Blue Jeans: An Introduction to Denim


Is there anything more American than blue jeans?

Over the last 160 years blue jeans have woven their way into American and even world culture.  Classless, utilitarian, and yet classically stylish, jeans have been worn by prisoners, plumbers, and presidents alike.

Iconic American Figures Associated with Blue Jeans

The Cowboy

vintage cowboy painting wearing jeans hat

Although many frontiersmen never wore a pair of jeans and instead opted for buckskins, in the last century denim has become the trouser of choice for the American West’s most visible ambassadors.  Both Will Rogers and John Wayne wore them and countless rodeo legends as well.  Today if you make your way to a rodeo in Pecos or Cheyenne, you’ll probably see dudes sporting a pair of Wrangler blue jeans.

The Biker

the wild one marlon brando riding on motorcycle

I’m not talking about the Harley Davidson clad bunch we see nowadays; I’m referring to the 1950s vets who returned from WWII and hit the road on bikes because they needed excitement and freedom in their lives.  Think Marlon Brando in The Wild One with his leather jacket and rolled cuff blue jeans.

The Young Rebel

the outsiders cast photo wearing jeans denim

Today, nothing could be more mainstream than denim, but jeans used to be the badge of the rebel, the man who broke from the traditional dress of society and rejected the old way of doing things.  Rebels of all types have flocked to denim, starting in the 1940s with rule-breaking college youth who wore them against the wishes of their parents to James Dean in the classic film Rebel Without a Cause to the Greasers in S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders.  Rebellious youth have for the last 60 years found a kindred spirit in denim, and will for at least another 60.

The Blue Collar Worker

born in the usa bruce springsteen cover

Blue is the color of the working class because it takes to staining and cleaning better than white; the classless blue jean, prized for its inexpensive durability and ability to suck up grease, was and is the pants of the working man.  Personified in the 1980s by Bruce Springsteen, the blue collar worker loves his blue jeans because they, like him, are made to be worn but never beaten.

An Overview of the Major Jean Brands

Levi Strauss and Co

vintage levis jeans denim ad advertisement western

Founded in 1853 by Levi Strauss in San Francisco, the company started as a dry goods wholesaler but quickly found its place in history when a tailor named Jacob Davis partnered with the company to create a superior pair of pants that utilized copper rivets to reinforce areas of the jeans that commonly tore under heavy stress. Patent number 139,121 was awarded in 1873 and the rest is history.  Utilizing the best denim in the world at the time, Levi Strauss and Co established itself as a beacon of quality for next 150+ years.

In 1890, lot number 501 was assigned to the waist overalls with the copper rivets and button fly.  Today you can buy the same jeans, minus a few details introduced over the years because of changes in menswear style (suspender buttons are gone) and the requirements of wartime rationing boards (the back buckleback).

Lee Company

vintage Lee Jeans denim ad advertisement young boys

H.D. Lee was a man who headed west after starting a bright business career on the East Coast only to have it derailed by bad health.  Against the advice of his doctor, Lee headed to the opportunity he saw in Kansas, where he founded Lee Mercantile in 1890.  Seizing on the lack of local quality goods and the natural central location of Salina, KS, Lee pushed his work wear division and the Union-All jumpsuit became his flag product.  It sold like hotcakes, in part because the designers catered to the men wearing them and made them easy to slip on and off and innovated with the now classic zipper.

Lee has continued to grow over the last century, in large part to smart marketing and sponsorships including the founding of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.  By closely associating itself with the American Southwest, the jeans built a strong and loyal base among the western crowd.

Finally, I need to mention Buddy Lee.  First making waves in a Minnesota shop store window back in 1920, Buddy has since been spotted promoting Lee Dungarees in a variety of strangely funny commercials. Over 90 years old, Buddy Lee is a legend; don’t let his 14 inch height fool you.


Founded in 1904 as the Hudson Overall Company, the company changed its name to Blue Bell 15 years later and remained primarily regional to North Carolina with its core product being overalls.  After WWII, Blue Bell bought a work wear company and revived Wrangler with the specific target customer being the Western crowd.  With an innovative cut utilizing higher pockets and wider belt loops, and the sponsorship of rodeo legend Jim Shoulders, Wrangler was able to wrangle itself to the top of the Western market within two decades.

vintage wrangler jeans denim ad advertisement young boy

Lee Cooper

Lee Cooper Jeans are less well known in the USA but have a loyal following in England and Europe, and for good reason.  The brand made a name for itself during WWII when rationing made anything but denim a luxury.  With only 30 ration coupons for clothing, working men had the option of a business suit for 26 coupons or a pair of Lee Cooper overalls for 2 (or better yet – jeans for 1).   The Lee Cooper Brand grew quickly in the 50s and 60s under Harold Cooper, and now sells clothing in over 70 markets around the world.

Other options outside the Big 4 brands:

Designer Jeans

High fashion brands began to push out jean lines in the 1970s, but saw the market fade within a decade.  The most recent surge began again in the early 1990s and continues today; brands such as Lucky were the first to start charging $100 for jeans that were built on nothing more than slick marketing (my old college roommate would disagree–he felt the unique inner lining and fit was worth the price he paid).  In the last 20 years, designer jeans have leveraged celebrity endorsements and notoriety to sell jeans at prices that can now soar into the $500 range.

If you can’t tell, I am not a fan of designer jeans.  Instead, if you’re looking for something beyond the ordinary you should consider….

Raw Denim Jeans

Raw denim is unwashed denim fabric that has not been shrunk or exposed to water after the dying process.  It is typically very dark, and made on old style shuttle looms.  Selvedge denim, as it is also called, is priced at a premium because of low production runs, the need to use older equipment and more fabric per pair, and the fact that it’s made in high labor cost countries.   However, raw denim is more durable, and many raw denim advocates claim to wear their jeans thousands of times before they wear out, thus making them a strong value when you look at the number of wears vs. the amount paid.

raw denim jeans folded with tag

Blue Jeans and Pricing

A gentleman walks into a store and finds a terrific pair of jeans that are the right size and made well. He then looks at the price tag and is shocked; the jeans are almost ten times more expensive than the pair he has on.  After checking with the clerk, he leaves the shop in disgust wondering who would ever buy such expensive clothing. The year is 1870, and those overpriced jeans are selling for $5…10 times the cost of the more popular brand our price conscious shopper was used to buying.

The scenario I just described could have easily taken place today.  With jean pricing ranging as wide now as it did then, there is still much confusion as to why.  Below are 6 reasons why jeans vary in price:

  1. Market Positioning – Price positioning based on smart (or not so smart) marketing is the most important factor in determining price.   Raw denim made in the US has to be priced high because of the quality of material and construction. But designer jeans, which can cost ¼ as much to make can sell for the same amount if not more, simply because they are worn by the right celebrity or a marketing ploy creates a feel of exclusivity or scarcity.
  2. Clothing Pattern – Some jeans are made to fit a particular demographic.  Levi’s, the brand most of us associate value and Western heritage with, makes a pair of raw denim jeans called “matchstick.”  As the name implies, they are made for skinny young men.  Any man carrying more than a few extra pounds around the waist or older than 30 should approach the jeans with extreme caution.
  3. Factory Run Size and Material Cost – Mass produced jeans, built on modern machines prized for their speed and acceptable error rates are generally going to cost less than jeans built on older equipment.  Who’s using older machinery?  Believe it or not, most of the older machines were bought and shipped to Japan (they love their denim) or have been painstakingly restored by the craftsmen behind the small vintage lines here in the US.  The older equipment may not be as fast, but for the denim artisan, this hardly matters.
  4. The Jean Manufacturer’s Bargaining Power – When Levi Strauss talks pricing with JC Penney, there is a negotiation.  When a small start-up line tries to talk pricing, there is a take it or leave it offer put on the table–if they make it that far.  Often the only route for the small guys are small distributors, who shoulder higher per foot costs than the big guys and have to charge more to stay in business.
  5. Labor Cost – Denim made in Japan or the USA is going to cost more than high volume fabric coming out of China.  Simple economics associated with price of labor and as mentioned above, much of the Chinese machinery is more efficient.
  6. Durability and Specialty Design – Although rare, there are jeans out there that are developed to serve a special purpose besides covering a man’s lower extremities.  Draggin jeans have Kevlar sewn in and are designed to protect a motorcyclist from road rash.

draggin jeans fast company denim for motorcyclists

What to Look for When Purchasing a Pair of Jeans

Focus on Fit – Fit is the most important thing to look for in a pair of jeans–you may have to try on 5 to 10 different brands and types–but it’s worth it when you find that one style that fits you just right.  During regular wear the fit will become more relaxed as the cotton stretches; however, once you wash them and expose the cotton to any type of heat, you’ll shrink them back to their original size and in some cases even a bit smaller.  The best thing to do then is to put them on and stretch them out with extensive body movement.

