20 January 2012

Dungarees: An Update

In taking a look back to prepare for this post, I realize that it's been roughly a year since I did a dungarees update, and roughly two years since the purchase of said denim. Perhaps this should become a January tradition.

Back when I bought the jeans featured here, I had written a rant or two against the then (and still) prevalent hipster practice of buying gourmet denim, wearing it every day, with everything, and never washing it. The internet is rife with blogs and websites dedicated solely to nerdly discussions of how not to clean your pants, but I'm not having it. I like clean pants. So here's a brief rundown of what happens to them after two years of regular occasional wear, and regular washing:
photo: not mine, heisted from the internet.

In digging back two years into this blog, I'm actually embarrassed at the photos I saw fit to print here. This photo shows much more clearly what my Wrangler 13MWZ Original Cowboy Cut jeans looked like when I bought them. Rigid as wood, very dark in that distinctive grey tinted navy we call indigo. Straight legs, rivets and all, I wore them "raw" for a few weeks. There are few things as uncomfortable as new raw jeans, but there is a special (perceived) self satisfaction that comes with putting up with uncomfortably hard to wear pants. I've gotten over that since, but I still have the jeans.
One year in, they looked like this.I'll admit, at this point they had reached a kind of too bright blueberry hue, but I stuck with them. For one, they were beginning to be soft and comfortable in a way that only well worn jeans that belong to only you can. For another, I knew they'd eventually reach that excellent shade of light blue that can only be achieved with wearing and washing your own jeans. That, and I'm cheap, and new jeans are the last thing I care to worry about.

Today, two years and likely one hundred washed later, they're only getting better. The color is nearing what I consider to be the perfect fade. There's cool looking wear patterns on the knees. They're stiff when they're freshly cleaned, but given a minute or two, they conform to my shape and become perfectly comfortable in that way that only your own old jeans can. Unlike they're unwashed counterparts, they feel fresh and clean, instead of grimy and shiny with filth.  Honestly, I've heard it so many times and read it so many times and even believed it a long time ago myself, but I just don't see the appeal in not washing your pants. Authenticity be damned, as I remember it, this what jeans always looked like when I was a kid, and any 19th century coal miner would have been glad at the chance to have some clean pants. Not washing your jeans in the interest of well curated heritage Americana is so much hipster revisionist thinking.

I will admit that I take care to wash them separately, turned inside out, in cold water, and I never dry them. But I do wash them, once a week or so as needed.

The older I get, I find that my take on how to wear jeans has changed over the years and begun to settle into a new norm.I read recently that part of being well dressed means being dressed for the occasion. I spend the earlier part of most days dropping off/picking up kids at school, grocery shopping, and hunting in filthy thrift shops, so I actually wear dungarees frequently. Gone are the days of pairing them with punk t-shirts and Adidas sneakers. Gone too are the days of wearing them with jacket and tie, though occasionally they do wind up combined with a tweed sports coat. These days a soft old oxford and a crew neck sweater do the trick. Bean boots, Bean mocs, penny loafers, pebble grain oxfords, and every now and then brown suede split toes are all good, adult choices for footwear. I even manage to take it up notch from time to time, go for the Continental look:
It's possible that a silk ascot will always be a pretentious and silly thing on an American, but worn just peeking out of a cotton crew neck, and worn with jeans, it may just be almost acceptable...almost.
A Donegal tweed cap ($1.99, thrift store), cashmere scarf in Black Watch tartan ($3.99, thrift store), brown leather wool lined gloves ($2.00, thrift store) and Barbour "Liddesdale" quilted jacket ($7.99, thrift store), and classic vintage Ray-Ban Wayfarers (generous gift) are all perfectly casual enough to wear with jeans, but finished and grown-up enough to make you feel like, you know, a grown up, or something.

I predict that washed and faded look will be coming back soon, along with pleated pants and properly fitted jackets. Not that I care much for fashion, but they've been feeding us tight/short/skinny/don't-wash-your-jeans for too long now. Time for an about face so they can force people to abandon everything and buy a bunch of new stuff.

Worn, old, comfortable, clean jeans are a real classic, and classics never die.


Curmudgeon said...

Dungarees are for buckaroos.

Giuseppe said...

...and people who look after small children, spend lots of time at playgrounds, drive a lot, and run a lot of errands.

Not all Dads leave the house for nine hours at 8 am to arrive home to a cocktail and a frsh, hot supper.

Or am I just being curmudgeonly?

Adam said...

I don't own jeans. I'm 28 and haven't had a pair since I was 16. I tend to not like the pockets. But, and this is a huge--probably stubborn-- but, this post makes me want to buy a pair; I want them to be mine.

Mike said...

G, I'm with you on that.

I don't understand people who put on their new jeans unwashed.

I mean, they are full of chemicals and stuff. And nobody thinks about what this combination of chemicals and sweat will do to your skin and body in the long run.

