To help me sift the wheat from the chaff, I went along to Norton & Sons Ltd of 16 Savile Row, bespoke and specialist field sports tailors since 1821, and asked gentleman and expert tailor (coatmaker, cutter and fitter) Mr Ritchie Charlton, 32, to assess the basic jean from some 14 different manufacturers. Here are his thoughts.
We looked first at the designer labels. The Versace specimen fared pretty well but, crucially, Mr Charlton pointed out that, "this is not a jean as we know it. It's rather a flat-front trouser with very little seam detail." Although the fabric quality was very good, there was little in the styling to indicate this was a pair of denim trousers. It had a bold turn-up, a narrow leg, a light blue hue and excellent pocket bag construction, an indicator of durability. All in all, a good-quality trouser.
The offering from D&G was less well received. Mr Charlton pointed out that the jeans looked clumsyand when I tried them on I found them incredibly uncomfortable. They are cut like a hipster in the front only, have a ridiculously tiny fly, and are a real throwback to the 1970s, with a straight leg and orange stitching on a light blue denim. On the plus side, the fabric quality was on a par with the likes of a Wrangler or Lee. Mr Charlton's verdict, as he tugged at my waistband: "For fashion victims only."
By far the best of the designer jeans was the Katharine Hamnett "Cato" (from pounds 75). This jean was of a high-quality cloth with strong pocket bags. The denim had a unique sheen to it and a slightly stretchy feel (a result of the viscose, rayon and cotton mix). The waistband was lined with the same material as the pocket bags but wasn't of double denim and therefore could be prone to over-stretching. Overall, Mr Charlton felt this to be a tasteful garment, well constructed, of some quality but perhaps for occasional rather than everyday wear.
The Falmer "Comfort 70", (prices from pounds 30 with stretch, ring spun and others from pounds 34 plus), was a nice quality heavy jean with a good, clean finish and no scruffiness. However, Mr Charlton pointed out that the pocket bags were unforgivably cut on the bias, almost certainly to save cloth and money. This meant that they would lose shape quickly and you could see that the stitching was very weak. The jean was short on the rise, giving a vaguely hipster effect in the front. The pocket detail and shape was quite similar to classic Levi's. All in all, just about reasonable value for money.
Easy sent in the straight-legged "Marvin" button jean (prices from pounds 25 to pounds 32). Mr Charlton's first comment was that he didn't like or see the point of the pre-worn effect on the front and back. The pocket bags were deemed passable and the fabric quality pretty good. "Bog standard, a bit nothing in terms of style," was the conclusion.
Lee sent in the "Brooklyn" stonewash model (from pounds 31.99) and Wrangler, the "Texas", (pounds 34.99). Mr Charlton thought them both to be of a high-quality fabric and construction, with a good clean finish. All in all, excellent products in terms of value for money (particularly when compared with the likes of CK, which Mr Charlton described as, "Standard fare. One is paying for the brand name.") The above-average number of loopholes for a belt on the Wranglers were noted as a distinctive positive point, as were the quite uniquely curved rear pockets of the Lees.
The Joe Bloggs Regular JBJ (at pounds 29.99) possessed not very flattering low pockets. The yoke seam was deeper than on the more classic jean. The fabric was of a good, very strong denim, top-stitched on the inside leg. Perhaps lacking slightly in style, thought Mr Charlton.
However, I liked their look and felt comfortable in them. The pocket bags were judged to be of reasonable quality. "Excellent value for money," sighed Mr Charlton, almost jeaned out.
On we pressed.
The Marks & Spencer range (from pounds 22 to pounds 30 for stretch with lycra) was of decent quality and good value for money, although the waistband was cut across the piece and not cut down on the stretch Premium Label jean, probably for economic reasons, surmised Mr Charlton, somewhat disappointed. Other bad points were the slightly untidy finish and oddly sub-standard pocket bag quality, although the Classic Label jean fared better.
The Nico jean from Burton was well-finished and, for pounds 20, judgedgood value for money. It was made from a quality cloth, had a tidy finish and strong stitching, although again the pocket bags were not on a par with the rest of the jean.
Finally, we came to the best three jeans of the lot. In third place was Pepe's Denim Deluxe, (from pounds 52.99 to pounds 75). "There has been no expense spared here," reported Mr Charlton. This jean has been cut for quality and is of a rugged yet comfortable fabric. Style-wise, the Deluxe has that slightly baggy Casey Jones look as well as novel hollowed-out buttons. Mr Charlton thought it to be a fine all-round jean.
The Diesel Keetar (from pounds 55) is made of an excellent quality cloth. Even before you put it on, this jean looks like it's going to be stylish and comfortable. The dark Indigo blue is a very pleasing colour. Mr Charlton thought it would wash to be a jean that you would become very attached to.
The Levi 501 (approximately pounds 56) was Mr Charlton's choice for the best jean and I have to agree with him. His thoughts: "The best by far. There is always a nice tidy finish to the jean. The fabric is of a very high quality, tighter and more robust than its competitors'. They are built to last. The pocket bags are well-constructed and strong. I like the look of a pair of Levi's. A Levi Strauss jean remains the benchmark."
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