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Wednesday, July 12, 2017


Blue jeans are California’s foremost contribution to world fashion.  Some question whether San Francisco’s Levi Strauss was the first person to make clothing from denim.  It is beyond dispute, however, that his Levi Straus & Company was the first mass-producer of blue jeans. 

Today, Californians continue to design and manufacture some of the world’s best jeans. Sadly, Levi’s jeans are have succumbed to the maladies that brand success brings – ever-poorer-quality products spawned by ever-shoddier workmanship and inferior materials.  But a host of stellar Californian denim designers have stepped into the resulting void, including the following.

Image result for brave star selvageBrave Star Selvage: Los Angeles-based Brave Star Selvage is my favorite denim brand.  My two pairs of Brave Stars are the best-designed, best-fitting, best-constructed, and most-durable jeans that I’ve ever owned.  And that’s saying something – I own me some very fine, top-dollar jeans.  Bonus: Brave Star is bewilderingly inexpensive.  I paid just $89 a pair for jeans that will last me at least a decade.

Citizens of Humanity: LA-based Citizens of Humanity makes well-cut, well-stitched jeans for urban wear.  I have found them to be an ephemeral pleasure -- the fabric is manufactured to drape right, not to last.  For the year or two that I can wear them, however, COH jeans look and feel like they were made just for me.

7 For All Mankind: Los Angeles-based 7 For All Mankind makes the jeans that Hollywood stars are wearing in paparazzi photographs.  They don't sell selvage, so I no longer buy their jeans.  But I used to wear 7FAM quite a bit -- their denim is comfortable, and their cuts are slim.

AG Jeans: Los Angeles-based AG Jeans is a designer-jeans maker that's bending over backwards to cater to folks -- like myself -- who want to believe that some of the $180 that they're spending on a pair of jeans is going to making the world a better place. I do not own any AG Jeans -- I'm still far from buying all of the Brave Star jeans that I want.  But my wife's worn AG Jeans for years.  They look good on her, and they've held up well.

Chrome: When I lived in the real Bay Area (i.e., the Bay Area in which you can see the Golden Gate and/or Bay Bridge with minimal effort), Chrome was the most ubiquitous brand of messenger bags and backpacks.  Now, they've expanded their line to include everything a bike-messenger-type urbanite needs for day-to-day living, including jeans.

Patagonia: With Ventura-based Patagonia, you get what you pay for.  What you pay is a lot.  What you get is exactly what you want.  Patagonia’s gear and clothing looks great, it works perfectly, and it is manufactured as ethically and sustainably as reasonably possible.  I do not yet own Patagonia jeans.  But I do own a broad cross-section Patagonia clothing and gear, all of which may very well last me forever.  

Mountain Hardwear: Richmond-based Mountain Hardware has been my go-to supplier for camping-and-backpacking clothing and gear for more than a decade.  They also make jeans, which probably are of high quality, and which look nice, in an a-backpacking-company-made-this sort of way.

Volcom: Orange County-based Volcom is a one-stop shop for skater/surfer/snowboarder fashion, from jeans to board shorts to two-piece suits.  Because they target skaters – who shred clothes quickly, no matter how high quality – I did not expect Volcom to put much effort into the second-thing-to-go elements of clothing construction.  After all, why double-stitch a garment that’s going to be rags within weeks regardless?  But I was pleasantly surprised.  A few years back, I bought a Volcom button-up. It was a good purchase.  The shirt had a clean silhouette, but with slightly skewed seams that bent people’s eyes just enough to prevent them from looking past me.  And – because I do not lead a tear-through-fabric lifestyle – it lasted for years.

DSTLD: Los Angeles-based DSTLD is an online-only, direct-to-consumer designer and seller of jeans.  

American Apparel: So here's the thing about Los Angeles-based AA: It's well made, and it looks great on the people who it looks great on.  For everyone else, AA seems designed specifically to highlight the ways in which it does not look great on them.  Don't know which category you fall into?  Well, the folks around you do.  Ask someone you trust if you're one of the people who AA designs its clothes to fit.  If the answer is yes, then lucky you -- you have a one-stop shop for relatively inexpensive, ethically manufactured, long-lasting basics.  If the answer is no, walk away from this brand forever. 

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