The touch, the feel, the forgotten: where can I buy non-stretch pants?
April 3, 2018 6:12 AM   Subscribe

Where can I buy cotton chinos and denim jeans with no stretch? I’m old enough to remember the polyester 70s. Not only did bell bottoms look ridiculous, but they were hot and itchy (itchy, itchy, hot could have been a hit song from the era). Then came the 80s and 90s which rediscovered cotton replete with TV ads touting “the touch, the feel, of cotton, the fabric of our lives.” You can’t improve on nature when it comes to pants, seemingly we all agreed. But in the last year or two, synthetics returned with a vengeance.

It is near impossible to find khakis or jeans (even corduroys) without stretch. Recently I’ve started seeing the same thing in Oxford shirts. Brands that once touted the eternal classic-ness of their natural fabrics like J Crew, Levi’s, and Brooks Brothers are now infested with stretch. Is this sudden switch to the itch necessary because of Americans expanding waistlines? A surge in the price of cotton or because spandex (lycra?) is so much cheaper? Companies trying to stretch a buck? Are these fabric imposters seen as somehow more athletic or casual or high tech? I have an open mind, I tried them. Itchy, hot, no! Please help me stay natural.
posted by timnyc to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (29 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Actually this has been going on longer than the last 2 years. In around 2011 there was a problem with the cotton crops and since it was the recession clothing makers moved away from cotton. I’ve found like you that it’s almost impossible to find cotton at the prices I remember. I’m sure lots of people will be able to give you recommendations though!
posted by catspajammies at 6:30 AM on April 3, 2018 [4 favorites]

Men’s or women’s?
posted by tatiana wishbone at 6:59 AM on April 3, 2018

Best answer: Can’t speak to the why, but:

Bonobos aren’t cheap (and they do have a stretch line of chinos) but the washed cotton twill ones are definitely rigid and classic.

Looks like their jeans are at least 1% stretch, which is kind of a surprising bummer.
posted by supercres at 6:59 AM on April 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

My last jeans came from the Gap and were sold as "Japanese selvedge denim." The problem there is they're also selling "selvedge" denim with polyurethane added (labeled "GapFlex"), so you have to pay attention and get the 100% cotton version. If you go to a Levi's factory store you should also be able to find all-cotton jeans there (my last ones were … 514s?). The waist on the Levi's was slightly higher than the waist on the Gap jeans, and I like the lower waist a little better, but you may have different preferences. NB the raw denim from the Gap is labeled as "dry clean only" only to preserve the look of it, and it washes just fine if you don't mind the risk of eventual fading (or if, like me, you prefer jeans that eventually fade, because that's what jeans do). They used to sell selvedge jeans in a seasonal fashion "wash" and those are, in fact, labeled as machine washable, but they started as the exact same fabric before they were abused for fashion reasons.
posted by fedward at 7:09 AM on April 3, 2018

Response by poster: Mens
posted by timnyc at 7:09 AM on April 3, 2018

For jeans, search for "rigid" denim. It's not always 100% cotton, but it's almost always non-stretch. Unfortunately, it's often a premium product now.
posted by snaw at 7:09 AM on April 3, 2018

Best answer: I just asked this question. Lots of good suggestions in there, but if you need to cast a wider net, I concur that searching "rigid denim" is the trick.
posted by HotToddy at 7:16 AM on April 3, 2018

Stretch was popular because skinny jeans were all the rage forever. But I think it's losing favor, probably since about 2 years ago when 'mom jeans' became a trendy thing.

To get non-stretch denim, I think the term you need to search for is 'rigid denim', which is apparently on the rise according to this article so good news for you! Levi's seems to have a range of rigid denim, so that might be an accessible price point. Otherwise, there's lots of denim specialist brands that offer this (Nudie Jeans comes most readily to mind to me for mens jeans)
posted by like_neon at 7:17 AM on April 3, 2018

Everlane? They say "Japanese denim with a touch of stretch" but I have found their women's jeans pleasantly non-stretchy by comparison to J Crew, my previous standard.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 7:17 AM on April 3, 2018

Best answer: My understanding is that using a polymer mesh lets you use much less (expensive) cotton while maintaining the strength of the cloth, but I'm not sure where I read that.

LL Bean Signature Washed Canvas cloth
LL bean Katahdin Iron Works Nor Easter Cotton
Duluth Trading Co Men's Middle Management Flat Front Cotton
Duluth Trading Co Ballroom Khakis
Eddie Bauer Legend Wash Chinos
Eddie Bauer Mountain Pants
posted by Comrade_robot at 7:18 AM on April 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

A tiny amount of lycra is probably not what makes you hot and itchy (or if it does it's psychological) -- it's the other finishes on the fabric, as it has been decided that people want crisp and wrinkle free without ironing. Also, the current desire for tight fitting trousers makes stretch pretty much essential -- either the fabric stretches or the garment rips.

The Dockers D3 line has some all cotton styles (SonR lives in the crossover cargos for work); MrR has a stock of Wrangler workwear trousers that are all cotton (and they're suitable for casual office) ; Carhartt and Dickies still make 100% cotton trousers and jeans; I've found both Lee and Levi's in 100% cotton.
posted by jlkr at 7:19 AM on April 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

Taylor Stitch. (I'm so annoyed that they've stopped making women's clothes.)
posted by in a dark glassly at 7:27 AM on April 3, 2018

If you don’t mind a store brand, Costco still sells Kirkland brand men’s 100% cotton jeans (made in China, I’m not sure how sweatshopily, but at $12.99 a pair they may be cutting corners somewhere).
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 7:29 AM on April 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wrinkle free... another scourge.
posted by timnyc at 7:30 AM on April 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

Disclaimer: I can't personally vouch for the products recommended below; I just did a quick search of the Male Fashion Advice subreddit (previously) and these all-cotton recommendations jumped out at me.

