The Appeal of Raw Hems and Distressing

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Trust me, it adds character!

Man, I’ve really been on a roll lately with my casual style.  We’ve talked about how I use the replacement/alternative theory to approximate different casual styles. We also introduced black as away to be edgy and badass. But now we’re going to move on to something that isn’t really all that new: jeans and chinos.  Now I’ve talked about trouser fit and length before, but this is a bit different!

I’m pretty forgiving in how I like my jeans and chinos, mainly because they provide different looks.  Slim chinos/denim are best for ivy while wide legged ones lend them selves for vintage-casual/workwear/militaria attire, though in all honesty, I mix and match.   Cuffs, most notably, are present all around not to simply hold the hem at the right length, but to provide drape to the leg and to break up the visuals between the pant and the shoe.

This is what makes a chino or jean visually similar to trousers (which have 2″ turn ups), making them a viable alternative when creating outfits.  It’s also done because stacks look sloppy to me and don’t jive with the clean lines of menswear. And it just feels vintage.

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For a long time, I thought that was the most you could do with chinos/jeans: cuff them and be done with it.  Maybe add a permanent turn-up if you want them to be dress chinos (which I do on my slim ones for Drake’s vibes) or just keep it rolled to make it look easy.  I never entertained flat fronts, mainly because I felt that it never looked right, though my bias was mainly on dress trousers; they just felt unfinished and looked like they were “cut too short”.

However, my opinion shortly changed after obtaining some Levi’s Sta-Prest trousers during the closing of Roxy’s Vintage Deluxe.
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You’ve probably seen them before or at least heard of them, as they are an ivy favorite! The Levi’s sta-prest are a jean-style (5 pocket) casual trouser, made from poly-cotton and are named so due to the fact that they seldom wrinkle or lose their crease. My friend Doug wears his a lot and was stoked when I found a pair.

As you can see, the length is done perfectly, ending nearly where most of my trousers end for no-break when pulled up as high as they will comfortably sit.  It’s such a classic 60s look (turn ups fell a bit out of style during that time) and it’s a wonder why I didn’t draw inspiration from this vintage look. With a slim leg, it makes for a very clean leg line, which is interesting because I prefer it with casual attire rather than regular suiting, as I believe the former requires the commanding presence/drape of a turn-up.

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Ethan - smock, green plaid sport shirt, Levi’s sta-prest, white socks, penny loafers

It’s easy to translate the ideas of the sta-prest to regular denim.  I think that it makes for a very interesting look, as it goes away from the tried-and-true cuffed look.  My only issue is that it’s pretty hard to find OTR denim that works for this.  Yes, I’ve tried getting a pair hemmed quickly, but it looks awkward without the original hem. I should’ve specified what I wanted at my tailor (who simply cut them shorter and made a new hem) but the damage was done. Luckily it was on a “whatever” pair of jeans, that I gave to a friend, but it turned me off to that idea.

It appeared the only way for me to attempt to be happy with it was to keep trying on pants until they fit like my sta-prest.  And so far, the only denim brand to do that was Resolute, which does multiple inseams for this very purpose.  Unfortunately, you can’t find them easily outside of Japan and I didn’t get a chance to visit during my trip.

Despite a plethora of “plain hem”/perfect length denim inspiration, I couldn’t help but feel that they were still missing something. Hell, I felt the lazy cuff (with one turn up) was superior to the plain hem. Don’t get me wrong, I still like wearing my sta-prest, but they are definitely a different/intentional vibe when I got to wear them. Plus the sta-prest are one of my only casual 5-pocket pants and I already had too many pairs of denim to justify another one just for a certain look.

I was going to just give up and stick with my roll-cuffing my jeans/chinos until I thought, “what if I just cut them myself?”

Raw Hemmed/Frayed Denim

There’s an old article by Articles of Style about this phenomenon, where Alex Crawford (their stylish photographer) notes that he simply cut a pair of jeans that he no longer wore.  I remember being disgusted the first time I read it, but upon revisiting it, I was intrigued. Alex says that it adds a sense of ruggedness and “untidy-ness”, preventing himself from being pigeonholed.

