Civilianaire is a curious case study in the realm of raw. As the progeny of Gene Montesano and Barry Perlman, the duo behind Jean Shop and Lucky Brand, it’s surprising that Civilianaire is not more known. Despite multiple brick and mortar shops and a large and diverse line, they relatively minute status in the raw community.
The owners explained that this is a byproduct of being completely vertically integrated – once the denim is imported from Japan, the jeans are made, sewn and sold through Civilianaire. Without anyone else really distributing their wares, exposure is much more limited. Being mostly unaware of them myself, I was curious and enthusiastic about the opportunity to try not one, but two different pairs of Civilianaire’s Slim model.
Purveyors of raw denim, as with many passionate niches, tend to be a tad myopic and particular when it comes to their beloved denim. For those who take this stance simply because of the brand’s six degrees of separation to Lucky Brand and Macy’s, they are ostracizing themselves from some comfortable and solidly-designed jeans. The real question is, do they stand out enough from their price point’s competition?
Denim and Fit
Fit can always be a bit of a crux for me when dealing with slimmer denim, due to now being an exercise-averse former athlete with an affinity towards wine and chicken wings. This is usually offset by my below average height (5’8″), but I’m often at a loss when it comes to cigarette slim and skinny styles. With Civilianaire, this wasn’t the case.
Civilianaire’s Ryan Markland claimed that their jeans were more generously cut and waved away any worries: the Super Slim or Skinny models might be restricting, but the Slim would more than likely be fine. Sizing down was also recommended. I generally go for a size 36, but decided upon a pair of size 35 in Indigo and a pair in size 34 in Light Blue.
After putting each pair briefly through the ringer, Ryan is correct. Both pairs now ideally require a belt. On the 35, the top block provides a full range of motion without any real restrictions. Unfortunately, because of the taper near the knee, the loose-ness of the thigh somewhat offsets this fit aesthetically, particularly in the form of heavy knee bagging. This made me eager to try their regular cut, as I expect it would solve the knee bags.
With the size 34, that’s no longer an issue. While there was a small restriction in movement, the 34 provided more of the glove-like fit that people seek from a slimmer jean without feeling like the boys are in a vice. The moral of the story? Size down, but call Civilianaire’s informed staff first. Interactions with them were both helpful and pleasant. Unfortunately, their website is far more subpar in providing information on jean specifications – only the size information for size 32 provided and even then those measurements are not thorough. This will surely leave the antisocial wanting. One other red flag for anyone who has to duck under door frames: these have a surprisingly short raw inseam of 33.5 inches.
Fabric and Color
Civilianaire’s owners have never disclosed where the denim is milled, a frustration for a community that thrives upon transparency in the manufacturing process. What is known is that it’s Japanese selvedge and comes in 10, 11 and 13.5 Oz. weights. Occasionally there are runs in 16 Oz. as well but those aren’t consistent. In its raw state, the unsanforized 13.5 Oz. has an incredibly smooth hand, rigid but far less abrasive than denim such as A.P.C..
A very tiny nep can be seen upon closer inspection and once they’re soaked, the denim relaxes itself starts to grow some hair. After wearing the denim once it was well on its way to being broken in. Without access to hard data, it subjectively feels quite stretchy. Combined with an incredibly low shrink rate upon initial soak – approximately 2 to 4% according to Civilianaire – it’s very likely these stretch comfortably past raw measurements. The sum of most of these traits has left me wondering on more than one occasion whether this was actually sanforized, even though I was assured by multiple people that the jeans were unsanforized.
In terms of color options, Civilianaire is one of the few brands that can start to compete with the Willy Wonkas of denim such as Naked & Famous. Their raw selvedge is offered in indigo, indigo with grey fill, burgundy, light blue, tan, grey, black and jet black; there are also a handful rinses if that’s more your style.
While the Indigo is very dark and commonplace, the light blue found on the size 34 is one of the most appealing light options that I’ve come across. It’s a fairly rich blue, bringing to mind a dip-dyed or hank-dyed indigo garment that was only half-way processed. As lighter shades have started to come back in popularity, this is definitely one option for someone who is interested, without the risk of looking like Barack Obama riding a bicycle. While I can’t attest to how these will fade personally – 10 to 15 wears of each pair have shown little fading at this point – Civilianaire provided pictures for reference (Above).
