did they change basic denim?
December 5, 2006 10:05 PM   Subscribe

Is the denim now used to make name brand jeans a different fabric than was used 10 years ago?

I noticed an insidious change in denim over the past several years. It seems that denim has been re-done in a thinner weave. The inside of the fabric is much lighter in color than it used to be. It no longer resembles the denim of my youth and certainly wears faster. I am remembering the old Levi 501's in particular. Does anybody still make jeans from the old heavy denim? I don't even want to talk about the frayed and pee stained things they try to sell me as jeans.
posted by SMELLSLIKEFUN to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (16 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: ok i am probably getting this wrong, but here is how it was explained to me.

levis replaced their mechanical looms with laser looms. they then sold their mechanical looms to japanese denim manufacturers.

then, as you can probably tell, everyone realized levis sucked and we all now have to pay $200 to get a pair of jeans made with japanese denim.
posted by Señor Pantalones at 10:18 PM on December 5, 2006

googling revealed this:


specifically, that evisu bought the levis looms
posted by Señor Pantalones at 10:20 PM on December 5, 2006

There are a quite a few denim brands (some Japanese, some not) that use high-quality selvedge denim to produce jeans, which is what Mr. Pants is referring to. You could look into:

Studio D'Artisan
Sugar Cane
Warehouse Duckdiggers

You could also check out the superfuture denim forum, it is full of information about japanese denim, levis reproductions, and more. Start with this thread
posted by philscience at 10:49 PM on December 5, 2006

I've noticed it's hard to find decent jeans now, at least at prices I want to pay. Those were interesting answers on the looms.

This isn't directly related but if you're looking for long lasting work pants these Carhartt Double Front pants are the best I've ever found. Of course you probably wouldn't wear these where you would jeans but I'll never go back to jeans for physical work.
posted by 6550 at 11:00 PM on December 5, 2006

I resent that I can't find a decent pair of pants in general (including jeans) without the blasted 5% lyrca or spandex in them. I have a few pairs of fancy plain dark jeans (one pair from Earl and another from Lucky, both picked up for cheap at thrift stores) that are a much nicer/thicker fabric and don't have that lame stretch to them. But those things are out of my price range normally. The cheaper ones from the Gap feel like totally different fabric.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 11:40 PM on December 5, 2006

I've found a great pair of pants for $10 at Wal-mart--Rustler; so far i've only had one pair wear a hole near the crotch; but overall i've been wearing them for the last few years. They seem to wear like those when I had at younger years also, but they just seem to fit the way i want a pair too.
posted by uncballzer at 5:12 AM on December 6, 2006

As one who is old enough to have worn jeans through the heydays of the late 60's and 70's, I can only say that it pisses me off about the crappy quality of jeans today. Tissue thin and way overpriced. Frankly, that seems to hold true for most (affordable) clothes in general anymore.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:04 AM on December 6, 2006

A few months ago, every pair of jeans I had was falling apart and I thought exactly the same things you posted. Jeans I'd bought recently just didn't seem to last like they used to. I can put holes and "wear marks" in my own jeans the old-fashioned way, thank you--by accident.

There happens to be one of the Levi's stores in the city I just moved to and they stock most everything they make. I spent about an hour there and set myself up with a new jeans arsenal. They have plenty of pre-stressed, pre-abused varieties, but I found a number of pairs that are unmangled and feel heavier. They're even selling 501s that aren't preshrunk.

Levi's is making a few of their jeans that are "Artisan-made in North Carolina on antique narrow looms," including the 501. I'm wearing some right now. They're more expensive than their others, but still well within the range of not feeling like a complete douchebag for paying the price on the tag.
posted by braintoast at 6:16 AM on December 6, 2006

It just isn't the last 10 years, there was a substantial difference between the last 30 years and the last 20 years jeans as well. I remember that when I was a kid a new pair of jeans was an uncomfortable event. The cloth had to break in before you could easily bend your knees. My mom didn't even spend money on name brand jeans, I'm pretty sure that I wore mostly Sears and K-Mart house brands until grade 6. I'm 38 now, I still wear Levi's because I've worn them my entire self-purchased clothing life. The Levi's I wear now aren't the same as those from 10 years ago which aren't even the same quality, at least in fabric, as house brands 20 years prior to that.

I still have some Levi's that I bought in around 1995 that I wear for working, in the bits that aren't patches the denim is still thicker than the denim on my brand new pair.
posted by substrate at 6:23 AM on December 6, 2006

The inside of the fabric is much lighter in color than it used to be.

You'll find that this, specifically, differs from style to style. The color of the inside is the color of the fabric before it was indigo-dyed. Undyed denim comes in all sorts of colors, but since people these days tend to want jeans that either look distressed when you buy them, or rapidly get distressed-looking as you wear them -- instead of staying farmer's-jeans-blue forever -- the weft is white, so that as the indigo dye wears off the resulting marks are quite light.

The "dirty distressed" jeans you see occasionally often have a brownish weft, so as they distress the light parts are a brownish-gray instead of bluish-white.

But the color of the weft is just color, not a quality measurement.
posted by mendel at 6:37 AM on December 6, 2006

I think all of the pre-washing and acid-washing screwed up the fabric so it doesn't last as long. If you get the Levis without any pre-washing they still seem to hold up pretty well. It may be my imagination but the black jeans are especially hard wearing.
posted by JJ86 at 6:45 AM on December 6, 2006

I agree with all of the comments about factory distressing being more to blame than anything. Like substrate, I remember getting Wrangers as a kid that made me look like Frankenstein when I walked for at least a few weeks. Then the whole "stone washing" craze happened in the 80's (remember finding pebbles in the pockets of your new jeans?), and it was all downhill from there.

FWIW, I find Lucky to be a good price-performance jean.
posted by mkultra at 8:07 AM on December 6, 2006

Between 1989 and 1996 501s went to a noticablely lighter fabric and Levi's dropped the number of buttons by one (at least on the large size I wore). This was before they off shored their manufacturing.
posted by Mitheral at 8:50 AM on December 6, 2006

Come to think of it, the pair of Levi's I am wearing just doesn't seem to have worn as well as the pair my dad bought me in Junior High that finally died when I was in college. (Yes, kids, Levi's used to be *that good*).

In my case, add altitude as a problem. I'm pretty sure this pair of jeans was meant to be capris. In my case, both problems are solved by Lands' End, where they use quality ring-spun denim *and* have a petite size with a 26" inseam. Oh, and custom fit is available.
posted by ilsa at 10:05 AM on December 6, 2006

Response by poster: Okay, just another artifact from my youth trashed forever. I am getting used to it. I don't buy distressed denim, and my brain and eyes filter $200.00 pairs of jeans, they don't exist in my world. Farewell stiff 501's that lasted forever.RIP.
posted by SMELLSLIKEFUN at 10:23 AM on December 6, 2006

I am not a jeans expert, but, like 6550, I've been very happy with Carhartt brand jeans. I can barely tell the difference between the pair I bought a year ago and the pair I bought two weeks ago.
posted by MegoSteve at 12:05 PM on December 6, 2006

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