Before I put on something new, I'll wash it. Except suits, jackets and slacks.

notanymore said...

I have two pairs of jeans I wear almost never. A few times a year. Every now and then. But I've never not washed them. I hadn't even heard of that. How silly. Is this really some weird menswear trend that in nearly four years of blogging I have somehow missed? Astounding.

A good, solidly broken in pair of khakis. Those are my comfort leg-covers. Jeans? Never a go-to, always an affectation- or when I've realised all of my khakis are in the hamper and throwing on suit slacks would be inappropriate either for practical concerns or in appearance...

Not washing denim? Really? How absurd. G, I wish you could have seen my expression reading your post. I'm just wee bit younger than you, and I swear this was never a thing...

Curmudgeon said...

I do all of those things in cords.

Northmoon said...

I've never heard of this 'don't wash your jeans' thing - is it just guys? It sounds disgusting. Of course you've got enough sense to wash yours!

When I was young, many moons ago, I knew some girls who ironed their jeans. That was taking it a bit far, in my opinion. But washing them - definitely a good idea.

Yankee-Whisky-Papa said...

Dirty jeans? Nasty. We Americans seem to have passionate opinions about jeans... passions that should perhaps be focused on the economy, community, or on art and science. Glad to hear that other people also choose to laundering their clothing! Stay clean, Brother.

gentleman mac said...

I am certainly aware of the not washing "thing" going on now and think it stinks in all aspects of the word. Come on, denim smells when dirty! Also, I rarely wear jeans because I find them to be uncomfortable in the rise, hot in the summer, and cold in the winter. Khakis, like Kionon said, are my go to casual pants.

Zach said...

If not washing one's jeans is well-curated-hipster-Americana then I would also say that rejecting jeans entirely as somehow "unacceptable" because they are workwear is an example of well-curated-Trad-fogeyism. One can say jeans are just for cowboys and miners, but it can just as easily be said that chinos are just for GIs and corduroys are just for for Irish peat farmers and English grouse hunters.

Grey Fox said...

Great post. All jeans should be naturally aged by use - it's cheating buying them already "distressed" and sometimes even (gasp) with holes in them from new.

Grey Fox - searching for style in middle age http://www.greyfoxblog.com

David V said...

The only guys I knew who never washed their jeans where the guys who worked in the warehouse of a steel fabricator. The jeans would get so full of grease and grim they didn't want them in the home laundry (or maybe their wives didn't.) When the jeans got so bad that they could stand on their own they were thrown out and a new pair worn.

When I was a boy, long before pre-washed, sanded and ring spun, you washed your new jeans a couple of times just so you could sit down in them!

Some Assembly Required said...

Right with you on washing vs. not. Along with the filth issue, after I've worn a pair of jeans a couple of times, the waist has stretched and the knees get baggy, and washing them restores the shape.

Anonymous said...

I wear jeans (who says dungarees??) nearly every day. Please skip the ascot. That is very silly looking. Otherwise the outfit is great, and very preppy in a western way.

In the SF Bay Area, Levis were the preferred brand. In fact, it wasn't until I moved away (many years ago) that I became aware of any other brands.

JD said...

I have adopted elements of both camps. Grown disgusted with imported everything, I have started in the last year to buy the "gourmet" denim just to get something Made in the USA. At 45, though, the real drawback is the skinny/slim-straight/9" rise BS that comes with a lot of this. Tellason Ankara's fit similarly to 501s, and I wash them just like you do - none of that 6 month no-wash crap for me.

Giuseppe said...

I admit it, even I don't call them dungarees. I only use the word here out of obnoxious archaic fetishism.

Giuseppe said...

I admit it, even I don't call them dungarees. I only use the word here out of obnoxious archaic fetishism.

Jim said...

It's crazy to go a year without washing jeans to get "ill fadez". But I'll admit I only wash my Gap selvedge jeans ($8.50 at a resale store, with the tags still on) every couple months. They're really dark denim and I want to keep them that way because I think it looks better if I'm dressing them up with a tweed or navy blazer, or a button-down and sweater.

I'm allowed to wear jeans to work and I would feel like a slob in baggy, light blue denim (which is what most other people at work wear). Slim to straight fit dark jeans are pretty much interchangeable with khakis -- I had the leg opening tapered to 8" so they even look great with my longwings.

The Skinny Guinea said...

Heh. Dungarees. That brings back memories.
Giusseppe, I hit Shepler's (great tip!) after reading your post two years ago, and picked up a pair identical to yours, and a pair of Levi's 501 STF's.
In the end, I wear the 501's more, as I find the 13MWZ *way* too full cut at 32X30. I'd go so far as to call them baggy on my 5'8", 42y.o. frame.
Just saying, for others shopping around.

GS said...