For most denim nerds, the details of the jean are what make or break a purchase. Civilianaire looks like they’ve put some real effort into these special touches, with generally positive results hybridizing both traditional features with some modern affectation.
The single steel tack button at the waist and copper plated rivets look of quality and have been labeled “Civilianaire” in an industrial-style font. The selvedge-lined zipper feels very sturdy and uses a copper pull tab with a “C” cut out in the middle. Despite the norm for craft denim to be a button fly, Civilianaire’s owners have found that most people prefer a zipper, a sentiment that I agree with. It’s much easier to deal with nature’s call without undoing half a dozen buttons and a belt.
The front pocket bags are a smooth, medium-weight herringbone fabric: heftier than what some other similar brands use, but not to the level of the the most durable heavyweights. The coin pocket utilizes an inner selvedge line and feels fairly standard in size. The run-off stitching that passes by the pocket’s inside rivet and goes under the waistband is a trait that always appeals aesthetically.
Flipping over to the back of the jeans, the back pockets feel properly spaced apart from each other and the yoke. They’re a pretty standard size, if a hair deeper than average. One of my favorite features on these jeans is how Civilianaire chose to handle the half lined reinforcement of the back pocket. Rather than use a straight horizontal stitch, the lining is incorporated into a mildly curved arcuate. It’s a nice detail that is handled more gracefully than normal. It also provides one of the only differences in aesthetic between the Indigo and light blue models in terms of thread color usage.
Two other features I’m keen on are the contrast twill inner waistband and the coat loop found on the inner rear yoke. The contrast waistband really seemed to add an extra level of comfort to the jeans, reducing any digging that might occur from a tight fit. Meanwhile, the coat loop is something that makes a great deal of sense to me. As someone who has to fight the urge not to toss clothes on the ground, the loop is such an easy compromise that helps preserve naturally made creases while helping the jeans air out.
Holding together the jeans is a combination of chain stitching, single-needle, and double-needle stitching, at a rate of 8-9 stitches per inch. In terms of quality control, few stitches seemed askew and there were minimal loose threads.
With all of the positives mentioned above, there are also a handful of gripes to be addressed. This begins with the lack of depth to the front pocket. I carry a large cell phone in the front pocket (Galaxy Note II), and the shallow pockets made it constantly jab into my waist. While this was problem for the minority of smartphones when my Note II came out, today there are numerous phones that push five inches in length and many more wearers who will feel my pain. Civilianaire is already looking into enlarging their front pockets, and will hopefully amend with future runs.
On their patch, there’s nothing wrong with keeping a leather patch blank, nor is it uncommon to forgo a patch with a stitched square. Combining the two unfortunately clashes, as it seems to be contradicting each design’s minimalist roots. Adding to the issue was the fact that the stitching here was one of lone examples of sloppy work.
The last issue for me is the fact that, despite the fact that there is blank leather patch, Civilianaire still managed to make the jeans feel a little over-branded. A waistband patch is customary and I actually really liked the placement of the label on fly, but a third label on the yoke plus most offensively a label on the the selvedge hem, felt like overkill.
I’ve generally shunned wearing clothing with the company named clearly emblazoned across the item, and the latter made me want to avoid a half-cuff entirely.
The Bottom Line
At their current price point of $220 to $240, Civilianaire is competing against scores of jean makers. Do these stand out in comparison? Yes and no. The made in Los Angeles quality control and distribution justifies the price point, but many brands are doing the same thing.
Aesthetically, they haven’t reinvented the wheel and they lack the narrative appeal of a one man brand, but have created a high quality jean with more attention to detail than most–it’s clear that Montesano and Perlman have decades of experience. I would buy these over brands such as A.P.C. (better quality) and Raleigh Denim (better value) without much hesitation.
In the end, it comes down to fit. How are these in comparison to what else might be on the radar? If the fit is what is sought after, it’s unlikely that Civilianaire will disappoint. Furthermore, if someone is new to raw denim and willing to shell out a little extra cash, these are a perfect first pair due to their level of comfort and very short break in period. For longtime veterans of raw, you’ll likely still be happy with the purchase, just don’t expect anything unseen.
For product details and to purchase, read more at Civilianaire.