TRIED & TESTED / The bottom line: Is the label on your jeans just a fashion statement? Five leading brands for men and women are put to the test for cut and comfort

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The Independent Culture
OVER 60 million pairs of jeans were sold in Britain last year - that's more than one for each man, woman and child. Although there are hundreds of brands and styles on the market, it can still be a struggle to find a pair that doesn't give you thunder thighs or a baggy bottom. We asked our panel to try out a selection of five brands, from the classic American Levis and Lee jeans to Paul Smith designer jeans. The men gave the brands similar ratings, while the women chose a clear winner.

THE PANEL

Ruth Winn, editorial assistant;

Naomi Smith, fashion stylist; Martin Woodrow, electrician; Christopher Breward, lecturer in History of Design at the Royal College of Art.

THE TEST

Panellists gave the jeans star ratings for the style of the cut and finish - for example, the rivets, buttons and stitching - the look of the fabric, how rugged and well made they seemed and their value for money.

**GAP EASY FIT

FOR MEN

pounds 28

Plain design, good value for money. 'Inoffensive, unpretentious and simple, although rather bland and lacking in character. Would go well with loafers, deck-shoes or brogues and a polo shirt - rather a formal Ivy League feel,' said Christopher Breward. Martin Woodrow thought they were lightweight: 'Ideal for spring or summer wear, but not an all-year-round jean.'

*GAP CLASSIC FIT

FOR WOMEN

pounds 28

Our women testers didn't like the shape, saying they were baggy around the crotch and backside. 'They look like jodhpurs,' said Naomi Smith. The fit might be a lot more flattering, though, to the majority of women, who tend to the pear-shape. Rated lower than average for the look of the denim and the finish, although the testers did think they seemed durable.

**JOE BLOGGS REGULAR FIT

FOR MEN

pounds 29.99

Our testers could not agree on these. Martin Woodrow thought they were excellent: 'Well-made, rugged and stylish with a dark colour which I like. Definitely the best of the bunch, with the all-important not-too-expensive price tag.' For Christoper Breward, though, they were a distinct turn-off. 'These were the real losers. I can accept that the sloppy loose cut and ostentatious labelling are aimed at a much younger, more streetwise market; what's difficult to take is the poor workmanship and skimping. Whatever way you put them on, they have a strangely emasculating effect, completely flattening out the crotch.'

*JOE BLOGGS B-FREE SLIM FIT

FOR WOMEN

pounds 24.99

A very slim fit. 'Flattering if you are a beanpole - not for the cellulite brigade,' said Ruth Winn. She thought the material felt thin, 'giving rise to a prominent VPL.' Naomi Smith thought they were good value, but the label details around the waist were 'terrible'.

**PAUL SMITH

MEN'S CLASSIC

pounds 65

Paul Smith Menswear might be horrified to see their pounds 65 jeans used as workwear, but Martin Woodrow would be quite happy to wear them for work: 'Well made, heavy duty jeans, with a nice dark blue colour. Ideal for rough- and-tumble working. The only drawback is the price.' Christopher Breward thought the plain cut and style meant that, like the Gap jeans, they were most suited to formal wear. 'An excessive use of the Indigo vat lent these the most sumptuous feel in terms of colour and texture,' he added.

**PAUL SMITH

WOMEN'S CLASSIC

pounds 65

A high-waisted style, it had, like the men's, an unusual finish to the denim. Ruth Winn coveted this pair: 'Would fit in nicely between the aperitif and digestif at Quaglino's' But Naomi Smith, who didn't like the fit, said that: 'For pounds 65, I would never buy these.'

**LEE JEANS NEWPORT

FOR MEN

pounds 34.99

These jeans are slightly more expensive than the standard Lee range as they are made of Heritage denim, supposedly more authentic. 'A rugged, heavy feel very 'butch' and 'western',' said Christopher Breward. 'The wide leg flatters stick limbs like mine, but I'm not sure what they would do to chunkier wearers. Roomy round the hips, but comfortable around the crotch.'

**LEE JEANS JOPLIN

FOR WOMEN

pounds 32.99

This cut, which Lee jeans says is designed for large-waisted or small- hipped women, was the clear winner for our testers. They thought the jeans, also made of Heritage denim, were good value for money, too. 'I was not very impressed with the stitching but rather pleasantly surprised by the flattering cut,' said Ruth Winn. 'The dye was not as even as it could be but I was encouraged by the appearance of my behind - the most important part of any pair of jeans.'

**LEVI 501s

FOR MEN

pounds 45.99

None of the other jeans could match the Levis for detailing such as rivets and stitching. 'The detailing is the finest - rivets and stitching demand a fetishist's attention. The problem with 501s is the fit,' said Christopher Breward. 'These did nothing for my behind and just hung there like a damp rag. The power of the brand means you could wear them in the widest range of situations, but I credit that more to marketing than inherent quality.'

*** LEVI 901s

FOR WOMEN

pounds 45.99

The cut was by no means the most popular, but despite this the Levis were still the leader of the pack, given top marks for the detailing, for the fabric and for a rugged feel. 'Good dye and thickness of fabric,' said Ruth Winn, 'but a bit pricey.'

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