I agreed with everything he said.  Jeans in menswear typically are pretty straight forward and less interesting than trousers. The only thing that changes are the wash, width, and cuff; it’s not like you have side tabs or pleats to play with!  So obviously using a raw hem is a great way to change it up and to go against the typical way people wear denim.

Let’s touch on that un-tidy vibe.  The raw hem provides a sense of overt edgyness that even harkens to punk at times, mainly because it shows that you simply took a pair of scissors and cut your damn jeans.  Sure, a cuff is fine (or even more appropriate) but its the idea that you’re intentionally choosing an alternative that makes it a fantastic style choice.

I think it’s especially subversive (read: edgy) within classic menswear, because it’s just goes against typical convention where clean lines and looking neat is prized.  It’s similar to how using black is “wrong” but can look so good. Like Alex says, the raw hem provides character, which you wouldn’t normally get from a normal  pair of jeans, clashing wonderfully with elegant footwear and more traditional menswear.  It certainly is the edgy/badass choice turning a blazer look a bit more “punk” than if you went with regular jeans (which make it lean more workwear-meets-ivy instead).

Diving deeper, I think that for me, it accomplishes the same visual interest as a cuff, making it not appear as “streamlined” as the plain hem of the Resolutes or the sta-prests.  The puffy edges (created after a wash/dry) aren’t necessary, but I prefer them, since it echoes the heft of a rolled cuff despite it probably not being as weighty in true comparison.

You could say it simply combines the best of a rolled cuff and a plain hem, making a new/interesting interaction between a shoe and the pant. Depending on how high the crop is (I like it higher than traditional trousers), I think it looks great with low profile footwear (loafers) and chunkier stuff (derbies and wallabies).

Just check out some of these example image I’ve compiled that I think provides some inspiration.

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My friend Marco in some epic raw hem jeans.

You can’t beat Sid!

Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of raw hemmed/frayed edge denim inspiration pictures, especially in menswear.  However, like most things on this blog, you can always count on my friends to provide that sweet, sweet inspo.

Above we have my colleague Lucas, who works at Drake’s in London.  He doesn’t post many pictures of himself, but when he does, it’s always great. This picture in particular is quite old (from last year), though I remembered it clearly when I decided to attempt the raw hem look for myself.  He has a similar story to Alex: he got an old pair of jeans he wasn’t wearing and decided to cut them to give them a new look (and new life), creating a different vibe when he wears them with suede captoes and a navy jacket.

Obviously light wash denim and a sportcoat isn’t new (especially if you like the prep-dad thing), but the frayed edges provide a much different take. A punky take if you will.

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Then on the side of complete badassery, we have Akira. Now Akira doesn’t really have a classic menswear background, preferring more casual attire that mixes vibes from the 60s-90s.  Here he has some vintage pair of denim, hemmed high and frayed to work with his vintage black suede Lucchese boots.  It’s an awesome look, not only adding to his easy going (yet punky) attire (note all the black), but the frayed hem plays with the faded sections of his denim, without delving too far into being overtly distressed.

And speaking of distressed, let’s take a moment to talk about Andy Spade.  He had always been familiar to me (most likely from tumblr reblogs), though I never followed him closely enough for him to be one of my legitimate style icons.  He popped back up on my radar when I bought an Japanese fashion magazine, where he was in it, wearing some of the most distressed jeans I had ever seen.

While streetwear doesn’t fuck too much with the raw hem (at least from what I’ve seen), I think that distressing and holes/tears is more up their alley.  It’s this fact that I think Spade pulls from, juxtaposing the ratty denim with traditionally tailored denim. Perhaps the reason why distressing + raw hem doesn’t work is because it’s overkill, so it makes sense why it isn’t common or why I couldn’t find many examples of it.

I’m not the biggest fan of distressed denim; I only like the raw hem, because its an edgy finish to an other wise “normal” pair of pants.  However, Andy Spade gives great insight on how to wear it, using the replacement/alternative theory. In almost all the cases, a regular pair of clean denim or chinos would be just fine, but the inclusion of the distressed pant makes for a different, almost slouchy (or even fuck you) vibe.  It reminds me even of the artist style, like when Hockney would wear a classic OCBD, tie, and sweater and be wearing paint stained trousers.

