Review: Eternal 811

Eternal has been in the western denim enthusiast consciousness since at least 2005, when the brand’s Superfuture thread was started, sparking interest and discussion. Yet in recent years they’ve returned to obscurity, overshadowed by newer and flashier brands like Tanuki, and the increasingly wild fabrics developed by brands like Oni and Pure Blue Japan. Many older denim fans have gravitated toward more traditional repro brands like Warehouse, Ooe, TCB, and Conners. This seems to have hurt brands like Eternal, which fit into neither of these categories. They’re nowhere to be found at stockists that once carried the brand’s jeans, like Blue In Green, Blue Owl, and others. They don’t even have a working website at the moment.

But in fact, Eternal offers some of the best mid-range Japanese jeans on the market, and one which ought to be in the short list of brands to recommend to newcomers. Despite being familiar with the brand since at least 2012 or so, I’ve only just now tried Eternal.

Design

Most Japanese denim enthusiast brands lean in one of two directions: vintage Americana, and Japanese heritage. These tend to direct the branding and image identity. Vintage Americana-inspired brands would include Flat Head, Sugar Cane, Strike Gold, Warehouse, Iron Heart, Stevenson Overall, Dry Bones, and TCB. Brands with distinctly Japanese imagery and mythos would include Momotaro, Samurai, Pure Blue Japan, and Tanuki.

With these jeans, Eternal falls into the latter category, but only slightly so. Their branding is subtle and neutral, almost minimalist. This makes Eternal able to easily fit into a variety of fashions without incongruity. There are no flashy back pocket arcuates, pocket bag prints or other flourishes, just a simple yet elegant pair of jeans. This is in contrast to much of what Eternal and their parent Maeno Corporation produces, which has a much stronger Japanese vibe quite different from other Amekaji brands.

Holistically, Eternal seems a lot like Flat Head without the motorcycle and 50s influence. Most notably, you see it in the denim: It’s a 14.5 oz unsanforzied fabric, dyed extremely dark with about thirty dips in the indigo vat, and like Flat Head’s denim it has an uneven, wooly texture, and is known for strong vertical fading and high contrast. But examining the inside of the fabric, and comparing to to my unworn Flat Head 3009s, the color and weave is clearly a bit different, so it’s not the same denim. Eternal’s denim also has a raspberry colored selvedge line, in contrast to the salmon selvedge on Flat Head.

Eternal’s jeans offer some of my absolute favorite fades. A lot comes down to personal preference, but I do not like the trends of increasingly oddball and over-engineered denim – weird-colored wefts, ludicrously slubby or neppy fabrics, strange weaves, and so on – that seem popular on Reddit and other newer venues like Instagram. Many of these fabrics barely look like denim to me, especially when they’re extremely thick. Eternal’s denim gets it right – it’s darker than vintage denim, with potential for stronger fading and contrast, but it still has a clear pedigree from vintage fabrics, and doesn’t look so weird that it no longer resembles denim.

A great example of Eternal’s fading potential.

Other features are things you’d expect to see on vintage repro style jeans: rolled belt loops, rolled pocket edges, copper rivets, hidden rivets in the back pockets, zinc buttons, and 100% cotton stitching, to name a few. The 811 mixes and matches these various vintage details without reproducing any one in particular, similar to Flat Head. Some of the hardware flourishes of Flat Head seem a bit nicer than Eternal – Flat Head’s iron buttons, domed hidden rivets, and copper rivets, to name a few – but Eternal’s choices match the subtle aesthetic of the brand.

One thing I like about these 811 jeans compared to my Flat Heads is that they use lemon-colored threads more widely, and I prefer the color of this stitching to the orange threads common use on repro-style jeans. Nothing beats faded lemon threads alongside a deep-dyed denim, so these jeans should look terrific in every respect when broken in.

The front pockets have deep opening that make them comfortable and easy to use, unlike many Japanese jeans I’ve handled that had tiny front pocket openings (I’m looking at you, Flat Head.) The pocket bags are thick and sturdy, and should hold up well, even if they’re not quite as heavy duty as 3Sixteen’s gold standard in pocket fabric. They’re definitely more durable than Flat Head or Samurai pockets.

Finally, the leather patch is made from deerskin – my favorite patch material! – and stamped with Eternal’s logo: elegant and understated, sure to develop a nice patina over time. Eternal’s patch is, in fact, my favorite of any denim brand.

