Editor’s Note: Whenever anyone over the age of 40 asks me about getting into raw denim, I always recommend the same pair of jeans–Tellason Ankara 12.5oz. They have a generous fit, they are well made, they have very subtle branding, and they break in pretty easy. Yet I rarely heard the follow up of how these people actually felt with the jeans: were they too heavy, did they not notice a difference, did they quickly join the cult and run for a pair of Iron Hearts?
To answer this question we brought in a real dad, who really had never been exposed to the glories of raw denim, and gave him a pair of Tellason’s slimmer fit John Graham Mellor (he’s still a couple years shy of 40) and asked him to tell us about his experiences.
My name is Drew. I’m a husband and father. I fix stuff around the house and have a woodshop that I don’t get enough time in. In the day, I’m a photographer. Also, I live in jeans. That is to say, I thought I lived in jeans until recently.
I was challenged a few months ago by the good people of Heddels to give up my cheap-as-I-can-get-‘em-and-hopefully-they’ll-last-12-months jeans and try some raw denim. “What’s the big deal?” I thought. Well, apparently, lots. I knew nothing of selvedge or soaking or indigo. To be honest, I still don’t. What I do know is that I need my jeans to be tough and I need them to be comfortable. I need them to stand up to me wrestling with my three kids and to not put on a show when I’m bending down to get a low angle shot on set. I need them to be something that I look forward to putting on every morning and to feel good in throughout the whole day.
Now, I’m a man who likes nice things. I like things that last. My motto with tools is “buy it once or buy it twice”. When I hold a good camera in my hands, I pay attention to the feel of the buttons, the balance and weight of the body in my grip, the placement of controls, the fit and finish of the metal. I love it when I pick up a new lens and feel a focusing ring that glides around the barrel of a lens with just enough friction to make sure it doesn’t move when it’s not meant to. The quality in good tools or cameras or lenses is intentionally present. It is meant to be recognized and desired.
When my Tellason John Graham Mellors arrived, I greedily lifted them out of the box. Quality – that was the first thought in my mind, feeling them in my hands. The difference between these and all of the jeans that I had worn for the past 37 years was night and day. In fact, when I next put an old pair back on (only because I was sending the JGMs in for hemming – more on this later), they felt more like jeggings than jeans in comparison.
It shocked me to realize that I had never applied to my jeans the same quality standard I like to keep for my camera gear but while once I was asleep, I feel as though I am now wakening and it is whole new day. In the Tellasons, the weight of the denim, the stitching, the material itself, the button holes, the pocket liners – everything oozed quality. From the first time I picked them up, they felt like an intrinsically better product than I had ever bought in the past. Sure, if I’m painting or weeding the garden or working on my motorcycle, I’ll throw on an old pair of (disposable) jeans but I just can’t go back to those old rags for daily wear. The allure of being wrapped in quality calls too strongly for me to go back.
I was warned before getting the JGMs that switching to raw denim involves a learning curve. They need to be broken in and the washing regiment needs to be adjusted. After wearing them now for five weeks, I am starting to understand. First, with the JGMs, I had to order 34” waist as the 33” that I typically wear simply wouldn’t fit (though I have tried on a few other Tellason models where 33” actually fit perfectly) and they were long. Very long. I am a little over 6’1” and more leg than torso but had to have 3-4” trimmed off the length and still have a single roll.
Now they fit well (they do stretch out a bit and the 34s went from slightly tight to very comfortable in a matter of days) but the stiffness of raw denim took some getting used to. At first, they really chaffed on the back of the knees and felt tight to sit in but that softened up after four or five days. The pockets started quite tight when reaching in for a phone or keys but feel better now and I have great hope that they will get only better as I wear them more.
Another thing that will take some getting used to, and I realize that it’s part of the give-and-take of good, heavy and strong fabric, is flexibility or the lack thereof. When I need to bend down to pick up something heavy (I noticed this when moving some concrete pavers) or when I have to jump over the fence to get a ball that has gone into the neighbor’s yard or bound up the stairs to break up a fight between the kids, I really feel the stiffness of the denim. Where that rugged tough quality once felt so amazing, I suddenly found myself cursing the jeans for the same thing. Annoying at times, maybe, but not a deal-breaker.
Another practical design issue of note: the rear pockets have a reinforced lower section which is awesome for wear and tear but creates a seam that my fingernails catch on whenever I reach in to retrieve my wallet.
As for the washing, I really needed to get my head around not throwing them in the laundry regularly. I used to (correction: my loving wife used to) wash my jeans inside-out and hang dry about once every week or two in rotation with maybe one other pair. I was dubious at best about the prospect of washing so infrequently as I was first told to for raw denim. Here I am, five weeks on wearing the same jeans everyday except for the few hottest when only shorts would do, and the Tellasons don’t smell or look dirty or feel greasy or anything! I am shocked, and pleasantly surprised. Maybe I am babying them or maybe raw is just different. Whatever it is, I like the change but have asked my coworkers to let me know if I start smelling funky in case I have become desensitized to it, just as a precautionary measure.
I think the thing that I like most about the Tellason John Graham Mellors is that I already trust them. I trust that they won’t pill or fray as I’m crawling around with the kids. I trust that they won’t have a worn-out and ripped outline of where my phone sits in my left front pocket anytime soon. I trust that they won’t reveal too much when I’m working on that low-angle on set. I trust that they’ll take what abuse I can throw at them at work or at home. I trust that they’ll keep feeling and looking better as time and wear make them my jeans.
I’m not entirely sure yet whether I am willing to jump into the pool of raw denim culture. I have dipped my toes in and the water feels good. I would be happy to wade in it but the deep end of the raw denim pool seems daunting, scary even. From the little that I have learned through the Tellason JGMs and Heddels over the past five weeks, I’m sold and will happily stick with raw for my next denim purchase. I will learn how to care for my jeans to make them last. I will appreciate the quality each and every day I wear my JGMs. But will I dive into the culture of raw denim? Will I submerge into the depths of learning about caste and overdye techniques? Will I search out Japanese, American, Italian (etc.) brands and commit to finding the perfect pair? Maybe. Maybe I’ve started down that path already and the only logical endpoint is buying in wholly to the entire culture of raw denim. Or maybe I will be able to take things one pair of jeans at a time, enjoying each for what it is. Wherever I end up, I’m confident that I’ll be walking the path in better jeans than when I started.
The Tellason John Graham Mellors are available for $220 at Huckberry.