A stroll down Oak Street

Winter was on its way, and I knew I needed some new boots. Okay, it was August, so really, fall was on it’s way, but that’s not really the point. Initially, thought it would be between a pair of Danner Lownsdales from Tanner Goods (@TannerGoods) or a pair of Red Wings, which I thought I might get at Dunderdon (@DUNDERDON). Either way, my search led me to the Blackbox Building in Downtown Portland, where both Dunderdon and Tanner Goods sell their great stuff.

Being a huge fan of Tanner Goods, I walked into the store and was pretty close to buying a pair of the logger-inspired Lownsdales, which are truly beautiful boots. For me, the deciding factor against the Lownsdale was the Gore-Tex liner; my feet need to breathe, and I’ve found Gore-Tex to be like wearing a Ziploc bag over my feet. With that in mind, I decided not even to entice myself, and I left the store without trying the Lownsdales on.

Next, I walked over to Dunderdon, which is two doors down from Tanner, and I went straight back to the shoe wall They had the Red Wings I was looking for, but it took all of 2 seconds for my eye to drift over to a pair of beautifully dyed, finely crafted camping boots from a small producer called Oak Street Bootmakers (@OakStBootmakers). I asked about the shoe, and then promptly decided to buy them. If Red Wing and Yuketen (@Yuketenfootwear) were to make a baby, these boots would be their perfectly designed offspring — not too rustic, not too industrial.

Initial impressions:

Oak Street uses Chromexcel leathers from the Horween factory in Chicago. The handmade boots seem to have immense character, and the richness of the leather is amazing. When I first started wearing them, they were stiff, which is to be expected when it comes to Vibram-soled boots.

When compared to Red Wings, these boots have a bit less bulk and are more suited to walking than the work-oriented boots on the market. I got them in my true size, 9.5, but I planned on wearing them with thick socks. If you want to wear them sockless or with thin socks, size down a bit because they are sized for wear with warm socks.

I’ve been wearing them almost daily since the day I purchased them, and it took a good month for them to soften up and become really comfortable. Now, they have molded to my feet and are — without question — the most comfortable boots I’ve ever owned. The quality of construction continues to amaze me each day, too. I have to say that I’m really glad these were the boots I ended up with, and I look forward to years of wear.

Details that I like:

The color is fantastic, as is the contrasting leather used in sole. Also, the brown laces add a pop of color that stands out against the richness of the blue leather.

Beyond this, one detail I particularly love is that Oak Street offers a resoling service for their boots. For $92, they will take your boots, replace the Vibram soles and the laces, as well as reshape the boot to ensure the maximum life of the boot. I didn’t know this when I purchased them, but now that I know, I plan on sending them in every so-often for an overhaul. I plan on wearing these things until they fall apart, which will likely be a very long time from now.

Tellason Ankara, Limited Edition

Close-up of the pocket

For the last several weeks, I had been obsessing over a new pair of jeans I spotted. The jean in question was the new Tellason (@Tellason) in 14.75-ounce sanforized denim. I had never tried on a pair, but when I was at the Woodlands (@WoodlandsNW), I saw the rich blue color in this denim, I had a feeling that I’d be back.

Initial impressions:

After wearing a 17-ounce pair of unsanforized (shrink-to-fit) Japanese selvage jeans, it was a big change to move to these relatively lighter-weight jeans. The denim comes from Cone Mill’s White Oak facility in Greensboro, N.C., and is different from anything I’ve seen Tellason use before. Weighing in at just under 15 ounces, this denim is substantial without being overpowering.

The biggest difference to me was that this denim felt significantly softer than what I have become accustomed to. I wanted to know why, so I asked the fine people at Tellason; they told me that they prefer to work with lower-starch, raw denim as a matter of personal preference. I have to say that it’s nice wearing a low-starch denim because it breathes better and doesn’t leave the backs of my legs feeling like a wolf got a hold of me.

The selvage I.D. and chainsitch

For anyone out there afraid that the lack of starch means there won’t be honeycombs, I can tell you that your fears are probably misguided. I’ve been wearing these things for about a week, and already, I have some pretty significant creasing happening across the lap and behind the knees. i’d be willing to speculate that these jeans will get some nice, high-contrast fades due to the initial depth of color that they have before wearing.

I also expect to see some good vertical falling on these jeans. When looking at the thighs, the moderate variation of yarn-thickness in both the warp and weft will likely result in great character as these age. I also particularly like the classic appeal of the red-line selvage I.D., as seen to the right.