Construction

Manufactured by Apparel Namba in Kurashiki, Japan – the same sewing company that made Flat Head’s jeans, denim shirts, and denim jackets – the jeans are extremely well constructed with quality machinery.

I don’t believe that Eternal makes their jeans the exact same way as Flat Head. Flat Head makes their jeans in a system of small house factories in Kurashiki, where there are dedicated houses and workers performing a single task or two – one house for cutting from patterns, one for sewing the legs, one for sewing the back pocket, one for attaching hardware, and so on. You can read more about the process in this article I wrote some years ago. Apparel Namba manages and oversees this process.

Most likely, these are made in Apparel Namba’s more conventional workshop/factory with many workers and machines all under one roof. Although many of the same machines are likely used on both Eternal and Flat Head, it looks like a different machine is used for Eternal’s overlock inseam. Examining the sewing, these jeans have a *slightly* more “industrial” feel compared to Flat Head, but I feel the overall quality of construction is a little better than my Flat Head 3005s.

Reading the Eternal thread on Superfuture, it seemed that some people had issues with quality on Eternal jeans over the years. This may even have led to the brand’s decline in popularity, as it did with Skull Jeans and a few others. However, much of this can probably be chalked up to the cotton thread construction rather than actual defects, and the tendency for cotton stitching to decay when the jeans are washed infrequently. I see the cotton stitching as a feature, not a bug, and I’m prepared to deal with small repairs when it wears away in certain spots.

I’m glad to say there are no construction issues here. The stitching is neat and regular, and looking at the crotch seam – the integrity of which is a great way to judge sewing quality – everything looks well made with no warning signs.

Finally, the jeans feature many vintage Levi’s sewing features, such as the V-stitch at the top button, and single chainstitched waistband.

Fit

I bought my 811s in size 31, the same size I wear in Full Count, Samurai, 3Sixteen, and most other brands (though I wear 32 in Flat Head.) The jeans came one-washed, which deserves special mention. Usually, one-washed jeans are either roasted in a drier to remove all the shrinkage, or else line-dried with shrinkage remaining. Eternal got this right: the jeans were stiff and crunchy, clearly not tumble dried as part of the process. I washed them just to be sure all the shrinkage was gone, and was pleasantly surprised that they hadn’t shrunk any further. You can confidently start wearing these right away without the need for further soaking.

The 811’s inseam measures 34”, the perfect length for me to wear with a single cuff. The hem is about 8”, so a good, versatile size that will go with engineer boots and sneakers alike. The waist is right around 31″, though I think it could stretch more if necessary. (I always wear a belt, so that eliminates undesired waist-stretching.)

The jeans have a nice, slim-straight fit overall. The leg is most similar to the Samurai S0500xx, but not too dissimilar to the Full Count 1108 and Samurai S710.

Where things get a bit iffy with the 811 is the fit above the top of the thigh. These jeans are surely the clunkiest-fitting pair I’ve ever worn, in terms of how they fit through the hip, with a strangely loose and boxy fit. They’re very comfortable, but feel a whole size too big in the top. Sizing down isn’t really a good idea, at least not for me, because the leg and waist fit just right.

You can see the butt “poking” out at the center seam.

I don’t have a very sizable butt, which doesn’t help things. The rear end of these jeans seems much more stretched-out than the rest of the jean. (Admittedly, this is a bit tough to see in the photos, where my shirt is hanging down to the point that sticks out the most.) The fit just isn’t as good in the top compared to my Flat Head 3005s – which are definitely not tight in the top by any means, but have a nice, proportional appearance. This is going to vary a lot depending upon the individual, but I’m unhappy enough with how this looks that I’m not sure if I want to keep these or not.

Conclusion

Eternal’s jeans are one of the better low-key values out there. These jeans offer excellent construction, beautiful denim with some of the best aging potential out there, and subtle details. The 811 is a fine pair for the raw denim curious and seasoned veterans alike – if you don’t have issues with the top block fit.

It’s a bit more expensive than some options like Japan Blue, but in my opinion the fit, construction, and fabric are all superior, so I’d encourage you to spend a bit more and see what these jeans can do. These jeans are also a good alternative to Flat Head – they offer similar fabric and fading potential in a cut that’s arguably better than most of Flat Head’s fits, and at a better price.

Really, the only negative is the clunky top block fit. If you can fill it out reasonably well, then you’ll appreciate a pair with Eternal’s pleasing combination of vintage vibes and modern subtlety. These are a great pair of jeans, and one that deserves more attention in a sea of cartoonishly slubby and neppy fabrics.