It really is yet another way to do some subversion in classic menswear.

On Women

If I’m being completely honest, it was actually women’s style that put me over the edge for the raw hem/frayed edges.  It’s not a “new look” by any means, but  I definitely love how they do it, especially on Lulu Graham, an accomplished editor/photographer/designer in NYC who graciously gave me a few fit pics of her rocking the lock.

She definitely has that prep/ivy look down, but the use of the raw hems prevents it from being too costume-y. Like with the other inspiration pictures before it, it works to make the look edgier, contemporary, and a bit more lived in. And again, you can see how well it interacts with loafers and chunky shoes.

Haley Nahman of Man Repeller also provided some great inspiration for me.  It’s a bit less overt ivy/prep and more so in the “dad” category, but I still love it. I still dabble in that look from time to time and it’s nice to see the raw hems being used in things other than ivy/prep.  Versatility is very important to me, as you guys know that I do a lot in my casual style.

On Me

Despite having raw hem jeans as the main source of inspiration, he first pair of pants that I cut were these Uniqlo pleated chinos (which conveniently had a high waist). They were nice and cheap (having a bit of stretch) but the taper was too strong, the color a bit plain, and the length too short to wear them properly with tailoring; the cuff I had when I wore them was too weird.  As a result, they were pushed back into the closet; I ended up wearing all my other chinos except this one.

I almost gave them away when I remembered that Lucas, Lulu and some of my friends who have the raw hem all cut an old pair of pants that they weren’t wearing anymore. Instead of scrapping the chinos, I just cut them at the ankle bone and then washed/dried them to get that puffy frayed edge.

Ethan - casual suit - bucket hat. Linen chore blazer, raw hem cut off pleated chinos, white socks, striped white shirt, converse

Casual Ethan.

They have since become one of my favorite chinos to wear, perfect for more casual outfits that don’t need that permanent turn up or a rolled hem for ivy and workwear respectively. I love it for the casual “suit” outfit above, but they’re also just great for a “whatever” chino to just throw on (again similar to a rolled chino but with even more edge/slouch).  Because of that, they were my trouser of choice when I went to Japan.

You can really see that they give an easy going, yet edgy vibe to these ivy/prep outfits.  Again, they might not be the “correct choice” when dressing in classic menswear, but that’s entirely the point! They also provide a sense of DIY personality (similar to paint splatters)that you don’t normally get with classic menswear!

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Ratty jungle jacket? Of course!

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Brown jackets always go with denim.

After my success with my chinos, I decided to finally apply it to denim.  You guys remember the 501CTs right? My first pair of selvedge?  Well after I got my LVC 1878s, the second hand LVC 1945s, and Thee Teenaged, I never really the 501CTs anymore. They just never fit me right, being too roomy in the thigh and yet with a sharp taper; like those Uniqlo chinos, I almost gave them away.

I simply brought them to work, took the tailoring shears, and cut them, though a little bit lower than the chinos.  This was done because I hadn’t washed the denim in a while and I knew that once they were put in the washer/dryer, they would shrink up a bit.  I was correct and they were at the perfect length for me, even echoing how Resolute denim looked.  It also had the added effect of not only softening up and fading slightly, but it also shrank a bit in the leg, so it actually fits better than it did before.  Not entirely perfect, but still better (I should’ve sized down when I bought it).

I actually wear them quite a lot, simply because they’re easy to just throw on and add a sense of character and fun to an other wise normal outfit, much more than regular cuffed selvedge.  They work great with both sock and sockless looks!

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It’s so easy to do it with prep/ivy.

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Loved this 60s/70s Americana look.

In the past, I wore jeans + boots in a workwear/ivy connotation, which works out fine for my shell cordovan lace-ups and chukka boots. However, I’ve always had a soft spot for the clean/minimal chelsea boot, which I see as a cross between a rockstar and cowboy boot for some reason.  Cuffed denim with them never really looked right to me,and I don’t own jeans that stack (for that SLP look)  so for a long time, my chelsea boots remained unworn.

