Post written by Rogin Farrer.
You’ve decided to make the jump, and start dressing like a grown-up. Or at least older than 13. But where to start? It’s easy to get overloaded with all of the style and fashion sites out there, many advocating either for their expensive brands or affiliates, or for super-trendy skin-tight suits.
I believe in starting with the basic and simple. The first piece I recommend acquiring is a pair of clean, dark blue jeans. This is because a dark pair of denim can be the most 1) flattering, 2) versatile, 3) accessible, and 4) fun garment in your wardrobe. Why’s that, you ask? Let’s break it down.
Dark Denim Flatters
Chances are that if you’re in school, jeans are already a staple of your wardrobe. Many of us grow up wearing light, stonewashed jeans as children, and at some point in middle school torn-up and faded jeans became popular. I honestly don’t know why – maybe the former are cheaper to make, and the latter seem more interesting or unique. In both cases they look unnatural and are not as flattering nor versatile as a pair of well-fitting, clean, dark blue jeans.
Style and appearance seems superficial, but the goal of style is to act as a picture frame – so you can look and feel your best. Dark denim provides a clean slate to keep the focus on you. All those fades, whiskers, rips, and tears? They’re distracting. And make you look 12.
Inky indigo jeans add maturity to your appearance without making you look older. No one’s going to point out your jeans and tease you about them. Quite the contrary — they’ll be complimenting you.
Clean, dark denim earn their title as a basic for their versatility. They’re as much a natural mate to a white t-shirt and a pair of sneakers as to a button-down shirt and leather shoes. Outside of interviews and campus formals, a dark pair of jeans will be appropriate for almost any occasion, including class, weekends, or otherwise.
College students aren’t exactly known for having a surfeit of cash. Fortunately for us, dark-wash denim costs just as much as loose, torn-up jeans. Often times they’re cheaper because all that distressing is another expense for the manufacturer.
My favorite are Levi’s 501’s. For most people, the 514 or even the 511 will be a better fit. Look for colors like ‘rigid’ and ‘indigo’. Aside from Levi’s, Gap has a few affordable options.
If you’ve got the dough, there’s a lot of quality denim brands out there. Some of the big names I recommend, but don’t have first-hand experience with, are APC, 3Sixteen, and Levi’s Vintage Clothing. A new startup called Gustin claims to produce jeans with quality on par with expensive premium brands, but at a wholesale price. I can’t really attest for them, but I’d say look into it if you’re interested, as they’re pretty close to the price of normal Levi’s.
Cheaper denim usually comes prewashed. This means that the cotton will shrink minimally, and the color of the fabric won’t change all that much in its lifespan. (This is the way most of the clothes we buy are made.) Way back when (i.e., 40 years ago), jeans were sold unwashed. They’d be inky blue, stiff as a board, and fit kind of boxy. This old way of making jeans is becoming a bit more common now, at least on a micro-scale.
Many of the the expensive options will come unwashed and raw. The more you wear them, they’ll take on your stress points, fade, soften, and conform to your body. The result is an authentic version of the “designer” distressed jeans. It’s a fun process , and the jeans become the best fitting pants you own. Levi’s 501 Shrink-to-Fits will give you this experience without having to pay top dollar for top-notch fabrics.
Notes on fit
I tend to see two extremes on the fit spectrum. On one side there’s the baggy jeans that sit on the hips or lower, that wear more like sweatpants than jeans.
The otherside of the spectrum are the skin-tight jeans. A year or so ago Levi’s released the “ex-girlfriend” jean, and seeing it made me worry for their models’ future ability to have children.
Both are distracting and detract from the frame that you want to create. Practically speaking, both restrict movement, as well. (That extra fabric in the baggy jeans gets in the way. I don’t need to explain for the other pair.)
Well-fitting jeans provide the widest range of movement and the cleanest lines, providing for a more flattering look. A few things to consider:
- Rise: most jeans today have a rise that sits just a bit too low. What happens is the lower they sit on your body, the longer your torso appears. Too much of this throws off the proportions, and you will look oddly lanky. For most people, I recommend a medium rise, or slightly below the waist.
- Thigh & seat: the fit around your rear and thighs should be slim. Sitting should be comfortable and not cause too much pulling around the thigh.
- Leg: the leg refers to the diameter of the jeans from the thigh down. This is up to personal preference. Stay away from boot cut jeans, which flare out and widen from the thigh. The classic style is too keep the fit straight all the way down, but today you’ll see more styles have a taper towards the leg opening.
The Bottom Line
Dark denim is the easiest and generally most inexpensive way to step up one’s wardrobe and look sharp. I’ve already recommended a few brands, but name doesn’t matter. Look for clean, dark indigo denim, without any fading, whiskering, or distressing. And remember that fit is key. An ill-fitting pair of dark jeans can look worse than a pair of distressed denim that fits.