If there is a quintessential piece of menswear, it’s a pair of jeans. Guys who go out of their way to tell you how much they could care less about their clothes or what they look like will still be finicky when it comes to denim. They may not know what selvedge means or have any clue what the leg opening on their favorite pair is (let alone the inseam length) but they will have a very clear sense of what they like, and equally important, what they don’t.
It’s a relationship thing. Men grow so attached to their jeans primarily because they spend so much time with them. Search in any guy’s closet and the oldest item in there is almost guaranteed to be a pair of jeans. It’s why rare vintage jeans can command such a high price.
Few people understand this connection between guys and their jeans better than Kiya Babzani. Along with his wife, Demitra, Babzani founded the first Self Edge boutique in San Francisco in 2006 with the goal of selling the finest denim available in the world. Self Edge now has shops in S.F., New York, Los Angeles, and Portland and is the only place in the U.S. where many exclusive denim brands can be found.
Babzani isn’t interested in new trends. He’s seeking out companies that are trying to replicate the timeless aesthetics featured in jeans of the 1930s and 40s. Jeans with that kind of quality and craftsmanship aren’t cheap, but they also aren’t fleeting. If you end up owning a pair for 10-plus years, an easily achievable milestone, they become a bargain.
That doesn’t make finding the right pair any easier. To help guys navigate the process of buying new jeans, we spoke with Babzani about different brands, denim weights, and why your first impression can be misleading.
Where did your love of denim come from?
My love of denim came from an appreciation of vintage style and culture. Focusing on the music, cars, and clothing of the 1950s made me realize that jeans were something that came out of that era and made their way across the world into every culture by the 1970s.
Do you have a particular pair of jeans that have special meaning for you? What’s the story behind that pair?
A pair of Yamane Deluxe jeans I bought in Hong Kong at the Yamane Saloon in 1998. It was the first time owning a pair of new unsanforized jeans and listening to the sales associate there explain the reasoning behind soaking the jeans and the way that they’ll age was like discovering an entirely new world of clothing. What are some things that most guys get wrong when they’re shopping for jeans?
Being too focused on what the jean looks like when they’re in the dressing room. Jeans are not meant to look or feel tailored, they’re supposed to be casual and the look shouldn’t be forced. Any pair of good raw denim jeans will fit far better after they’ve been worn for two or three weeks. Granted I understand it’s hard to let go and just buy something if it’s not perfect looking in the dressing room, but if you’re at a good retail store the sales associate should be steering you towards something which will fit your look and body style best after a few weeks.
Sorting through all the different styles, washes, and fits can be a little overwhelming. How can guys make sense of it all?
Stop looking at all the styles, washes, and fits and buy jeans from a brand with pedigree. The deeper you get into all the details before you buy your first pair the more confusing the first purchase will be.
What are the most important things that guys should keep in mind when buying a new pair of jeans?
Minimal branding, raw selvedge denim that hasn’t been treated, and made in a country with good factory conditions.
What kinds of jeans work better for a bulkier guy versus a skinnier guy?
There isn’t one solution for one type of guy. It’s about what a person feels comfortable wearing combined with a product that speaks to them. A slender guy can definitely work a slim or full cut jean into their wardrobe if combined with the right shirt, shoes, etc. Same goes for a bigger guy. The best jeans are ones that can be easily dressed up or down. That way they’re versatile enough where you can wear them to nearly any occasion.
Is there a certain weight of denim that is most versatile for year-round wear?
The warmth level of a jean has less to do with a denim’s weight and has everything to do with how tight the weave of the denim is. A loosely woven denim is preferred for warmer climates so that the fabric breathes in the heat.
If you’re not familiar with a certain brand, what are some things to look for?
Take note of the country of origin, where the fabric came from, and the type of cotton that’s used. Beyond that find a fit that works for you and that you’re comfortable wearing. Don’t be forced to wear a certain cut because you feel that’s what the hot style of the moment is.
What is selvedge denim and why should guys care?
Selvedge denim is denim woven on a shuttle loom, normally a loom produced prior to the 1960s. This slower and less efficient loom produces a denim which has more character within the fabric and ages better over time. If you’re into how your jeans age and fade over time only look towards getting selvedge unsanforized denim. Why is Japanese denim so prized?
No country has been able to produce such a wide range of weights of denim using such a wide range of dying methods as Japan. For this reason most denim enthusiasts are most excited about Japanese textiles when it comes to pushing the envelope of an interesting denim while maintaining a vintage look.
What are your thoughts on different washes?
Only wear raw denim, the wearer should be the only one responsible for washing and fading the denim over time.
Where do you stand on denim care? Are you pro-washing?
I am definitely pro-washing. I recommend washing a jean which has been worn on a daily basis every six-to-eight weeks. It’s best to flip the jeans inside out and wash them in cold water in a washing machine using a good detergent such as Woolite Dark or Dr. Bronner’s. Once washed take them out of the machine and allow them to fully air dry before wearing, never wear your jeans damp or wet as this will create excessive knee bagging and may stretch the waist out larger than you need.
For more stories on denim, watch this exclusive video on the denim hunter.