This is where the “plain hem” nature of the frayed edges comes into play. They work tremendously well with boots, adding into the rugged nature, without restoring to the workwear trope of rolled cuffs.  Even though there is the visual interest of the raw hem, it doesn’t pull visual weight, playing with the clean lines of the chelsea.  The hem also has a tendency to look like a flare at times, which can help work for a late 60s-early 70s effect, which I have been digging lately.

In other words, the raw hem works with everything.  

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With a terry cloth shirt!

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I eventually did them to a black pair of Levis I thrifted a long time ago. With that dark color, the badass/edgy connotations are amplified.  Perfect for my cheap black chelseas (that I want to upgrade with R.M Williams) or simply with black penny loafers for a punky take on prep.

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On the other side of the spectrum, we have Spencer with his ratty pair of 501s he got from our friend Doug.  They were torn up the wazoo with multiple holes all over; a handful were patched up and some where left often, which Spencer liked.  He’s not a huge fan of raw/frayed hem (preferring normal cuffs or a plain hem) but I think he gets a similar point across with his overly distressed jeans.  Like Andy Spade, it works as a fun contrast against OCBDs, sportcoats, and penny loafers in an almost “fuck you” type of way.

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In the end, they were a perfect candid for paint splatter, adding it just a bit more character. He hasn’t worn them much since, but I’m sure he’ll get around to it, just like I have with my newly beloved raw hem denim.

Conclusion

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Man, this summer has been great for casual Ethan. I wouldn’t say that I’m giving up on tailoring as much as Spencer has, but simply that I’m finally getting confident and creative in my casual wear. If my goal was to make tailoring look easy and slouchy, I wanted to put similarly subversive spin onto my dressed-down looks.   It was only natural that I would have extended this experimentation to denim and chinos, which are categorically pretty boring standard pieces of menswear. Using paint splatters was cool, but the more edgy/subversive thing was to simply cut the hem and get it frayed.

I’d recommend doing this to chinos or jeans that you have kept in the back of the closet or haven’t worn for a long time. Hell you could even experiment by thrifting a cheap pair and adding this in (because more often than not, the length won’t be perfect) The raw hem/frayed edge is the perfect way to add some much needed character that results in an entirely different vibe when you wear it, especially if it’s with tailoring (or adjacent) clothing.  It’s done wonders for me, allowing me to experiment much more and delving into edgy/badass territory.

Honestly, I do like the more distressed look by way of Spencer, but since I don’t really do much “work” in my denim, it would take years of wild activities  to get those holes and repairs. For now, the frayed/raw hem is just fine, exuding similar vibes in a more DIY manner that fits with me.  Think of like cutting your bangs when you get anxious, but totally owning the look!

Now this isn’t a look for everyone. It’s not appropriate for business for smart casual looks. Like everything else I’ve stated before in my recent series, this is for people who enjoy clothing and the fun you can have with changing it up (whether it’s details like this or entire replacement/alternatives).   Stylish men and women do the look across a variety of styles that you’ll no doubt get some inspiration to try it for yourself.  That’s what makes clothing so much fun!

Always a pleasure,

@ethanmwong

10 comments

  1. Pingback: The Appeal of Raw Hems and Distressing « Fashion
  2. Evan Everhart · October 7, 2019

    Hi Ethan,

    Try Levis 501s. They are the classic for a reason. They come in actual graduated widths of 30, 31, 32, & etc., and lengths down to 29, 30, 31, and etc as well, depending upon where you search for them, if memory serves. 501s also have a slim cut, and are very high rise, especially if you get an older pair from the 80s or 90s. My favorite pair have an 11.5″ rise, and are very slim. I got them shrink to fit, and have had them for so many years that the tag has fallen off, and they have turned from dark unwashed denim to nearly white. They don’t stack, and don’t break, and don’t require a cuff. I wear them with my Western boots, or even with penny or tassel loafers or lace up white Keds. You literally can’t go wrong. Nice article!

    Like

  3. Kaki · October 12, 2019

    Gentlemen.. go to the tailors

    Like

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