Review: Flat Head HNW-61W Shirt

Flat Head HNW-61W Western Shirt, Size 42; Purchased from 2ND in December 2011

I grew up in an era of fast, disposable fashion. Perhaps not quite as fast as today’s fast fashion, but still. Up through the end of college, almost my entire wardrobe changed from one year to the next – I’d buy stuff, wear it, get tired of it, give it to Good Will, and buy a new pile of junk two or three times a year. It wasn’t satisfying, and it wasn’t even fun. My experience was far from unique; most guys I knew were in this boat. We never even realized we were missing out on the simple, yet profound, joy of wearing an item for a long time and filling it with experiences.

But when I discovered raw denim and bought my first pair of Nudie Jeans in December 2009, things began to change. I held on to clothes longer. It took a long time to build a whole wardrobe of the same quality as my jeans, but a decade into the hobby. Today’s item under review is a Flat Head flannel western shirt, one of the oldest high-quality garments in my wardrobe.

In Fall 2011, I was an English teacher living in Japan’s frozen north. Because of a variety of fortuitous factors, like dirt-cheap rent, I had plenty of disposable income despite not making a lot of money, and started buying good quality clothing. I fell in love with the spectacular fabrics and designs of Flat Head, and bought a handful of their shirts over the winter months.

Now, all of those shirts are gone – sold off, at little to no loss. As much as I enjoy Flat Head’s shirts, most of them (unfortunately) just don’t fit me too well. This one, however, was just right. And I’ve kept it ever since; one of three that I currently own.

Design

Flat Head made, in my opinion, the best casual shirts on the planet from a holistic perspective of design and construction. Let’s look at the design first.

Like all of Flat Head’s HNW flannels, this is a western shirt design with its basic style inspired by 1940s Levi’s Shorthorn denim shirts. It features a single V-shaped front yoke, which was common on Flat Head shirts up until about 2011 or so, and Universal-branded snap buttons from YKK. The cuff is a two-button design, rather than the triple buttons found on some Flat Head western shirts.

One of the shirt’s best features is the fabric. Like all of Flat Head’s shirts, this one features an original fabric designed by Flat Head, and woven on a shuttle loom. Some Japanese brands offer chambray shirts made from selvedge fabrics, but it’s much more unusual to see it on a flannel shirt. For Flat Head, selvedge shirts are standard. The fabric is a medium weight flannel that’s been lightly brushed for softness. The bright shade of green used is just perfect, and not one you see often on flannel shirts. The contrasting gray threads help to temper it a bit, and keep the shirt from looking too loud.

An aspect of this shirt that stands out to me is the pockets. The fabric of the chest pockets is perfectly aligned to the pattern of the shirt, something I wish all flannel shirts did. Combined with the slanted design of the pockets, this leads to a very classy appearance.

Some other aspects of the design deserve attention. I’m not sure if this originated with Flat Head or another brand, but using the selvedge side of the fabric for the gussets at the sides of the shirt’s hem is one detail that’s been copied by many brands (though their shirts usually aren’t using selvedge.) The selvedge also pops up inside the right side of the shirt’s placket.

Finally, the buttons. I love the snap buttons Flat Head uses on their shirts. They’re Universal Gripper branded snaps made by YKK. The outer buttons are an understated black compared to Flat Head’s more common pearl buttons, but they suit this fabric perfectly. I have worn this shirt almost every week in the cool months of the year since 2011, and every button snaps just as firmly as when the shirt was new. That’s some serious quality; these are the best snaps out there. (I do not like the jacket-esque Permex snaps used on Iron Heart shirts.)

Construction

Flat Head is known for meticulously-crafted clothing, and this shirt is no exception. Most of Flat Head’s shirts were made by Nakajima Sewing in Gunma Prefecture, a small shop using vintage machines to craft their shirts. The shirt is made using several different techniques. The most prominent is double chainstitching over felled seams.

This technique is used on the side seams, shoulders, sleeves, and arm holes. One of the most difficult areas to get right is the seam where the side seam intersects with the arm hole, but they nailed it. Many shirtmakers will go the easy route and use an overlock stitch on the arm holes, but there’s no such corner-cutting here. The margin for error is even less when you consider that Flat Head sews their shirts with 100% cotton thread that’s more fragile (yet more expressive) than the usual polyester threads.

The shirt features single-needle stitching at the pockets, hem, and yoke. As usual, it’s very well done. The dark gray threads used for stitching blend in nicely with the fabric.

