Pants with Lineage (Part II)

 Buckskins: Totally  caj .  Credit:  Augusta Auction Co.

Buckskins: Totally caj.  Credit: Augusta Auction Co.

    Part I finished with a promise to place jean-wearing within the context of a more classical wardrobe, but I hope the expectation wasn’t for a list of rules and regulations.  Rather, what follows is a proposal; based upon that premise, some gentle guidelines unfold. 

    Strict classical dressers, who deride jeans as vulgar and, unless mucking out a barn, inappropriate, might be at this very moment raising eyebrows at any suggestion that this everyman’s garment has a place next to their flannels and cords.  But let’s first consider the following analogy: Jeans are to the contemporary man what buckskin breeches or pantaloons were to the gentleman of the Regency era: casual, utilitarian, versatile, and crucially, widely acceptable.  I further propose Beau Brummel, that inventor and arbiter of masculine style, would, if larking about today, have embraced jeans.

    If the Regency ideal was a gentleman of some action and swagger—a man who swung into his saddle with grace, all the while looking down his nose at the overwrought foppery of his predecessors, he needed a pant that reflected his athleticism and candor.  Buckskins—buff-colored, sueded deerskin trousers—fit this image well.  Some action too is expected of today’s man; travel, sport, tending to the house, garden or kids—these things and more require a trouser of some flexibility.  And if one considers the expectation of a certain stylish ruggedness, jeans, like yesterday’s buckskins, emerge as a sensible choice.

    Jeans travel exceptionally well, both in the case and in the cabin.  In fact with all the crouching, kneeling and hoisting required of the traveler today, I shudder to think what state my favorite gaberdines would be in after even a brief flight. It’s not that denim is necessarily sturdier than wool cloth (indeed the opposite is likely true).  The fact, however, is that jeans, unlike other trousers, do not require pressing; they are not upset by wrinkles or folds or stressed seams or worn knees.  Jeans absorb these familiar enemies of tailored clothing, obscuring even the worst assaults in the very character of the cloth.   

    This is because denim is a twill—a sturdy, tightly woven diagonally ribbed textile—made of cotton yarn.  Anyone who has worn a new pair of raw denim jeans can attest to just how stiff the cloth can be.  Denim is indeed tough, but only so far as cotton is concerned.  Cotton breaks down quite readily and so while an inky and dense new pair of jeans might be capable of standing unassisted, it won’t be long before they have softened considerably.  Like good calfskin shoes, quality denim will patinate as it ages.  I recommend rotating three pairs, from the newest, darkest pair, to the oldest, faded pair.  This method assures one Goldilocks pair at all times: not too dark or stiff, but not too faded or ragged either.  

    Unlike twills in wool, though, denim does not drape well at all.  Instead it resists gravity in a sort of cardboard way—something to do with the stiffness to weight ratio.    This quality accounts for the travel versatility mentioned above, but it also limits the cut and styling.   In short, jeans should be relatively snug, and if they are snug, they are also lower rise.  This sportive cut mirrors their utility though; draped wool trousers look elegant, but they aren’t ideal for crouching in the garden.  Attempts at denim trousers have always seemed disingenuous to my eyes, as if the cut itself betrays the cloth (or visa versa).  And just as low-rise thigh-hugging tailored pants of wool have no place in the classical wardrobe, neither do full-cut jeans.  I’m not recommending drain-pipe tightness—just those that conform to the hips and taper with the leg.  Sadly, there is no formula for getting the snugness factor correct, and I would be fibbing if I suggested anything but trial and error results in success.  The fact is you want jeans that start life quite stiff and snug; they will soften and loosen over time, reaching the parabolic apex of perfection before descending into the donation bin. 

    Lastly, jeans are undeniably versatile.  What other pant feels purpose-built for those varied and informal days that might include farmer’s markets, brisk dog-walks, lunch with wives or girlfriends and the odd house chore?  With the smart addition or subtraction of things like suede loafers or crepe-soled chukka boots, button-down-collar shirts, merino sweaters, navy blazers and tweed odd coats jeans remain appropriate.  

    In this sense, jeans don’t just supplant Regency-era buckskins but emulate their style:  utilitarian, close-fitting, versatile and in possession of some swagger.  But jeans, like buckskins, aren’t without their limitations.  Brummel and his lot didn’t wear theirs for more formal occasions, and certainly not those that took place in the evening.  So too might the contemporary man limit his deployment of denim to those times where leisure and activity are, if not imminent, probable.  This takes discipline; if wearing jeans seems even remotely incorrect reach instead for the flannels or cords or gabs.  And this really is the crucial point to be made about jeans: those very characteristics that make them desirable are also what dictate good practice in wearing them.

 Jeans, having just departed the Goldilocks phase,  with navy coat and pink oxford.  Tea at the Ritz?  No.  Bordeaux-browsing with the wife?  Sure.

Jeans, having just departed the Goldilocks phase,  with navy coat and pink oxford.  Tea at the Ritz?  No.  Bordeaux-browsing with the wife?  Sure.