Investment Pieces: Levi’s 501 jeans

Remember the pilot of “Put This On” and how it was kind of mindblowing that some people spend a couple hundred dollars on jeans? At the time, I thought, “Wow, that’s fucking expensive. I’ll never do that.” Fast forward two-and-a-half years later and I’m buying a pair of 3Sixteens at Self Edge in San Franscisco’s Mission District. 

But let’s rewind a bit to just over two years ago when I decided to buy a pair of Levi’s 501s that happened to be selvedge and their “rigid” dark denim fabric. I did the whole thing of sizing down 2” in the waist, knowing it would stretch and began to break them in for a week. Then two weeks. Then almost three. 

I never got them hemmed, even though my tailor gave me some shit about rolling the cuffs (“You look like a little boy!” he said, after only a few weeks earlier telling me I should start shaving regularly because I looked like an old man). I washed them the first time in a bathtub with Woolite Dark and let them hang dry after about six months.

It’s been about the same amount of time between washes since. It’s not that I can’t stand the smell, but every once in a while I’ll be at the grocery store or in a bar in Logan Square and some hipster just reeks really bad of body odor — like those kids in junior high gym class whose parents hadn’t had the deodorant talk yet with them — and I get a bit self conscious and smell my jeans to see if they are approaching ironic levels of freshness. I just hate the idea of smelling offensive to people when I actually have access to water and soap. 

Still, the jeans are great. No crotch blowouts, no rips or serious damage. The fading has started to show up a bit, especially when I compare them to my newer jeans. But the real awesome thing is just how comfortable they are to wear. I love wearing them around the house, because they’re never not soft and worn. It’s like comfort food, that you wear on your legs. 

Best of all, they weren’t that expensive. You can easily find pairs for under $100.

The cut isn’t the slimmest, but it’s not bordering on absurd, either. If you really want to slim them up, pay $15-30 to a tailor to have them tapered to your liking (something I did with a pair in white denim). Plus, I really like them for the fact they have a button fly and the rise on them is a little bit higher — something nice to have in the sea of low-rise denim out there (how people keep their shirts tucked in, I’ll never know). 

But get a cheap pair of jeans and then you won’t be afraid to screw them up by wiping your dirty hands on them all the time — like when you’re prepping ingredients to make tacos or spilled some of your drink on your hands. They’re jeans, not rare silks. Wear them paintballing or while digging your car out from the largest blizzard in decades. 

I’m not going to be that denimhead who tells you “My jeans, they tell a story,” because that’s not true and my life isn’t that interesting. But I have noticed that there’s a worn diagonal crease line along the left thigh to the knee where the fabric always bends from when I cross my leg while sitting. And there’s a white stain from my pet cockatiel who shit on them because I haven’t figured out how to housetrain her in the past dozen years I’ve had her — not that I’m angry or anything about that.

You’ll probably wear jeans a lot — even if you wear a suit all day, you’ll probably just want to come home and change into jeans at the end of it — and I can say for certain that a pair of Levi’s 501s should last you a good while. I feel like I got a lot of mileage out of mine and I still keep grabbing them off the door hook in the morning. 

(“Investment Pieces" is a series about the items in my wardrobe that have gotten the most usage and wear. It’s part review and part paean to the clothes I really would recommend to anybody. These aren’t luxury items or limited in availability — you can get them anywhere at anytime for a fairly reasonable price.) 


Investment Pieces: Brooks Brothers white OCBD

It’s hard to find a #menswear “essentials” list that doesn’t include the oxford cloth button-down collar shirt. Everyone tells you to buy one and pretty much every retailer carries some version of this shirt. 

Sure, it’s “classic” and J.F.K. wore one and it’s an Ivy staple. You have guys on forums and blog comments whining about how the collars used to have a much better roll to them decades ago compared to the ones now or how they used to take sandpaper to the collars to wear them down a bit for that “worn in” look. (And don’t even get them started on this “slim fit” business all the kids like!)

It’s easy to read that and laugh. But you have to realize the reason why they talk in such detailed curmudgeonly ways about this particular shirt is because they love it. It’s like meeting someone who is a complete nerd about a particular thing they’re really, really into: they love it so much that they want to tell you all the reasons why so that you’ll understand and love it, too. 

And the OCBD nerds aren’t totally crazy! It’s a fantastic shirt. I particularly like mine from Brooks Brothers in a certain non-trad fit (“extra-slim”, which makes it sound like a diet drink supplement) for a variety of irrational reasons.

Yes, the collar is great. It’s softer than a stiffer collar from most off-the-rack dress shirts. It’s a bit more substantial, too, in its collar point length — not some wimpy tiny collar that’s currently in fashion — that gives it a decent roll. Not the best roll, mind you, that you see in black and white photos of “Take Ivy”, but better than what else is out there in retailers today. 

