Watching the seminal Bartle Bogle Hegarty Levi’s 501 adverts from 1985 makes me feel nostalgic twice over. On the one hand for the tinted glow of 1950s Americana; on the other for my teenage self, as I recall being won over by their powerful narratives. At the time, the 501s they featured seemed snug, but today they’d be “easy” or “relaxed” fit – thanks to the supremacy of the skinny-jean trend of the past 20 years or so.
Fortunately, for men over a certain age and girth, there are changes afoot when it comes to jeans: volume cuts and higher waistbands are returning. Levi’s new 514 straight-fit stretch-denim jeans (£70) have an easy, comfortable fit similar to those in the old campaign. With light stone washing they’re almost classic to the point of being a no-statement statement. They’re comfortable, and infinitely more flattering than skinny or tapered styles. The scales have dropped. Men who should know better – and I confess I am one – have been cramming themselves into tight jeans and I’ve recently realised that they are simply no longer appropriate.
But having tried on Levi’s entire current catalogue, the new “original selvedge” 501 shrink-to-fit jean (£85) – critically, worn unshrunk – is my top tip. The slightly starchy selvedge denim, in true indigo blue, has bold contrast topstitching; the cut is straight and relaxed – and they look great with penny, snaffle or tassel loafers. A dealbreaker. (For fans of a Cuban heel or Jodhpur boots, I recommend the Levi’s 505 [£130], released in 1967, and the first zip-fly jean. They fit snug up top, but have a kick flare.)
Acne’s new Blå Konst Land jeans (£220) are another game-changer for those looking for a fresh shape. With a loose but not excessively wide fit, they sit high, with an easy arching silhouette; the denim has substance yet remains lightweight thanks to hollow cotton fibres. Winners are the “black” unwashed jeans, which are actually grey, and “indigo”, which are navy and also unwashed; but there’s an array of tones right through to bleached-out pale blue.
The nattiest look right now, however, is the new raw denim – untreated and cut wide. I’m impressed with the jeans (£210) by Ami, made exclusively for Farfetch. They’re in a distinct dark indigo denim, with chino-style pockets, cobalt blue topstitching, and no tab or labels. The roomy cut hangs well and, teamed with tennis shoes or plimsolls and a simple sweatshirt, they have a distinct, modern look.
If you want wider still – and I do, since I now appreciate that it feels manly compared with boyish skinnies – then E Tautz’s Chores (£257), in handstitched mid-blue or dark indigo 13.5oz raw selvedge denim, make a real statement. Although based on a 1950s workwear trouser, they have a smartness to them. They sit higher on the waist but still flatter through the seat. I team mine with braces.
For those who prefer raw denim in a slimmer cut, there are some great styles from Paige. The Croft raw‑dyed navy narrow jean (£300) uses a rayon/cotton/polyester/Spandex weave that’s hand-sponged for a matte effect and a comfortable fit. Cerruti has now made jeans a staple of its mainline collection and this season there’s a steely-blue raw “double denim” theme, with tailored jackets and coats paired with matching jeans (£145). These are traditional five‑pocket styles in dark, unwashed Japanese selvedge denim with modern hardware. There are also some smarter denim trousers (£145) cut like chinos. At Dior – whose autumn/winter 2000 collection designed by Hedi Slimane arguably set the men’s skinnies trend in motion – narrow, straight-cut raw styles include those in indigo and battered black. These are what I’d call nightlife jeans. One version (£400) has zero branding save for a minuscule steel Dior ingot, another (£400) a black embossed denim Dior logo.
Denim tailoring can also be found at Gieves & Hawkes, where neat plain-fronted trousers (£295) with a tapered leg are made from Italian selvedge denim with an authentic mottled texture (it’s pre-dyed before construction, so it doesn’t bleed). These are more denim trousers than jeans per se, and work well with a dark navy blazer. Tod’s tailored denim includes dapper trousers (£290); the dark indigo, straight-cut ones are cool but it’s the chambray washed-denim style (£310) that stand out for me. And at Other, there’s a pair (£155) in unusual selvedge denim drill with two pleats, slanted front and welted seat pockets – they’re like ’50s-style peg trousers with a modern accent.
Thirty years on, and denim is getting me excited all over again – except this time there will be no immersing myself in hot baths to get the skinny look. Wide, raw and age‑appropriate is my new stance.