Over eight-plus years of wear, all of the stitches are intact and the shirt shows no sign of wear at all – other than the fabric breaking in and feeling softer from years of usage.

Fit

This Flat Head shirt has remained in my collection because it fits. The sleeves are long enough for my lengthy arms, and the hem is longer than most Flat Head shirts. It’s also a comfortable fit in the chest and shoulders. I wouldn’t say it fits quite as well as some of my other flannels, but considering Flat Head’s reputation for tight-and-short fits, I’m glad it works for me.

I like my flannel shirt sleeves to be just the right width – neither loose nor tight. The sleeves on this shirt feel perfect, and it’s easy to layer under jackets, or wear as an overshirt on top of a T-shirt.

One thing that I wish was a little different is the neck fit – it seems a little loose compared to the rest of the shirt, but it’s not very noticeable.

Conclusion

I’ve owned plenty of nice shirts and plenty of nice garments, in general. But none of them really compare to this shirt, which has seen so much, and is the oldest high-quality piece in my collection. It’s survived when so many others have gone on to other owners. This shirt feels like home.

Even though Flat Head isn’t dead yet, their future is still up in the air and it’s hard to say exactly what’s going to happen. The great news is that there are still plenty of awesome shirts like this one floating around on eBay, Grailed, and Yahoo Japan, often at great prices; essentially, New Vintage shirts that exceed the garments that inspired them. That’s a pretty solid legacy. If you can fit into Flat Head shirts, you should get some.

Review: Samurai S710xx, 365 days of wear

 

I set pretty consistent standards for myself, when it comes to wearing raw denim. I consider a project “complete” when it reaches 365 days of real wear time. So I track my wears like a nerd, using an Excel spreadsheet.

My Samurai S710xx, which I bought in mid-2012, took the longest amount of time, by far, of any pair I’ve worn to 365 days of wear. There are probably multiple levels of weirdness involved here (one of which is that the denim on these jeans is the fastest-fading I’ve ever worn), but none of them are because these are a bad pair of jeans. In fact, they’re great! They’re just not easy to wear.

What constitutes easy to wear is going to vary a lot from one person to the next. For me, it’s several things that these jeans don’t do as well as I’d like: most notably, the weight of the denim. This is a heavyweight pair of jeans, at 19 oz. (pre-soak.) They’re heavier after soaking; the heaviest jeans I currently own.

Interestingly, the weight had very little to do with why I bought these jeans. The main reason was because they appeared to be a good fit. I didn’t have much success with the fits on Japanese jeans up until this point, trying to wear slim tapered fits like the Pure Blue Japan XX-011, and the Flat Head F310 and SE05BSP. None of those worked very well for my proportions, but I was scared to wear something with a straighter fit than those. And I wanted a very long inseam to get those still-sort-of-popular-on-Superfuture stacking fades.

If there’s one thing I learned from this pair of jeans, it’s that you’ve got to take a holistic view of a garment, not just buying it for one specific reason, if you want to make it an everyday staple. I didn’t, and as a result, wearing these jeans sort of felt like a chore, even though on the surface I liked most things about them (especially the final result.)

Design

Samurai puts a lot of thought into the design of their jeans, but it’s a bit polarizing. Compared to other Japanese Americana brands, Samurai is in-you-face. Samurai emphasizes Japanese motifs on their jeans, and you can see it here in details like the rising sun design of the iron buttons, kanji-engraved rivets, the patch depicting a samurai duel, and the silver lamé selvedge. Not much about these jeans is very subtle.

But if that’s your thing, Samurai does it nicely. Sometimes these details can come at the expense of durability; the jacquard pocket bags feel fragile and flimsy, yet mine held together pretty well over the course of a years’ wear time. The jeans are sewn with all-cotton construction, a detail I usually love, but it feels a bit out of place on a heavier pair like this.

The usual repro-inspired jeans details are here: hidden rivets at the back pockets; overlocked inseam; V-stitch at the top button; half-chainstitched waistband; chainstitched hem; and so on.

Denim

The denim, of course, is the real star here. This is a 19 oz. unsanforized fabric with a rough, abrasive feel when new. It’s made from a short staple of American cotton, which adds to the texture. It’s pretty dark after soaking, but infamous for quick, dramatic fading. For many people, this is just what they’re after, making the S710xx a popular first pair of Japanese jeans – at least, until a wider range of affordable jeans from companies like Japan Blue proliferated, but I digress.