Fabric Weight – Denim will vary in weight from 7 to 18 ounces, with most men wanting a jean that strikes a balance.  Too lightweight and the fabric will tear too easily–too heavy, and the fabric will be as stiff as a board.  The latter is rarely an issue; rather, you need to be careful of brands that try to save money by going with lighter weight fabrics.  The difference is subtle, but you’ll know you’ve been had when the jeans begin to tear at high stress and friction areas after only 6 to 9 months of wear.

Select the Right Color – Denim comes in a wide variety of colors and shades.  Also, the way the denim has been washed and treated will determine its suitability.  I recommend men first look at darker colored jeans with minimal distressing– jeans like this can be worn with a sport jacket.  Jeans with lighter colors/heavy washing /distressed fabrics are only for casual wear.

Be Careful of Knockoffs – Rarely a problem in large chain stores, this has become a bigger issue since more and more men shop on sites like eBay where the burden of understanding the merchandise falls on the buyer.  If the price looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Brand Construction Consistency – A perfect fit can seal a relationship with a jean manufacturer for decades.  I’ve heard of cases where news of an impending bankruptcy in a clothing company has led to shortages in supply because diehard fans immediately go out and buy a lifetime supply.  It sounds funny, but how many of you have that trusty pair of jeans you reach for when you need something that works with everything from Birkenstocks to a blazer?


The parka Jacket

From indigenous people of the Arctic to Quadrophenia, by way of the US military and then indie bands, the parka has proved itself to be more than just a practical winter coat. Its name is the sole word in English derived from Nenets, the language spoken in the Arctic north of Russia close to where the parka originated. The Parka was originally designed and worn by hunters in the Arctic regions for protection against the freezing temperatures and wind.Typically made from caribou or sealskin and trimmed with fur, the hooded Inuit jacket is the model for today’s parkas, which first came to prominence in the 1950s when the US military developed the N-3B snorkel parka.In the 1960s the Fishtail Parka became popular with the Mods, wearing it to protect smarter clothes underneath when riding their scooters.  As popular today as it was in the 60’s and manufactured by many of the top brands the Parka seems like it’s here to stay!


The Fishtail Parka

The fishtail parka was first used by the United States Army in 1950 to help protect soldiers from the elements in the Korean War. Following the end of the Second World War the US army recognized the need for a new cold weather system for fighting in as the existing kit was inadequate; the fishtail parka solution was the result of a concerted design effort.

There are four main styles of fishtail parkas: the EX-48, M-48, M-51 and the M-65. The M stands for military, and the number is the year it was standardized. The EX-48 model was the first prototype or “experimental” precursor to all of them. The M-48 then being the first actual production model fishtail parka after the pattern being standardised on December 24, 1948.

The name fishtail comes from the fish tail extension at the back that could be folded up between the legs, much like a Knochensack, and fixed using snap connectors to add wind-proofing. The fishtail was fixed at the front for warmth or folded away at the back to improve freedom of movement when needed.

The EX-48 parka is distinctive as it has a left sleeve pocket and is made of thin poplin, only the later production M-48 parkas are made of the heavier sateen canvas type cotton. The EX-48 also has a thin fibre glass based liner that is very light and warm, the M-48 has a thicker wool pile liner with an integral hood liner made of wool. Both are distinguishable from any other type of parka by having the sleeve pocket. This was dropped for the M-51 onward The fur ruff on the hood is also fixed to the shell of an EX-48/M-48 and is of wolf, coyote or often wolverine. The M-48 parka was costly to produce and therefore only in production for around one year. The pockets were wool lined both inside and out. The cuffs had two buttons for securing tightly around a wearer’s wrist. The later more mass-produced M-51 parka had just the one cuff button. The liner had a built in chest pocket which again was unique to the M-48 parka.

The next revision was the M-51, made because the M48 was so good and of such high quality it was just too expensive to mass-produce.


The outer hood of the M-51 Fishtail Parka is integral to the parka shell, an added hood liner as well as a button in main liner make the M-51 a versatile 3 piece parka. The idea behind this 3 part system was to enable a more customisable parka that allowed for easier cleaning of the shell as the hood fur was on the detachable hood liner, not fixed to the shell as in the M-48. It also allowed for both liners to be buttoned in or our depending on the temperature and hence warmth required. It was also cheaper than the M-48 to mass-produce The early M-51 was made of heavy sateen cotton, the same material as the M-48. Later revisions of the M-51 were poplin based. The later liners were also revised from the “heavy when wet” wool pile to a lighter woolen loop or frieze wool design that dried easier and were far lighter. The frieze liners were constructed of mohair and were designed using a double loop system which repelled cold weather.