The silk ascot with the crew neck looks superb! Fantastic Blog, being an avid reader I feel I should thank you for never allowing me to pass a charity/thrift shop without popping in. Today I feel I may have found my "bargain of the year" already! http://dandymancan.blogspot.com/
Keep up the great work squire & happy hunting!

bostonhud said...

I will admit I lean to the side of not washing.
I do wash my jeans, just not very often.
Two reasons-
1. It saves on laundry money (Yep, using that as an excuse). And when I have enough other clothing to fully last me a month, jeans dont seem that important to wash.
2. I want to protect the dark indigo color as much as possible. Like G mentioned, I hate the bright blueberry color most jeans get after a new wash or two. So what I do instead is dry clean my jeans (You all can prepare your pitchforks now), which keeps both the color and the size well intact. Which is a good thing if you're wearing, say, Levis 501s and want to keep the unwashed sheen.

So yes, I shop at thrift stores, follow this blog religiously...and I dry clean my jeans.
I am ready for your attacks.

Young Fogey said...

I was raised in 501s, and wore them through most of college. Of course, I washed them after nearly every wearing, and threw them in the dryer, too. In all those years, I managed to wear out just one pair; the rest I outgrew.

The year I spent a year abroad was the year my Levi's went from daily to occasionally in the rotation. After college, they went to never.

My grandfather never wore denim, because denim was for laborers. Having labored to put himself through college, he had, as they say, been there and done that, and was ready for proper adult clothes for the rest of his long life.

I actually want a pair of jeans now, just for yardwork, camping, and hiking. I'm in no rush, though.

Maybe I'll follow G's lead and get a pair of Wranglers, so they'll be good for horseback riding, too.

Daniel said...

I don't understand why anyone would want faded denim/pleats/loose jackets to come back. Not because they look bad (they only look bad on folks <30), but because then it'll look trendy and people will accuse you of looking like a hipster.

I must say, I think the ascot works well. Though I do think you need to give up some of your hate toward anyone in that neo-prep getup now. Pot calling kettle black and all that. ;)

Lexicologue said...

According to a draft addition to the Oxford English Dictionary dated 2006, in Britain “dungaree” now means “trousers with a bib held up by shoulder straps,” or what we in the US call overalls. (In Britain, "overalls" have sleeves).

Roger v.d. Velde said...

I think I must have hit 30 before this fad of not washing jeans arrived because I've never heard of it. There should be no worry about losing colour if they are washed in cool water with added white vinegar - which helps with colour loss.

To be honest I don't really care if folk don't want to wash their jeans, it's up to them. It's still an idiotic fad supported by pseudo knowledge, but leave them to it.
You wrote that you once believed it yourself and there's no-one as fired up about an issue as a ex-believer.

As for dirty clothes, it's possible that a dark suit or dress trousers which see a season or more of rotated wear, but not much in the way of cleaning except once or twice a year, are probably very dirty too in their own way.

Anyway I only wear jeans outside the dress wardrobe.

Matt S. said...

I wear jeans regularly because I'm blessed to work at a relaxed office environment. I only recently heard of the "no washing" practice and I tend to agree with it. If you happen to wear laborer's clothes while doing actual labor you'll find the washing machine shreds any active wear spots. My jeans aren't broken in after years of washing, they're in the garbage. I would only consider not washing your jeans "hipster" if you're also not getting your hands dirty.

Giuseppe said...

Dirt itslef is abbrassive. By not removing regularly, you hasten the demise of your clothes. The same is true of not washing your car or not polishing your shoes.

Anonymous said...

Damn, with that logic, I now have to wash my car.

Also, why refer to jeans as dungarees? Any etymology here?

Giuseppe said...

Because its sily and out of date, like me. That's why.

Clydicus said...

As much as hate your ascot, I love this post about earning your blue jeans. At 40, nothing makes me feel more like a cantankerous old crank than this new fangled fashion of intentionally abusing jeans at the factory so they look "broken in". When I was their age, we earned that faded, wrinkled, abused look...and we liked it that way! and don't get me started about the whole "whiskering" abomination. The only thing that gets my blood boiling worse is those t-shirts at Old Navy and American Outfitters that are manufactured to look like something you scoured thrift stores to find...soulless bastards.

Young Fogey said...

G's ascot is great. It's a classic color and pattern, and when worn like this, is barely noticeable. It keeps you warm and looking good.

What's not to like?

Full disclosure: I own about half-a-dozen ascots (including one re-purposed women's scarf), and wear them regularly.

BEESTLYproducts said...

I've been following your blog since that post in January 2010 and have found your advice on denim/dungarees to still be the most important piece of sartorial information I have ever received.

I work for a particularly trend driven retailer. I see washes come and go almost weekly. I always receive compliments about my own jeans from co-workers and customers; 13MWZ wranglers that I bought an eBay for less than $20, minutes after reading your post.

So, thanks for that.