After spending three years in Japan and trying out some of the best-known and respected Japanese denim brands, I was ready for something different. As much as I love the Japanese brands and what they represent, the fit isn’t always the best for a tall, slim man such as myself. So when I found out that my friend Danny from Rivet and Hide–-England’s premier denim store–was getting ready to launch the long-awaited debut jeans by Dawson Denim, my interested was immediately piqued. Made from start to finish by the two-person team of Scott Ogden and Kelly Dawson in Brighton, England, Dawson is a true small-company brand dedicated to producing classic denim products with an English touch.
We’ve heard a lot about Made in Japan and Made in America denim, but not nearly as much about Made in England. I decided to give Dawson’s new jeans a try, and about two weeks later, I had a pair of Dawson’s new jeans on my legs – serial number 4, in fact. I was immediately impressed by how great these jeans felt and looked right from the start, a very different story from some of my Japanese pairs.
- Name: Dawson Regular Fit
- Fabric: 14.25 oz sanforized Japanese selvedge denim, made by Kaihara Mills
- Fit: Regular rise, slim-straight leg
- Unique features:
- Deadstock World War II-era heavy pocket twill
- Deadstock pocket bag bindings
- All felled seam construction, selvedge fly
- MSRP: $351 at Rivet and Hide
One extremely special facet of Dawson’s production is that the patterns are all hand-cut. Even the artisan Japanese brands tend to cut their patterns using power tools, usually across ten or more layers of denim at once. Not so with Dawson; every pair of jeans is individually cut by hand, with scissors. For a hardcore denim nerd such as myself, this exceedingly inefficient process gives the jeans a level of personality that more than makes up for a lack of conventionally lavish detailing (unsanforized mithril weft denim, adamantium rivets stamped with Elvish runes.)
But all of that would be irrelevant if these jeans weren’t an awesome fit. Fortunately, these might just be the best-fitting jeans I’ve ever worn. For years I’ve struggled to find a jean that fits how I want: with a regular rise, slim through the hip, a slim top thigh, and a gradual taper that’s not too tight in the knee. These Dawson jeans absolutely nail my desired slim straight fit, and fans of popular fits like the A.P.C. New Standard, 3sixteen SL-100x, and Samurai S710xx will find a lot to like here.
The hem is the perfect size, and looks good whether worn with sneakers or my John Lofgren engineer boots. The 36″ inseam is just right for me, and looks good with or without cuffs. Even after only a few days of wear, the jeans have already developed a great-looking honeycomb and whiskering pattern, and I expect that they’ll look fantastic after a few months of constant wear.
The Dawson Straight Fit is made from a mid weight 14.25 oz. selvedge fabric, a special order denim woven by Kaihara Mills in Japan, and rope-dyed sixteen times with pure indigo. Over the past three years I’d spent so much time wearing denim that was super dark, very hairy, slubby, or otherwise unique–as well as dealing with constantly measuring pairs, soaking, washing, and trying to calculate the correct fit–that I’d forgotten the simple joy of putting on a no-frills, medium-weight sanforized selvedge fabric. The weave on the Dawson denim is based on a 1950s pattern, and the fabric is clean, attractive, and comfortable right from the start, with a great-looking selvedge line.
Amongst denim nerds, the prevailing view is that unsanforized denim is superior to sanforized, but after years of wearing both types I don’t think that’s necessarily true: they’re simply different flavors with different things to offer. Unsanforized denim can offer more dramatic fading and texture, but on the other hand, it’s also more prone to wearing out and damaging the stitching because of its abrasive nature. And heavily-worn, unwashed sanforized denim has a nice sheen to it that you don’t get from unsanforized fabrics. The two types of denim complement each other and I think these jeans will fade great over time.
Details and Construction
Getting past the denim, though, these jeans are pure English. The pocket bags are actually made from a deadstock heavy twill fabric dating back to World War II–an extremely cool touch that adds to the character of these jeans. The patch is natural veg-tan leather, and thankfully it’s of regular thickness as I’ve never been a huge fan of super-thick patches. Scott and Kelly brand the patches by hand, using a branding iron custom crafted by Kelly’s father, and the brand’s logo is inspired by the lever of a 1912 British motorbike, The Bat – reflecting Dawson Denim’s love of vintage motorbikes.
One of my favorite details is absent from Dawson’s jeans–they don’t use rolled belt loops with a bulging center (common to Japanese jeans) and the back pocket lip doesn’t bulge either. But considering that I’m probably the only person in the western hemisphere obsessive-compulsive enough to care about such minutiae, this is clearly nitpicking; especially in light of how many other great details make up for these minor omissions. Plus, the loops are made with a vintage sewing machine, a 1957 Union Special Cover Stitch.
The inside of the fly is made from selvedge denim, the inseam is hand-felled for a clean, smooth appearance, and the belt loops are sewn into the waistband. The hem is, of course, sewn with a Union Special; it’s one of many vintage sewing machines used, which include a 1956 Union Special used to sew the waistband, the Union Special 35800 Lapseamer was used for the inseam stitch, and the Reece 101 button hole machine that uses the rare “ato-mesu” technique in which the keyhole outline is sewn before the hole is punched. The buttons and exterior copper rivets are stamped with Dawson’s name, while the underside of the rivets and hidden rivets are stamped Ogden (co-founder Scott’s last name). The jeans are entirely stitched with poly/cotton stitching in an earthy beige color that compliments the denim, which is something of a rarity with sanforized fabrics. Dawson strikes an great balance between classiness and utility that’s present in every aspect of these jeans.
The best part, though, is the finishing on the inside of the pocket bags, where they meet the outseam. The edge of the pocket bag is neatly sewn over the outseam, for an exceptionally clean appearance and feel. According to Kelly Dawson herself, this was accomplished by using deadstock cotton binding from the 1930s, sourced from a Saville Row tailor, which was then hand-dyed to match the pocket fabric. This is a detail I can’t say that I’ve ever seen before, and really reflects how well-made these jeans are. Looking inside, the stitching and sewing is absolutely flawless: it’s actually much better and cleaner-looking than some high-end Japanese jeans I’ve worn. I’m convinced that the small scale of Dawson’s operation really takes their garments to the next level, and contributes to a unique pair of jeans.
The back pockets deserve special mention: they’re splayed, meaning that the pockets are slightly farther apart from the center seam. As a result, the contents of your pockets are not directly under your bottom, which makes them a bit more comfortable to use. The size is just right, and accommodates my cordovan Flat Head card wallet very comfortably. I do wish, though, that the front pockets had a larger opening. I don’t keep anything in my front pockets so it’s not a big deal, but it’s nice being able to comfortably put my hands inside. Hopefully the opening will stretch a bit to make this a little easier.
The Bottom Line
These jeans are outstanding by just about any metric. With classy, understated denim and detailing, the immaculately-constructed Dawson Regular Fit is a true standout among a sea of indistinguishable Kickstarter and heritage brands. As if that wasn’t enough, Dawson included some great extras with these jeans. The tote bag is very attractive and functional, too–and it’s also actually made by Dawson, unlike most companies who might make such bonus items in China. The Log Book is inspired by the 1930s driver’s license belonging to Scott’s grandfather, and it’s a classy-looking document that serves as a record for repairs as well as a durability guarantee entitling the wearer to free repairs for the first six months of wear.
For a seasoned denim nerd such as myself, simply making a high-quality pair of jeans with good materials isn’t enough; it’s crucial that the jeans have a compelling story behind them that differentiates them from other brands making five-pocket raw jeans. I’m pleased to say that Dawson’s jeans have a great story and are filled with a lot of personality, fully living up to their Made in England reputation.