I also love the shirring of the sleeves where it attaches to the cuff instead of the pleated look a lot of other shirts use. And it’s even more ridiculous that I like this unique detail on the shirt because you can’t even see it when I roll my sleeves up anyway, which I do most of the time when wearing the shirt, but I know it’s there.

I’ll also add that I love the pocket on the shirt. People are adding all sorts of useless crap to their shirts like epaulets, grosgrain trimming or monograms, but I’m a fan of functional things. I know a growing number of people prefer the French front placket and no pocket on shirts, but I can’t stand it. I use my pocket all the time. I put a pen in there, or my glasses when I head outside during the day and wear my prescription sunglasses. I don’t know why anyone would turn down a free pocket on their shirt. 

The shirt’s construction is pretty solid with single-needle stitched seams. It’s also still made right here in the United States (something that unfortunately cannot be said about the majority of Brooks Brothers’ shirts). The best part about the OCBD is that you can wash it, dry it and hang it up. That’s it. No need to worry about ironing it, as it looks great a bit wrinkled and just feels comfortable, which is the most important thing. 

The shirt doesn’t feel terribly stiff when first worn, but it just feels better several washes in. You can throw it on when you’re mildly hungover or just about to head down to the grocery store to buy some cilantro for some tostadas because you’re an idiot who forgot to check the fridge before you went to the store yesterday. 

Of course, it goes well with almost anything. You can wear it untucked with jeans or tucked into chinos with a madras, seersucker or navy wool blazer on top. And while my personal uniform most days consists of the blue OCBD, the white OCBD probably gets a fairly high amount of time covering my torso. I consider it a casual shirt to just wear around the house or on weekends. It’s what I do chores in and take naps in. 

You want that “lived-in” look? Pick up one of these shirts and live in it. There will always be time for you to put on a really dressed-up outfit to get dinner or go somewhere nice or even sit in your office cubicle. People always say that you should dress up for the important moments of your life, but the rest of your life’s more mundane and non-Instagram worthy moments ought to have a place in your wardrobe, too. For me, that’s the Brooks Brothers OCBD.

(“Investment Pieces” is a series about the items in my wardrobe that have gotten the most usage and wear. It’s part review and part paean to the clothes I really would recommend to anybody. These aren’t luxury items or limited in availability — you can get them anywhere at anytime for a fairly reasonable price.)


Investment pieces: Clarks desert chukka boots

I think a lot of guys get overwhelmed by footwear choices when they first set out to rebuild their wardrobe away from those crappy Rockport hybrid dress/sport shoes or square-toed Kenneth Cole polished leather abominations. If you don’t wear a suit or even a sport coat every day and you’re on a budget, then consider buying a relatively cheap pair of shoes you can beat to death every day with chinos or jeans. 

For me, that’s the Clarks desert chukka boot. Easily my most-worn pair of shoes by a large margin and they’ve been going strong for well beyond a year now. The crepe sole hasn’t worn down much — surprisingly — despite the fact that the heels on many of my other dress shoes have shown some very noticeable wear quite quickly. 

I tried to think about why I wear them so much, and I came to the conclusion that they lace up and come off quickly. You don’t need to worry about a shoe horn. The suede is insanely comfortable to wear barefoot as it’s unlined. These shoes work great for those quick trips around your neighborhood and fit with the more casual element of your wardrobe with ease. 

But I don’t want to shortchange them on their legitimate rugged abilities, either. I know some people freak out when it rains and they’re wearing suede shoes. I used to, until one night I got caught at my favorite (now closed, R.I.P.) Italian restaurant in a downpour that was so bad that raindrops actually hurt when they hit you and puddles were half a foot deep. 

Needless to say, I got my shoes completely soaked in water. I stuffed some newspaper in them when I got home and let them dry out overnight. The result: the suede got incredibly softer and they actually felt better to wear. Funny how that works. 

I continue to be impressed with the fact it hasn’t fallen apart just yet, nor has the sole started coming off from the uppers. I’ve put other “cheap” shoes through less and gotten way less mileage out of them. 

For a shoe you can find from $60-$100 regularly in a wide variety of colors, I think these are a no-brainer recommendation for someone who just needs a decent-looking shoe that’s built for comfort and has classic styling for the modern casual wardrobe. 

(“Investment Pieces” is a series about the items in my wardrobe that have gotten the most usage and wear. It’s part review and part paean to the clothes I really would recommend to anybody. These aren’t luxury items or limited in availability — you can get them anywhere at anytime for a fairly reasonable price.)

About The Silentist

A menswear blog on finding your personal style, written by Kiyoshi Martinez.

I work at Khaki's of Carmel and live in the Monterey Bay area. Formerly from Chicago.

E-mail me, I'm fairly nice: thesilentist@gmail.com

Popular topics: