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  • Writer's pictureEvan Wolkenstein

Expensive Jeans: Scam or Denim Umami? [30 DAYS OF WRITING: EPISODE 13/30]

Levi's 514: Good enough because they're already great.

Levi’s 514: Good enough because they’re already great.

This is day 13 of a New Year’s Resolution.


I’m a little burned out on the subject of death and grief, so let’s talk about denim and the reality of expensive jeans.

Jeans generally go into two categories: way too expensive and meh.

On the one hand, this great land of our is piled high with cheap, uninspired, mass-produced denim. It’s made, bought and donned with very little fanfare. And it doesn’t need to be that way.

On the other hand, walk around any menswear boutique and you’ll find jeans which cost almost much as a suit. And while there’s nothing wrong with dropping $250 on a pair of jeans per se, the nature of denim implies, well, a certain practical accessibility. There is something a little off about the concept of ungodly expensive jeans.

I know that much of the the world, every seventh grader, and all of Los Angeles disagrees with me. But millions of styley folks roll their eyes at the price tags. To misquote Macklemore: $200 on jeans — I call that getting tricked by a business.

Unless…you get something for the money.


So what are the options. What could you possibly get?

Possible answers: you get A) a better look or B) you get higher quality.

Let’s analyze. 

The following thing I say is not a boast. The following thing I say is a fact: I get compliments on my jeans all the time. People ask what they are. Where I got them. How much they were. And the answer is that my jeans, my quotidian, put ’em on and wear ’em with absolutely everything jeans are Levi’s 514. I got them at a Buffalo Exchange for $25.

So, to answer the question: Can I get a better look for $200? Probably not.



Indigo: the most beautiful color in all of cloth-dom.

On the other hand, for about $100 more than “regular” Levi’s, you can bag one of the upscale side-brand Levi’s called Made and Crafted. It’s a problematic name. All jeans are made and crafted. Everything is made and crafted. But these are made in U.S.A.! (Insert happy, excited emoticon). And/or Turkey. (Insert sad emoticon). The website attempts to explain the premium cost by explaining that Levi ‘s Made and Crafted are:

  1. Our premium quality denim is woven in the USA, Japan and Italy

  2. The Levi’s “Arcuate” is stitched behind the pocket–gradually apearing [sic] with wear (apparently their high price tag wasn’t high enough to allow the company to retain a proofreader for their website).

  3. We use real indigo and other natural dyes

  4. Every garment is cut, sewn and finished using the best methods available.

Does this justify the $169 cost? To begin with, that figure is low for premium, gourmet denim, but still about $100 more than Levi’s “normal” jeans. In that sense, it still sounds like getting “tricked by a business.”

But I wasn’t sure. So I got a pair from a website that allowed easy returns. 

And here’s what I learned.



Behold the selvedge: might signify high quality denim. Certainly looks awesome. Only visible if you cuff.

Denim Umami

Really great jeans are not just about how they fit, it’s also about the quality of the color and also something I’d like to call Denim Umami (or maybe Denimami?). In food, Umami is the lip-smack “yum” that makes you want to eat the whole bag.

Great jeans have undeniable umami.

And while I love my Levi’s 514, when I slid into the Made and Crafted, I could feel the Denimami. It felt like I was wearing something much more savory. With satisfying crunch. The details caught my eye: the stitching a little more solid. Bold. The seams a little more bad-ass.

But what made an impression on me was the undeniable beauty of the Rigid Indigo denim, itself. Not everyone likes rigid jeans. They take a while to break in, they’re a little stiff for a while, and they drape differently than the soft jeans you wear when you lay on the sofa, watching the game. 

But the rigid indigo Made and Crafted managed to blur rugged with class, rough with refined, no-frills with fine-finish – just as my favorite foods are often rustic, executed with excellent ingredients, and served with a subtle panache (along with something crispy or crunchy, every few bites).


Rigid Indigo or Indi-Go Home!

Rigid Indigo or Indi-Go Home!

The Harsh Reality

If spending $170 dollars on an article of clothing you will wear more than anything else you own (maybe more than everything you own, combined) and will have for years is something you can relate you, you’re a candidate for some Made and Crafted. But some caveats:

  1. If you don’t want Indigo or Indigo Rigid denim, save your money.

  2. If you don’t want to turn up your cuffs to show off the selvedge denim – the usually red or blue stripe running up the inside seam – save your money.

  3. If the style you want doesn’t have a selvedge edge (not all do) – save your money.

  4. If ‘Murca and products made here aren’t important to you, then go find another place to live! U.S.A! U.S.A! (And Turkey.)

Ultimately, if after reading this it’s not abundantly clear to you that you need Made and Crafted jeans – if my description of Denimami didn’t make any sense to you, or you rolled your eyes at any time, then take my advice: save your hundred bucks and wear a great pair of “regular” Levi’s — jeans that are good enough because they’re already great.

It doesn’t take a “Jeanius” to figure that one out…

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