However, I was never overly enthused about this denim, neither the texture nor color being particularly close to my ideal. The problem is that objectively, my pair looks really good – actually, it’s just about my favorite-looking pair of S710s, which often look much more washed-out and pale than mine after this much wear. The contrast is close to ideal for me, and there’s a lot of interesting variation in the texture depending on the area of the jeans. I haven’t kept good track of washes; I think I’ve washed these jeans about eight times, the first at four months of wear.

So why am I not more enthusiastic about this pair? Well, I realized that I just don’t really like heavyweight denim. I like jeans that I can wear year-round, and 19 oz. unsanforized is not it. I was limited to wearing these in fall and winter, a limitation I didn’t really like since I like in the southeast US. Besides that, I feel that heavyweight denim, with its bigger, bolder patterns of fading, tends to look out of place if I’m not wearing it with flannels and rugged boots, which obviously I don’t wear in warmer weather. This isn’t a problem for more traditional denim weights – my Full Count 1108, for instance, looks great with any type of outfit. This pair taught me that 13-15 oz. is the sweet spot, and I’m not likely to go heavier than that from now on.

With all that said, if you want a great, fast-fading denim with a lot of character, it’s hard to go wrong with the denim on the S710xx.

Construction

Interestingly, the construction is one of the best aspects of this pair of jeans. They’ve held up incredibly well, with the sole exception of the back pockets, which have required pretty frequent hand repairs to fix broken cotton threads. The cotton stitching on the inseam and yoke in particular has held up very well. The chainstitch broke at the cuff (which is normal) but held up well elsewhere. The front pocket openings have had stitching wear away, but they haven’t fallen apart yet, and the thread didn’t come undone like on other pairs I’ve worn.

The back pockets have been a headache, though. The stitching has required numerous repairs to keep them intact. However, there are no imminent holes in the pockets, so that’s worth noting. Actually, there aren’t holes anywhere. For such a rough and abrasive denim, this 19 oz Otokogi denim has held up quite well. With another six months of wear the crotch would likely require repair, but elsewhere it’s in good shape.

The hardware is all high quality and I haven’t had any issues with losing rivets or buttons on this pair.

Fit

These are one of my better-fitting pairs, with a flattering slim-straight fit. The hem is a nice width for a variety of footwear, with a width of about 7.5”. The leg is a bit slimmer in the thigh than I usually prefer these days, but it’s still decently comfortable.

The main issue I have with the fit is the rise; if it was about an inch longer (particularly on the front rise) it’d be just about perfect. If I wear the jeans below my hipbones they’re quite comfortable, but I don’t usually like to wear jeans this low anymore so it doesn’t feel entirely natural.

Conclusion

This is a great pair of jeans and I’m very satisfied with how they’ve aged. But I doubt I’m going to keep wearing them much since the fit feels a bit too low on me and I’m not a big fan of heavyweight denim.

More than anything, I feel like heavy denim such as this is constricting, in more ways than one. I can’t wear it in as many different situations as lighter weight fabrics, and it’s just not as comfortable. On top of that, I prefer the “smaller” creasing patterns of midweight fabrics, and the more subtle sorts of fading.

In conclusion, this is a well designed pair that ages in a satisfying way. If you like a slightly tapered slim straight fit, heavyweight denim, or cool details, you will probably love these jeans. I’m very happy with how these have aged and how they’ve held up. But I definitely feel like I’ve grown beyond heavyweight jeans.

Review: Wesco 7500 Engineer Boot

In menswear, boots seem to exist on either end of two extremes. On one, you have sleek, elegant-looking boots exemplified by brands like Saint Laurent Paris, with narrow, aggressive profiles and a rock n’ roll aesthetic. On the other, you have rugged, utilitarian boots descended from the practical, sturdy footwear favored by blue-collar workers – loggers, firemen, factory workers, and the like. Personally, I like a balance between the rugged and sophisticated, but it usually demands a compromise at some point or another.

Today’s item under review, the Wesco 7500 engineer boot, aims to solve that problem. These boots are both elegant and rugged, a take on the classic engineer boot that ticks all the right boxes for me.

Design

The 7500 is quite different from the standard Wesco Boss, aesthetically speaking. It has a sleeker, almond-shaped toe profile, and a Vibram 700 sole rather than the heavy tread of the Boss. It’s accented by a light brown midsole, vintage-style triple stitched uppers, understated copper buckles, and a British Tan leather upper. This makes the 7500 look much less like a typical motorcycle boot than the usual black Boss boot.