The M-65 fishtail parka has a detachable hood and was the last revision. It features a removable quilted liner made of light nylon / polyester batting which are modern synthetic materials. The M-65 fishtail parka first came in to production in 1968. These parkas featured synthetic fur on the hoods after an outcry from the fur lobby. As a result, only hoods for these parkas made in 1972 and for one year later have real fur.

Designed primarily for combat arms forces such as infantry, they are to be worn over other layers of clothing; alone, the fishtail parka is insufficient to protect against “dry cold” conditions (i.e. below about -10 °C). As such all fishtail parkas are big as they were designed to be worn over battle dress and other layers.

In the 1960s UK, the fishtail parka became a symbol of the mod subculture. Because of their practicality, cheapness and availability from army surplus shops, the parka was seen as the ideal garment for fending off the elements and protecting smarter clothes underneath from grease and dirt when on the mod’s vehicle of choice, the scooter. Its place in popular culture was assured by newspaper pictures of parka-clad mods during the Bank Holiday riots of the 1960s.

See here :

What is the reason for fur on hood jackets?

OK, this is super-interesting, because it’s non-trivial.

When a fluid moves around a body, the fluid flows around the body in a predictable manner. In particular, at the point where the fluid first encounters the body there is a phenomenon known as the bow wave effect. This is the tendency of the fluid to move outwards and around the body in advance of the leading edge of the body:

Now, here’s the important thing: Most of the fluid is in what is called laminar flow, meaning that it flows along the surface at more or less the speed of the fluid. But at the boundary layer, in particular the leading edge boundary, the turbulence causes the fluid to create a small vacuum. So in the area in green above, there is almost no flow at all.

Now, what does this have to do with parkas and fur trim? Well, it turns out that the bow wave effect is proportional to the area of the leading edge of the object that the flow is around. Or, to put this another way, the fur trim on a parka increases the effective area of the leading edge, leading to a larger bow wave effect and hence the creation of a zone of calm area right in front of your exposed face.

I myself have experienced the difference between parkas with and without fur trim many, many times, and the the difference is startling. Particularly when the wind is head-on, parkas with fur trim make the difference between relative comfort and rapid frostbite.

Cool, huh?

So, what’s super interesting is that while I know the exact answer to this question, and this was widespread knowlege of this in the arctic, there does not appear to be any literature on the subject. This would make a great Masters (or even PhD) thesis, and best of all you could do it in Engineering, Anthropology, Fashion… the possibilities are endless. I can even see the title now: Percieved and Actual Cooling As A Function Of Fur Trim-Induced Bow Wave Effects in Traditional Inuit Garments: An Empirical Approach.

Update to add: Viola Yee use

Adidas Jeans Mk II


If you’re an adi obsessive then chances are that there’s a special place in your heart/wardrobe for the adidas Jeans. Originally released in the mid seventies and unusually for adidas designed with being worn alongside denim in mind rather than winning a particular sport, the adidas Jeans soon became ‘the’ shoe to be seen in by clued up kids all over the UK. The updated MKII version that appeared in 1980 with it’s additional heel stabilizer and toe overlay proved even more popular timing it’s arrival with that of casual culture and all that jazz. adidas Originals have got it spot on with their current re-issue of the Jeans Mk II (I know this because Jeans fan/expert Brooksy said so on instagram) and I’ve just had a look in Hip Store who have got both red and green versions of the MKII available right now. Don’t hang about though as it might be another 35 years before they get re-issued again.










8 Classic Sportswear Brands That Are Back On Trend

Bring a touch of nostalgia to your casual getups with one of these retro activewear labels

 Nostalgia has become something of a pop culture phenomenon in recent years, with the arrival of the 2010s pushing the eighties and nineties firmly into the retro zone.

This revival of styles from times gone by has seen many once-popular brands re-emerge, tapping into the renewed obsession for all things old school. And with sports luxe currently dominating industry trends, it comes as no surprise that some classic activewear names are experiencing a renaissance, be it over ten, twenty or one hundred years later.

So, let us reintroduce you to eight sporting labels that are now back on the fashion radar – some of which you are sure to know from the first time around.