Jeans: A commenter on /r/malefashionadvice suggests Rogue Territory and 3Sixteen: "I own raw selvedge denim from both and the construction is top notch and the fits are great (on me at least, 6'1" 200 lbs, non-MASSIVE thighs)."

Chinos: In a comparison of 11 different brands, Bill's Khakis got high marks from a commenter who said that "Made in the USA and impossible to beat quality mark this brand the winner." Four basic cuts, nine different fabrics, of which at least five are 100% cotton (the Montgomery Stretch, Supima Stretch and Travel Twill khakis have some small polyester component; Seasonal fabrics vary in composition).
posted by virago at 7:36 AM on April 3, 2018

Bravestar Jeans.
posted by Marinara at 7:38 AM on April 3, 2018

P.S.: Echoing what supercres said about Bonobos: Rogue Territory, 3Sixteen and Bill's Khakis aren't cheap.
posted by virago at 7:44 AM on April 3, 2018

Levi's has 100% cotton jeans.
posted by JimN2TAW at 8:37 AM on April 3, 2018

While I am violently pro-natural fibers generally, 5% or less of stretch fibers in jeans should improve fit a bit without meaningfully changing the texture or the breathability. That's still a common blend (it's very common for years now), and so should open up your options more.
posted by praemunire at 9:21 AM on April 3, 2018 [3 favorites]

LLBean: Double L Chinos (100% cotton, but does have the wrinkle free treatment); Tropic Weight Cargo Pants; Tropic Weight Chino Pants; Double L Jeans.

Lands End: Ringspun Trad Fit Jeans; Knockabout Chinos;

Banana Republic: Emerson Straight Chino

As praemunire said above, elastaine is added to the cotton to provide a slightly more custom, tailored fit. Also, as trends go to slimmer styles, you can make the leg slim without it binding.

But there are plenty of 100% cotton pants out there. I found the above in about seven minutes of searching. I'm sure there are plenty more.
posted by anastasiav at 9:26 AM on April 3, 2018

I think the stretch phenomenom has to do with clothing manufacturers trying to make as many clothes with as little variation (read: as few sizes) as possible, to fit as many people as possible. Stretch allows manufacturers to produce one pair of skinny jeans that will fit several differently sized/shaped people. Of course a size 8 pant will probably not fit a size 20, but there's a lot of leeway if there's stretch in the garment. In general I've observed that clothing produced via "fast fashion" these days, can be worn by several different body types.

I hate stretch in jeans and pants myself, and being a "why" kind of person, this is the reasoning I came up with.
posted by Armed Only With Hubris at 10:51 AM on April 3, 2018

Uniqlo remains a reasonably priced source for this kind of thing, although most of their pants have at least a little stretch now. But I found a couple 100% cotton men's pants options on their site including these:


posted by bananana at 10:52 AM on April 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I can speak to the why!!

1. Global warming has done a number on cotton. Cotton requires a lot of water and the extreme weather conditions have led to instability in yields and prices. There are a number of cotton initiatives that are hoping to change that, but there are plenty of lobbying efforts that are ensuring that it's profitable for smaller farmers and use environmentally friendly methods. All good things, but the new stable price in cotton is going to be higher than the 90s.

2. These synthetic fibers are often recycled - which is great for a lot of feel good reasons, diverting material from trash, using less water etc - but diversifying the fiber content also insulates companies from point 1.

3. Athleisure has inspired more stretch, rather than skinny jeans. So while the skinny jean might be going away, athleisure is here to stay.

4. Simplifies fit issues. You can get similar fit with fewer fit blocks, which means you're less likely to have stranded inventory. You'd think this would allow them to expand their size offerings, which has happened more on the men's side. But I think there's still a lot being left on the table due to implicit bias about fat women.
posted by politikitty at 10:54 AM on April 3, 2018 [3 favorites]

Do other people have this itchy and hot issue you seem to have? I've never heard it associated with stretchy pants like that. Maybe I've just never owned a pair myself, seems pretty uncommon in men's pants I guess.
posted by GoblinHoney at 1:34 PM on April 3, 2018

GoblinHoney, yes, I find stretch jeans unbearably HOT and uncomfortable. They're not so bad in winter but the minute the weather warms up and the sun hits them, I feel like my legs are burning.

As to the reasons why stretch has taken over, anyone who sews knows how much easier it is to get a decent fit with knits, and the same is true with stretch fabrics. Think about bust size in women's tops. In a woven, non-stretch fabric, dart placement is essential to a good fit in the bust and the same darts will absolutely not fit both a large and small bust. In a knit top, all of that goes away. No darts at all, usually, and the same top will accommodate a wide range of bust sizes. So I absolutely agree that all these stretch fabrics and knits are a way for them to sell the same item to a wider range of customers.
posted by HotToddy at 2:07 PM on April 3, 2018

Old Navy Broken-In Loose Chinos are the only pants I can wear.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:43 PM on April 3, 2018

Walmart has basic Wrangler jeans made of 100% cotton for ~$20.
posted by Small Dollar at 8:48 PM on April 3, 2018

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great advice!
posted by timnyc at 7:38 AM on April 4, 2018

Even in high-end brands, cotton has largely been replaced by cheaper fabrics. Rayon, modal, and viscose are the most common offenders. These fabrics shrink unpredictably and pill with a vengeance. I can't even find a good cotton/lycra blend anymore, much less 100% cotton pants. It's always rayon! They're even making jeans out of rayon!

If you find a good supplier of pure cotton wear, please update and let us know.
posted by ticktickatick at 11:23 PM on April 30, 2018

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