The boots after a couple weeks of wear time.

I don’t ride a motorcycle or have particular interest in them, but I enjoy some elements of the look. Much of the Amekaji look we admire from Japan is descended from biker style, so to some extent it’s all intertwined. But I try to avoid going overboard. The 7500 re-envisions the engineer boot as a more neutral casual shoe that doesn’t stick too closely to any particular Amekaji sub-genre, and works just as well with biker style, workwear, or western-influenced looks. This versatility is likely to make these boots a cornerstone of my everyday style for a long time to come.

Clean, double stitching around the vamp gives the boots a rugged, yet classy look.

Stitchdown construction is a Wesco hallmark, and they’re one of two bootmakers I know (the other being fellow Pacific Northwest maker Viberg) who utilize this construction for their engineer boots. It definitely gives a different vibe from the typical Goodyear welt or hand-welted construction of engineers. What’s great about the stitchdown construction is how it balances out the somewhat almond-shaped design of Wesco’s Motorcycle Patrol toe and 1339 last. The combination of these two features emphasizes the elegant and rugged aspects.

The midsole and outsole have a similar effect. I love light brown midsoles and heel stacks, which give boots a warmer, earthier look than the more ubiquitous black sole on your average boot. The Vibram 700 sole is nice and thick, but with a subtle tread pattern that’s not too aggressive. All of this contrasts nicely with the upper leathers, as well.

The Vibram 700 sole.

Finally, the shaft of these engineers is slimmed compared to a standard Boss boot, which lets it fit comfortably under jeans with a hem as small as 7.5”. I have slim legs, so I still feel plenty of room around my calves. The back of the shaft has some nice V-shaped stitching that lends the boots a unique appearance.

Construction and Materials

The 7500 is nicely constructed. The boots have a hefty gravitas about them, lacking from less expensive boots like Red Wing’s, even if they’re not quite as obsessively perfect as engineers from the likes of Flat Head, John Lofgren, Role Club, or Clinch. Quality is comparable to Viberg’s, and better in at least some respects from the Vibergs I’ve handled.

The stitchdown construction is incredibly neat. The stitches are well spaced and symmetrical, much nicer than the stitchdown Viberg service boots I previously owned. The ecru color of the stitches offers a pleasant contrast with the uppers and midsoles. The sewing of the uppers is also very well done, using vintage-style triple-stitching rather than the double stitch standard on most Wesco Boss boots. Something about the straps doesn’t seem quite as refined as John Lofgren or Flat Head, but it adds a bit of ruggedness to the boots so I don’t really mind.

Triple stitching and brass buckles. The color here is very accurate.

The materials are impressive. The uppers are a leather Wesco calls British Tan Domane. It is a rich golden-brown hue with tons of pull-up, and a supple, oily feel. Its color and pull-up resembles Horween’s Natural Dublin leather, but without the unattractive irregularities common to that leather. The visual characteristics and feel are most similar to Chromexcel, but in a color that is in my opinion more attractive than any offering in Chromexcel. I’ve seen aged examples of boots made from this leather, and it offers impressive patina possibilities over time. After a couple weeks of wear time, there’s no sign of unattractive creasing like you’d see on some boots made from lower-quality Chromexcel.

The boots also feature brass buckles with a scuffed appearance. They’re hefty and attractive, though I prefer the ones used on the similar 7400 model.

There’s a little bit of cracking on the finish (?) on top of the midsole.

There are a few imperfections – the stitchdown runoff could’ve been a little cleaner, and there’s a bit more excess leather around the edge of the stitchdown vamp on the right boot than the other. The stitching around where the pull strap is sewn could also have been a little bit neater. However, the stitching of the uppers and double rows of stitchdown thread are very neatly done. I’d give the stitching neatness of this boot 8.5/10.

Fit

Worn with Flat Head 3005 jeans.

Fit has always been the most challenging part for me, on boots in general but especially engineers. I wear a 11.5 in most athletic sneakers, but went down to 10.5 E in these. My foot is long, but with a relatively low profile and not much girth. The width is just right in the forefoot, neither too narrow or wide. I have just enough toe space in the right boot (my right foot being about half a size bigger than the left.) After tightening the instep strap, the boots are a snug, comfortable fit on my feet.

As is the case with most boots that fit me properly, it doesn’t feel like there’s much break-in involved. At first, the right boot was a little uncomfortable to get off, but that quickly went away.

