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The menswear that only gets better with age

The menswear that only gets better with age

There's a certain feeling of satisfaction you get when you pull on a jacket for the nth time and it feels like you're slipping into a second skin. You've worn it for years. You never have to worry about looking daft in it. And you know exactly how warm it keeps you. In your mind, you congratulate Past You for that clever purchase decades ago. Perhaps it cost you a little bit more than you would have usually spent, or perhaps it was a gift you spent months dropping hints about – either way, your pleasure in wearing it only increases with the mileage.

But why doesn't that happen with every item that's been in your wardrobe for longer than five years?

"There are some categories that are never going to get better with age," says Thread stylist Luke McDonald. Partly, it's down the fabric. Cotton decays, whereas leather matures. "Things like dress shirts, tees and underwear are rarely going to age well. What will are the garments that are stiff and unwieldy when you first get them."

The lived-in jeans

Photographed: Nudie Jeans Grim Tim Jeans ($140)

The beauty of raw, selvedge denim is that you can get fading and whiskering that is truly personalised to you.

Unlike pre-washed denim, where the dye has been washed off before it arrives at the shops, raw denim is still stiff and saturated with indigo dye. Over time, some of that dye will fade or come off at areas that are often creased, such as the knees, or where there's friction, like the pocket you always slot your phone into. That pattern of fades becomes a signature, completely unique to you and the way you've worn your denim.

The best way to kill raw denim is to wash it. A spin in the machine means all the dye disappears uniformly, and your jeans will look like any mass-produced pair. Instead, keep them out of the laundry basket for six months to a year, if you can bear it, to let them to get really worn. By the end of it, you'll have a pair of jeans that are as distinctive as a fingerprint.

"It's quite a luxury," says Luke. "You take something mass-produced and turn it into something completely unique to you. Outside of tailoring, that’s quite a rare thing to have in clothing."

The hand-me-down Barbour

"This jacket has been in the family for a while," says Thread stylist Freddie. "It was my Grandad's, then my Mum's, then mine. It's been patched up four or five times and also gets re-waxed by Barbour."

The wax on a waxed jacket is what keeps the rain out. With wear, that wax rubs off, which is why you should ideally get it rewaxed every year. But it's also what turns a factory-made jacket into something one-of-a-kind. Because wax is a natural substance alters over time. If you send it off to be rewaxed, the reproofer will try to blend the colours as closely as possible, but there'll always be slight difference in tone – which, in our minds, only adds character. You can also do it yourself, at home. Assuming you're not as practiced as the folks at Barbour, the distinctions between old and new wax will be even starker.

Barbour will also offer repairs. "Prince Charles has one that’s amazing and looks like it’s been patched a thousand times," says Luke. "He wears it with suits and that contrast of rough and work-ready is really nice."

The timeless leather jacket

"Leather jackets have an association with tough, western clothing," says Luke. "Which means they’ve never gone out of style. There’s never been a decade where the James Dean jacket hasn’t been a staple. So as long as you get one in a classic silhouette, they are an investment that always pays off."

Of course, not all leathers were created equal. In order to have a leather jacket that you can break in, the leather must be strong. Lambskin, for instance, will already be very soft so you want a stronger skin like cowhide or goatskin. Because leather's an animal skin, it becomes more pliable the more you wear it and warm it up. You can aid the process by getting caught in a light drizzle, as that softens the leather and allows it to crease at your elbow joints or shoulders.

To get the most bang from your buck, store it in a cool and dry place. You can also use leather jacket conditioners to keep the garment supple, or to breath new life into an overly beaten-up jacket. Then, wear it to death. Take it to the pub and the park and the party at a mate's house. "Leather jackets are so stiff and heavy at first, but once it's worn in, that's when it becomes yours," says Luke.

The rough and ready desert boots

“There’s a great Clarks ad from the 60s which says ‘Clarks Desert Boots are unnecessarily handsome. But with proper loving neglect you can make them look like this in three or four years’,” says Luke. “So they were always sold on the idea that they looked great beaten up.”

Leather darkens over time, a process known as patination. There are three factors that determine the patina of your boots; sun exposure, age, and oils. While you can’t stop leather from developing a patina, you can slow it down it with UV protection sprays or speed it up by leaving it out in the sun.

We love the element of storytelling that a patina adds to a pair of boots, and it helps that this style is inherently informal. “They were always meant to be lived-in, not a precious boot at all," says Luke. 

Words: Theresa Harold
Photography: Chris Howlett
Styling: Millie Rich