As sure as the sun will rise every morning, denim fans can be certain the crotch of their beloved blue jeans will blow out on the same day they get perfectly broken in—and it’s just as likely to happen to premium pairs picked up at Saks as to H&M’s $9.95 stretch skinnies, according to Richard Cole, owner and operator of Paleo Denim, a Texas-made brand that also offers a repair service at its studio in Austin.
Cole gave Rivet the lowdown on denim disasters, giving jeans a new lease on life and not trusting the Internet.
Rivet: What are the most frequent problems people have with jeans?
Cole: Crotch blowouts on the back panels are by far the most common repairs I do, premium or otherwise. Many of the big-name design houses still use paper-thin or stretch denim. I understand the consumer demand for those textiles but it does result in jeans that are harder to repair—or irreparable if they’ve been worn too hard.
Rivet: Are these problems mostly down to poor quality, fiber quantity or manufacturing issues or are they the wearer’s fault?
Cole: Fiber content and fabric weight are the largest component; care of the jeans comes after that. I don’t fault the customer for wear and tear—they’re going to pick up the cut and sizing that works for them and that pattern-fit-fabric combination is inherently going to create some weak spots. Not washing jeans at all or using a dryer too much is the easiest way to wreck the fabrics.
Rivet: So you don’t subscribe to the notion that not washing jeans helps them last longer.
Cole: Not washing jeans allows grit, moisture and bacteria to destroy the fabrics.
Rivet: How often do you suggest people wash their jeans?
Cole: As needed, inside out and line-dried. For me, that ends up being once a month or so because I ride my bicycle to work and deal with oil from the sewing machines all day. Not many pairs should be pushed past two months in my opinion. All jeans should at least be rinsed right after purchase. It softens the fibers, gets shrink out of the way and gets rid of the starch and preservative chemicals that the mills put in the fabrics. And stop it with the jeans in the freezer thing. Just stop. If your pants need to be washed, don’t Google it. Wash your pants.
Rivet: What about manufacturing issues?
Cole: The most consistent one I see is felled inseams creating more wear and tear than overlocked inseams. Felled inseams rub four layers on four layers versus three on three for overlocked. Felled inseams also mean the chainstitch looper threads are subject to that extra wear and tear from the inside. When certain brands are dropped off I’ll already know to check the inseam chainstitches and lock them off to prevent further damage.
Rivet: What’s the most unusual problem you’ve been tasked with fixing?
Cole: I had just completed a total overhaul of some nice Levi’s Vintage Clothing 505s, a pretty pricey fix but the jeans were entering their prime so it was the right move. The owner came back the next day having run crotch first into a fence post on a drunken rampage, totally shredding the front panel from the fly down through the inseam. I didn’t ask too many questions but he mentioned that his wife was happy it was only the jeans that had been damaged.
Rivet: Are the problems pretty similar across the board between men’s and women’s jeans?
Cole: In terms of wear and tear you’re more likely to see inner thigh damage on women’s jeans. Women’s jeans tend to have overlocked inseams but the fabric still abrades. The lighter weight stretch fabrics also tend to warp during repair. That warping is problematic because by the time the jeans get to me they have usually warped into a unique shape to match the wearer’s body. Because of the tighter fits, any manipulation of the fabric is more likely to be noticed on the skin.
Rivet: What kinds of problems do you see with raw and Japanese denim?
Cole: Raw denim tends to use heavier, sturdier threads and fabrics but it comes with the no-washing baggage for many new wearers. Japanese fabrics won’t last longer, and many of the jeans sewn in Japan use 100 percent cotton threads. The all-cotton threads are gorgeous, with amazing patina and wash-down. However you pay the price for long-term seam integrity, especially on the risers and pockets. Most consumers for that end of the market know what they’re getting into and that’s actually my main clientele. They want the darning repair, they want someone to nerd out on putting together the best thread match possible, they know the object has a lifecycle and that means caring and repairing for the jeans.
Rivet: What, in your opinion, are some of the best designer denim brands?
Cole: I really only know the nerdy, raw end of the men’s market but I’d say Diesel still does some of the best fits. The Japanese brands from Okayama and Kojima still kill it with consistent excellence in fabric fit and attention to detail. Brands like Rogue Territory and 3sixteen are probably the best mix of fabric, fit, made-in-U.S.A. construction and price point.
Rivet: What’s at the other end of the spectrum?
Cole: A.P.C. had a huge lead about 10 years ago and just let itself get walked all over. The quality control issues lead me away from recommending the brand at that price point.