There are a couple details that I particularly like in Tellason’s construction. First, they use a two-color double-locking chainstitch in their hem. From the inside of the hem, the stitch is blue, and from the outside, the stitch is orange. When cuffing the jean, the blue chainstitch is understated, but when leaving it uncuffed, the appearance is completely traditional. Also, Tellason half-lines the back pockets and uses a substantial white twill fabric for its pocket bags.

The pocket-bag

Unlike many jeanmakers, Tellason doesn’t use hidden rivets to reinforce the back pockets, opting for bartacking the pockets instead. The hidden rivet was introduced by Levi’s in 1937, replacing the previously exposed rivets that had been found on earlier models of the 501. Because hidden rivets have a tendency to break through the fabric, Levi’s switched to using dark-colored bartacking (a heavy stitch across the top corners of the back pockets) in the 1960s.

Lastly, I can’t get away with mentioning the custom leather patch on these jeans.  Tanner Goods (@TannerGoods) did a beautiful job creating the patch on the back of the jean. If prior experience with Tanner’s belts and leather accessories has taught me anything, I can assume that this patch will also age quite nicely.

The tag is left unstitched around the sides, allowing the wearer to put the belt under the patch instead of over it. I remember having jeans like this as a kid, but there seemed to be a period where this was impossible to find. I’m glad to see Tellason and the Woodlands working together to bring this feature back on my limited-edition pair. It’s a detail that you can decide to use or ignore, but at least it’s a choice; I personally like it.

The buying decision:

The only part that was hard in the decision was that I have a trip planned for San Francisco with my wife at the end of the year, and I had previously been thinking of getting a new pair at Self Edge (@selfedge). Knowing that there are only so many hours in a day to break in a new pair, I couldn’t justify buying two pair, so I had to decide what to do.

That said, I eventually decided that I should at least try on the Tellasons before heading to San Francisco, so I went back to the Woodlands and tried on two of their three fits. The John Graham Mellor is a straight-cut with a narrower leg, and the Ankara is a wider-leg cut. Both cuts are mid-rise and seem vintage-inspired, though slightly updated. I settled on the Ankara because I have narrower-leg options in my wardrobe already, including the Strike Golds that I in a previous blog entry.

I’m really glad I went with these jeans because they are simple, classic, and well-constructed. I’m looking forward to seeing how they break in.

Additional photos, including initial fit: Tellason Ankara, Limited Edition

Raw denim is like cabbage

This may sound ridiculous, but cabbage and raw denim have a good bit in common. In fact, I’d argue that a lot of vegetables are similar to their distantly related, cotton-based selvage cousins. Both raw denim and cabbage can teach us a lot about life philosophy. You might be scratching your head, so let me elaborate.

An overview of denim’s aging process:

I don’t think any of us would dispute that raw denim gets better with time; that’s part of its allure. We wait patiently, hoping for beautiful fades and a pair of pants that act less like cloth and more like a second skin. 

Raw denim generally starts out as stiff as a piece of cardboard, or sometimes even a bit more like plywood. With dedication and time, that rough, unforgiving fabric molds to your body, becoming the most comfortable thing you can imagine.

The color starts dark, but changes with time. Oftentimes, it’s so dark that you wonder if it’s even right to call your pants bluejeans. Over time, the color of the indigo in your denim fades, providing a beautiful depth of color that is both interesting and unique.

The jeans to the right are the Sugar Cane Lot 724 (SC40724), which was a model that was never intended to release for sale. They started hard and deep, and with time, became vibrantly blue and ridiculously soft. In fact, these were the softest jeans I’ve ever owned. For more pictures, please see this album.

A comparison to cabbage:

Cabbage also starts out crisp, hard and unforgiving. Raw, fresh cabbage is sulfurous, adding to its harshness. By adding a little salt, sealing it up, and storing it in a cool place for a couple weeks, these harsh sulfury crispness of cabbage dissipates, giving way to the amazing depth of flavor that is sauerkraut. With time, its bright green-white fades to a pleasantly soft yellow.

Like raw denim, no amount of processing can replicate the depth of character that an handcrafted, perfectly aged sauerkraut has. Raw denim’s character comes from the hard work, patience, and dedication of waiting for nature to take its course.

In the case of mass-produced sauerkrauts, most manufacturers cheat the system by taking fresh cabbage and putting it in a solution of water, vinegar, and salt. Real sauerkraut has character because the sour characteristics come from lactobacilli, the same genus of bacteria that makes yogurt sour. This process of natural fermentation takes weeks, and the big producers of sauerkraut don’t have that much time to wait, so they fake it.

