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Dad Jeans, Literally – Beneath the Surface

Beneath the Surface is a monthly column by Robert Lim that examines the cultural side of heritage fashions.


Editor’s Note: As the newest writer to join our team, Robert Lim will be at the helm of the monthly column, “Beneath the Surface“. If you should know one thing about him, it’s that he’s always been interested in culture – his passion since childhood has been music and he’s since done stints at WHPK in Chicago and the indescribable and great WFMU in Jersey City. If you ever want to get him talking, ask him about this record.

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Fig. 1 – One of Robert’s favorite records and treasured possessions – keep vinyl, cassettes, CDs and music creators alive.

As my adult self began to emerge, I started exploring food, booze, sports and fashion. I try not to put limits on this exploration – I have equal interest in huarache quesadillas, the cutting edge of gastronomy, mass-produced lagers, Italian cult winemakers, the World Cup, how minor league baseball is the ideal way to experience professional baseball, Gary Aspden’s amazing Adidas Spezial project and Acronym, the ultimate clothing brand for the urban architect-ninja in all of us… and of course, raw denim.

What I hope to achieve in this column is to pull back the curtain a little on how things are represented and/or received and what those things actually represent–to get beneath the surface in understanding what we respond to and the context behind why. I use the word “things” because I’m hoping to cast a wide net while maintaining relevance to the community. Your feedback will be really helpful to let me understand if I’m succeeding in this effort.

Regarding fashion, I view it from two perspectives–how people use fashion to communicate something about themselves in a cultural and societal context, and the individual clothing pieces themselves. Each piece embodies a series of decisions around construction, cut, fabric and more. I’ve always enjoyed the end product of a particularly thoughtful piece, but also geek out on breaking down the process to understand why it does or doesn’t resonate with its audience, what that audience might be and how branding drives that reception.

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Fig. 2 – Foreshadowing alert: Cone Denim threads. Image via SelfEdge, Roy Denim and Vimeo

All that said, today’s subject is more personal: what I love about raw denim (and loomstate denim in particular) is its pure expression of a fabric, made into a garment and worn by its owners. These three aspects are separate, yet deeply interconnected, resulting in an unbounded array of possibilities.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the way denim wears recently – you wear them, you wash them, the waistband shrinking and stretching like a tide that comes and goes; motion and friction from daily life become visible through washes. Like the other two facets of expression, there aren’t any real shortcuts.

Not to say that the industry hasn’t tried – during the fashion trend for pre-faded premium jeans from the late 90s and early 2000s (exemplified by 7 For All Mankind), companies would market artificial wear using sanding and chemicals under the guise of artisanal production because they conducted the processes by hand (here is an insightful look into a company that specialized in these techniques).

It’s a nice try, but hand-sanded whiskers are about as honest as hand-painted grill marks on a hamburger. As you can see here, artificial wear is alive and well today:

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Fig. 3 – 7 For All Mankind Slimmy Slim Straight in Island Life, via Zappos.com

I am not ashamed to admit that I had a couple pairs of jeans matching this description back in the day, but I always found it troublesome that the wear patterns weren’t true to the particulars of my body–I felt like I was wearing someone else’s clothing. Once I discovered the world of raw denim, I knew I’d never buy another pair of pre-distressed jeans again.

I bought the pair of jeans pictured in the introduction to this piece during the summer of 2012, when my son turned a year old – they are the Roy RS04, a straight leg fit made from a bespoke, loomstate Cone Mills denim fabric in collaboration with Roy Slaper and Kiya Babzani (more details and a great video Kellen Dengler shot for the project at Cone Mills here).

My favorite part is how the fabric threads mimic the strings on the guitar you hear from the Dragtones on the soundtrack, as pictured above).  The fabric is special, and I’m sure there are several patterns of aging that are common across a lot of pairs of these–such as: a beautiful satiny handfeel, while still being tough as you’d want from denim (both, I believe, due to the fabric’s high pick density) and a nice patina to the black coating of the brass hardware.

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Fig. 4 – The final Cone Denim fabric. Image via SelfEdge, Roy Denim and Vimeo

On me, they are a classic dad jeans fit, straight with maybe a slight taper and arguably two sizes too big. There seems to be a consensus about dad jeans within the community–they have become an emblem of getting old, slowing down and sacrificing one’s youthful aspirations for a life of compromise. And there’s always the lack of positive fashion icons and pre-manufactured wear. All of this was hilariously represented in an April Fool’s breakdown of dad jeans that appeared on this site.

This pair of jeans, though, helps me fit into where I live. I’ve worn them pretty much every day for nine months out of the year, mostly around the house and out on weekends. They don’t get that dirty, so after a few early soaks, I wash them as needed, usually early summer. Like a lot of fathers with desk jobs, my weekdays are physically uneventful and repetitive – I get up, take the train or drive to work, get home, have dinner and occasional playtime with the kid, followed by bath and stories.

Over time, I noticed an especially faded patch just below my left knee.  Or, as I’d come to realize, exactly where my left knee touches the rug next to our bathtub – formed by hundreds of times spent kneeling next to my son during our family evening ritual.

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Fig. 5 – Kneeling down with my Roys

He turns four next month, and part of me is saddened by the understanding that he’ll only have a few memories of these handful of years. While my memories may also fade, this pair of jeans will always remind me of this time in both our lives and when I became a dad – the ultimate dad jeans, in all the best of ways.