I feel like I could get a slightly more perfect fit with a custom pair, the left foot based around 10 E and the right foot 10.5 E, with just a little bit of extra length added at the toe, perhaps – my right foot is almost exactly a half size bigger than the left, and I’m definitely better off sizing for the larger foot rather than the smaller one (there’s no way my right foot would have enough toe room in size 10.) But fortunately, these are quite comfortable. I wore these boots during a trip to Chattanooga this fall, and walked over ten thousand steps a day in them on several occasions, with no soreness or discomfort anywhere in my foot, besides general light fatigue from being on my feet all day. Who says engineer boots aren’t suited for lots of walking?

Conclusion

The Wesco 7500 is a great pair of boots that does exactly what I want – bridge the gap between rugged, work-inspired boots and something a bit more elegant. They have the over-engineered toughness of all Wesco boots, in a versatile package that can work with many styles, and don’t scream “biker boots.”

It’s also worth noting that these are a great value – at $575, they’re reasonable priced for a boot that’s well made from high-quality leather. You can buy better boots from Lofgren, Flat Head, Role Club, or Clinch, but I don’t think anybody offers a better engineer boot for the money, especially when you consider how well designed and spec’d these boots are.

Review: The Real McCoy’s A-2 MJ18101

Even though I’ve been into Amekaji style for close to a decade now, I’ve spent the vast majority of that time without a leather jacket. This is a bit baffling, considering that such jackets are a core element of the style – for many Japanese enthusiasts a nice jacket is more of a style focal point than a pair of jeans. A great leather jacket can last you a lifetime and acquire substantially more beauty with wear, not to mention that they’re surprisingly versatile and great for varied weather conditions. But I was a bit late to the party.

The first leather jacket I ever wore was bought in 2011. The little town in northern Japan where I taught English did not, of course, have its own Amekaji store, but it was about forty minutes away from a big-box store called Mandai Shoten that sold used goods of all sorts – CDs, DVDs, video games, musical equipment, electronics, and of course, clothing. I filtered through the racks of leather jackets looking for something that would fit me. I chose a nondescript, black cafe racer style jacket that was pretty well beat up, and can’t even remember the brand. It cost about $70, and wasn’t made in Japan. I didn’t know anything about how a leather jacket should fit, and eventually sold it back since it never really looked right on me.

Years passed before I decided to try doing it right. In 2016, hot on the heels of having a decent-paying job for the first time in my life, I ordered a custom-fit 1930s-style jacket from Aero Leather. Made in Scotland from Italian veg-tanned horsehide, this was a great jacket, but I still didn’t really know what I was doing and made a few mistakes in how I designed it. First, it was too long (a motorcycle-style jacket should end at the bottom of your belt), but the collar and cuff style were not at all the sort that I liked. It took forever to sell this jacket and I lost a lot of money. I wasn’t eager to look for another one.

This year, I was finally ready to try again. I bought a Real McCoy’s A-2.

The Real McCoy’s is one of the most celebrated Amekaji brands, renowned for crafting meticulous reproductions of historical garments. Their A-2 jackets are arguably the brand’s signature product, and a great entry point to The Real McCoy’s, if you can stomach the steep price. Amazingly, this is the first Real McCoy’s garment I’ve purchased (and, as far as I can remember, the first I’ve even handled.)

Design

The A-2 is one of the most recognizable leather jacket styles. It’s universal, maybe even generic, and much less edgy looking than motorcycle-influenced jackets. This is one of the reasons I chose an A-2 for my jacket. I don’t ride a motorcycle, nor have much interest in them; they’re cool, but I would probably get myself killed trying to ride one. As a result, wearing a badass motorcycle jacket sort of makes me feel like a poser.

Wool ribbing, found on the cuffs and hem.

This jacket solves that problem because the A-2 doesn’t have such hyper-specific connotations. It can fit in with a range of styles, from the Mitt-Romneycore that dresses it with mom jeans, white socks, and loafers, to an erudite Japanese bohemian who wears it with roper boots, wabash pants, and a raglan sleeve T-shirt. The more neutral aesthetic of the A-2 makes it ideal for my style: one which evokes elements of various types of heritage styles without looking like a costume. I can’t entirely say that I’ve eluded poser-dom, but close enough.

The Real McCoy’s painstakingly reproduced the nitty-gritty aspects of the A-2, but they also made a few improvements, mainly with the fit. The original A-2 was often a boxy, loose jacket, and while this one isn’t exactly slim, it doesn’t look sloppy. The brand clearly took care to tweak the historical style while maintaining the spirit of the original. This works especially well for me because I’m tall and thin to begin with, so the final effect doesn’t look too trim anyway.