Any raw denim enthusiast worth his salt will tell you that using artificial techniques to speed the aging of denim is paramount to cheating. The same is true — without question — for fermented cabbages. For a great instruction on making your own sauerkraut, see this link to Sandor Katz’s website on fermentation.

In summary:

Let nature take its course. Whether its raw cabbage, raw denim, or anything else, the result will show character, patience, and dedication. In an age where society is constantly looking for instant gratification, it’s always good to remember that patience yields superior results.

The Strike Gold (Model SG2109)

We had planned a trip to San Francisco at the end of this past March. My graduate program was out for Spring break, so my wife and I took the time off from work and planned a fun, food-intensive trip to the Bay Area. While there, we also did a bit of shopping.

I had found the Strike Gold jeans on Self Edge’s website prior to going to San Francisco, and I figured I’d drop off an old pair of Sugar Canes (Lot 724 – I’ll post about these later) for repair. I tried them on and decided that I wanted them. The repair on the old jeans and the hemming took a few days, so I had the store mail them to me for when I returned to Portland.

When the box arrived, I ran to the door yelling “the new jeans are here, the new jeans are here!” (for you Steve Martin fans, denim to me is like the phone book to Navin Johnson in The Jerk).

I took the jeans out of the box, filled the sink with hot water, and soaked them for about 45 minutes, then put them flat on a towel to dry. When they were good and cardboard-like again, I flipped them right-side in and put them on.

Those first few days were rough. The denim is unsanforized and weighs in at 17 ounces. It was also some of the hairiest stuff I’ve ever had, which added to its character. Beyond that, they were stiff, and if I could go back, I probably would have soaked them just a hair longer to help open up the cotton fibers and soften the fabric (more on that later).

I wore these jeans virtually every chance I got from the beginning of April until the middle of October, soaking them three times total and washing them with Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap twice. While I’m not proud of it, I wore these jeans to sleep a couple nights, and when I was camping over the summer, they were basically glued to my body.

As these jeans wore in, the impact of a mud-dyed weft became more apparent. While they were almost pitch-black when I first got them, they became almost iridescent as the indigo faded. The fabric softened somewhat after 5 exposures to water, but this stuff stayed pretty stiff (note the creases that are still in the honeycombs).

If I could get a do-over:

I would soak these longer during the initial soak. The roughness of the denim and its immense stiffness meant that the crotch got weak pretty fast. By the time I had worn these for 2 months, I could tell that I would need to repair them. I hand-sewed in a preemptive patch from the fabric that was left from hemming, and a couple months later, I sewed another one in. I wish that the fabric had been more resistant to blow-out, but I suppose that’s what I get for wearing these as much as I did. I do plan to bring these in when I go to Self Edge again in December and get them repaired professionally.

Additional fade pictures available at: Strike Gold SG2109

An Introduction

Rear of left leg from Ltd. Edition 2009 Agave Purist Gold
(#149 of 180-count production)

I always hate starting a new blog, journal, or notebook because the first time I write, it always feels so forced. In an effort to get through some of that initial awkwardness, here is a little bit about who I am, what I do and why I created Wefty.

My name is Matt Neidich, and I am into things that get better with time. In the clothing world, items like raw denim and hand-tanned leathers are among some of the finest items around.

Raw denim and hand-tanned leathers break in over time, reflecting the wearing patterns of the owner. Have you ever noticed, on a pair of nice shoes, how where the shoe bends, the color of the leather changes? These changes are what give those leather shoes their character.

In the picture to the left, you’ll see an example of what happens when raw denim ages. These jeans, made of raw Japanese selvage denim, were originally so dark they almost looked black. When I wore these, I usually kept my wallet in the back, left pocket, so the indigo wore off. The light-blue lines behind the knees are a result of indigo loss on the creases that formed from continual wear.

If you look closely, you’ll see that there are several areas behind the knees where the denim is actually breaking apart a little bit, and this tells a story about me as the wearer. While visiting Israel at the beginning of 2010, I put these jeans on after floating in the Dead Sea. The salt that remained in my skin seeped out into the fabric, weakening the cotton fibers. Within a few weeks, the yarns started to break apart. No pair of pre-faded jeans, factory-softened jeans can tell a story like that.

This type of fading is specific to my body, and it tells the story of what I was doing every day from the first time I put them on until the last. And that very characteristic of raw denim is what makes it so beautiful.

Dedicated to quality goods that get better with time.

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