back pockets, but this isn't necessary and draws attention to your rear end, which may or may not be a good thing.

 The top button should be riveted in place rather than sewn for strength, as should the fly if it’s a button-up style.

Jeans look the best when the buttons and stitching are subtle in colour and finish. After all, you want the fantastic fit and shape to stand out, not your buttons! 

Settling the debate: zip fly vs button fly on jeans

It's a matter of preference.

When Davis and Strauss invented jeans, button flys were the norm – they didn't add zips to Levi jeans until 1947.

Buttons are certainly more durable and less prone to snags and breakage than zips, and for denim puritans – this is the only option.

On the other hand, zips are far easier to use and work better visually on slimmer styles of jeans. Just lock the zipper by folding it down flat against the zip to prevent it from coming undone.

How and when should I alter my jeans?

Altering jeans should be restricted to shortening hems only. You’ll get a much better look if you take the time to find a pair that fit you perfectly everywhere else. They do exist! [I hope this is right]

If you need to have your jeans shortened, ask your tailor can finish them with a matching thread. A pair of jeans altered conventionally can quickly ruin them so ask the tailor to finish them in the same style.

About our jeans

Our jeans are a perfect combination of style and comfort. They’re the ideal piece to create a smart tailored look that will successfully take you from a shopping trip to a Michelin star restaurant.

We use super lightweight denim that weighs in at 0.08lb. It’s supremely comfortable and can be worn year-round.

How to care for your Alexandra Wood jeans

You can wash conventional jeans can be washed at 30-40 degrees but will shrink and then give again when they’re worn.

However, with our jeans, we advise that you dry clean them. You may think this is too much work, our customers have confirmed that it hasn’t been a problem and they’ve worn their jeans in multiple places.

The reality is that jeans don’t need to be washed as much as you think and are designed to be left alone and simply spot cleaned as required ( just a little dab with a sponge).

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