The Gateway Garment

I know that this blog has somewhat of a leaning toward denim. “Sorrynotsorry” I believe is the term.

When I introduce my friends to the world of better-made clothing, I often reference raw denim first. Beside shoes, denim is probably the best and most accessible example of the benefits of better-made clothing. Indeed, it seems that most dudes who dip their toes into menswear start off with denim before moving on to shirts, outerwear, accessories, etc. To many, the idea of raw denim is romantic and, in ways, inspiring. They see the value of wearing a garment that gains beauty with time and they literally buy into it. It’s a little more difficult to see this concept with, say, a pair of shoes, at least to the untrained eye.

Brands like A.P.C., Nudie, and Naked and Famous tend to be the most popular for a man’s introduction into raw denim. With many companies today offering raw denim at more affordable prices, more and more men are willing to test the waters. If you’re unsure about dishing out the cash on these first three brands, Gap and Levi’s 501 shrink-to-fits are common choices for those of us who are on a tighter budget. And I’ve definitely seen some mad fades from these.

On the more advanced end, brands like Rising Sun, 3Sixteen, Momotaro and a whole slew of others, offer much more detail and craftsmanship for guys who are looking for something beyond a basic blue jean. Typically men will wear their first pair devotedly, blow them out, and move on to the next level of the denim experience, paying closer attention to denim weight, sourcing, and other finer details. 

At one point or another, one eventually “masters” denim and looks to other garments. Beyond denim, the growing menswear aficionado will expand his horizons and research reputable names for shoes, suits, and more. This process spreads to every part of the body that needs to be clothed, and before he knows it, he’s at the end of his life sprezzaturally alone lying in a pile of fine, artisanal clothing. He will struggle to get his precious last words out of his lungs, but he’ll find that the Drake’s seven-fold tie is tied too tightly on his bespoke shirt, both of which lay beneath a cashmere roll-neck sweater for some reason. His final breath will yield no words, but his last thoughts will undoubtedly go back to the first time he tried on a pair of A.P.C.’s.

It starts with denim.

Appreciation Through Experience

Whenever there was a basketball game on TV, I would enjoy it enough to watch, but my enjoyment never grew into anything very complex. I never really understood the hype when a certain player successfully executed some feat of athleticism. I couldn’t really see what was so special about a particular shot or how difficult it is to be able to do what professional NBA players do. But my perspective and understanding of the game were changed when I actually tried to play the game. I struggled with fundamental skills that looked easy enough when I was on the sideline or on the couch. And after spending only a handful of times playing basketball, I was able to appreciate the game more fully.

In the same way, your level of appreciation for a well-made garment can grow. It can be difficult to know exactly what makes a garment worth the money and what details make a garment special, especially if you’re new to the menswear world. Of course you can always do some research and learn about these distinguishing attributes. But at some point, this is just head-knowledge and not so much a first-hand experience. I would argue that learning how to perform even basic techniques of sewing and tailoring (let alone cutting and sewing an entire garment) can lead to a fuller sense of appreciation and reverence not only for the garment in question, but also for the person(s) who crafted it.

I’ve long admired the idea and beauty of a hand-rolled pocket square both from my computer screen and in person. It looked basic enough, so I decided to try making one on my own. The instructions I found came off as nonchalant and simple, but I found myself in numerous frustrating situations before I could even make a couple of stitches that resulted in something that might be considered a rolled hem. I still have yet to make a decent hand rolled hem and I have an even longer way to go before I make my first pocket square. But it wasn’t until my experience with those frustrations and through trial and error that I began to appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into making a “simple” hand rolled pocket square.

Now I still believe that you can appreciate good clothes, even if you’ve never touched a needle and thread. It’s not like I’m saying, “Do you even menswear? You don’t know jack because you’ve never tried to hem your own pants.” What I’m trying to say is that there are different levels of appreciation and that learning to sew can bring you to one of those levels. So I encourage you to try it for yourself and see how that affects the way you see clothes.