Athletic apparel brand Champion started out life way back in 1919, designing technical sportswear styles for professional athletes.

However, the label had its real heyday in the 1990s, being adopted as a sports-meets-streetwear brand for casual urban dressers.

Champion has now stormed back into the fashion charts, teaming up with the likes of Wood Wood, Todd Snyder and Urban Outfitters in the past year to bring its throwback pieces bang up to date.

Available at Size? and

Champion USA


Champion Satin Varsity Jacket, available at Size?, priced £115:

Champion Satin Varsity Jacket


Another brand that found popularity back in the nineties is Italian heritage label Ellesse, with its bold slogan sweatshirts now returning to satisfy the appetite of vintage lovers everywhere.

The label continues to stay true to its original designs, reissuing key pieces with contemporary elements for an updated look.

Available at ASOS.

Ellesse Sportswear


Ellesse Sweatshirt With Classic Logo, available at ASOS, priced £40:

Ellesse Sweatshirt With Classic Logo

Le Coq Sportif

Hands up if you once owned a Le Coq Sportif tracksuit? We certainly did, with the brand’s bold aesthetic considered on-trend back in the mid-nineties.

The French label first introduced its signature branded pieces in 1948, and has since gone on to become the official uniform supplier for a wide variety of sports teams – most notably Everton F.C..

If you’re not much of a football fan, do not fear, as the label is now focusing on vintage apparel that is bound to appeal to the modern man-about-town. We’re particular fans of its retro cycle wear range.

Available at

Le Coq Sportif Sportswear


Ultra Light Jersey, available at Le Coq Sportif, priced £66.50:

Le Coq Sportif Ultra Light Jersey

Fila Vintage

A cornerstone brand of the eighties football casuals subculture, Fila has held a place in retro lovers’ hearts since its late 20th century prime.

Today, the brand continues to harness its throwback appeal, launching a range of classic and original pieces under its Vintage sub-brand.

From track jackets to striped polo shirts, shoppers will be transported back to the eighties (in a good way) in no time.

Available at

Fila Vintage Sportswear


Fila Settanta Track Jacket, available at, priced £65:

Fila Settanta Track Jacket


Reebok’s popularity has shown no sign of faltering over its extensive lifetime, remaining one of the most successful sportswear brands in the world since it was founded back in 1895.

However, it was the trainer-mad days of the eighties and nineties that cemented it as a fashion leader, with key silhouettes such as the Pump and Classic becoming instant must-owns.

These signature styles are still being produced today, with new iterations and modern technology taking Reebok’s heritage designs to a whole new level.

Available at

Reebok Sportswear


Reebok Classic NPC UK II Trainers, available at Reebok, priced £62:

Reebok Classic NPC UK II Trainers


Running shoes have remained the speciality of US label Saucony for decades, with the brand producing technical footwear for professional athletes and budding runners alike.

Once famed for its practical appeal, the running shoe revival of recent years has seen Saucony’s classic silhouettes coveted by sneaker fans worldwide, for their simple yet striking aesthetic.

Modern day collaborations with the likes of Club Monaco and Penfield, along with limited edition releases, have helped Saucony smoothly enter the luxury trainer arena to become a key footwear player for the modern age.

Available at

Saucony Running Trainers


Saucony Suede Shadow 6000 Sneakers, available at Oki-ni, priced £95:

Saucony Suede Shadow 6000 Sneakers


Kappa is another Italian sportswear label that caters to both the professional and amateur athlete, providing the official uniforms for a range of football, basketball and hockey teams across the globe.

Although your everyday sportswear fan will probably hold vivid memories of its popper leg trousers emblazoned with oversized logos, Kappa now focuses on pared-back, technical styles for both working out and daily wear.

Available at

Kappa Sportswear


Kappa Track Jacket, available at ASOS, priced £45:

Kappa Track Jacket


Umbro’s diamond logo is sure to conjure up memories of your school days – bulky backpacks, branded sports socks and the like – with the Manchester-born label’s pieces going beyond their original purpose to be adopted by the style-conscious youth of the eighties and nineties.

After being acquired by Nike in 2007, the brand went through something of a revamp, focusing on its footballing heritage and vintage appeal to produce classic, stylish pieces complete with original features.

Available at

Umbro Sportswear


Umbro 1990s Training Away Football Jersey, available at Size?, priced £45:

Umbro 90s Training Away Football Jersey

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