Reproduction tag.

The only knock I have against the design would be areas where I wish there were a few modern improvements. The biggest gripe I have is a lack of an interior pocket, where I could keep my phone. The front pockets can hold it, but my iPhone 6S still sticks out from the short pocket. I value modern usability more than historical accuracy when it comes to such things, but it’s hardly a dealbreaker. Also, if I’m honest, I would probably prefer that the cuffing was made of rayon or something similar – but the wool doesn’t bother me as much as I thought it might, and gives the jacket an earthier vibe.

The collar, with buttons snapped.

A design detail I love is the collar. I am very particular about collars; a good shape can make or break a jacket. This collar is perfectly shaped, and looks good with or without the buttons snapped.

Construction and Materials

My expectations were very high for this jacket based on what I’d previously heard about the quality of The Real McCoy’s jackets. They’ve been called one of the top jacket makers in the whole world; high praise, indeed. I’m glad to say that the jacket lives up to that reputation.

Zipper construction.

The quality of the sewing is quite impressive. It is very precise and beautiful. The construction of my Aero jacket was pretty good, but the McCoy’s construction is measurably better. Some areas stand out as particularly impressive: the front pockets, and the shoulder epaulets. The stitching here is simply perfect, and the cutting of the leather – a great way to gauge garment quality – is flawless.

Front placket sewing.

When viewed from the top of the collar downward, the stitching down the front of the placket doesn’t appear *perfectly* straight, but when viewed from the front it’s fine. This may be due to the natural variation of the leather’s surface texture. Other than this, I can’t find any flaws.

Epaulet sewing detail.

Speaking of the leather, it’s arguably the most important part of the whole thing. This jacket is made from vegetable tanned horsehide from Japan’s Shinki Hikaku tannery. In my opinion, Shinki’s horsehide is the finest outerwear leather on the face of the planet; the scent is heavenly. The feel is tough, but supple, and with wear the leather becomes softer and glove-like, with an increase in texture, sheen, and touch. The weight is just right, neither light nor heavy. The color is a rich seal brown, which contrasts nicely with a wide range of colors, and of course looks wonderful with denim.

The Shinki horsehide is richly textured, with a nice shine to it.

As a fan of cotton sewing, I was thrilled to find out that the jacket is sewn with 100% cotton thread. Even better, the thread is a custom gauge that is in between modern thread sizes. This kind of obsessive detail is the sort of thing that impresses me, even though I’m not specifically after exact historical accuracy. The A-2 features a Talon zipper, seriously heavy duty snap buttons at the pockets and collar, wool ribbing at the cuffs and hem, and a very sturdy neck hook that’s handy for keeping the collar closed when I hang up the jacket. The jacket is lined with a heavyweight, comfortable cotton twill that feels great.

Neck hook, and interior lining.

There’s nothing to criticize with the materials chosen; everything is top notch. A cutter meticulously clicks the leather to find the best part for each area of the jacket, similar to the way high-end shoes and boots are constructed. To top it all off, each jacket is completely constructed by a single artisan at The Real McCoy’s Kobe workshop. This old-world, inefficient method of production adds to the mystique of this McCoy’s jacket and further differentiates it from cheaper, mass-produced jackets – and, for that matter, from the mass-produced wartime jackets which inspired it.

The front pockets are stitched neatly.
The pocket snaps are heavy duty.

Although there has been some talk of declining quality at Real McCoy’s since founder Tsujita-san stepped down and his son took over, it hasn’t reached RMC jackets. Perhaps not surprising, considering that this is their signature product; I doubt the manufacture of these jackets has changed in quite some time. There are more fanatical jacket enthusiasts out there who might find something to nitpick, but I’m a satisfied customer.

Fit

With this A-2, I finally found a leather jacket that fits me. As a tall, skinny guy, something or another is usually either too short or too long on most jackets. It feels great to finally get one that feels natural.

This A-2 is just right in the arms, which tend to be either too loose or too tight on other jackets. I can wear my jacket with either a T-shirt or long-sleeved shirt, and the sleeves are comfortable and look good either way. Some folks would prefer a slimmer sleeve, but I like having some extra room. The sleeve length is just right, and helped out by the wool ribbing at the cuffs, which add some extra length. My long arms appreciate that. The shoulders have just the slightest bit of hang.

The chest allows a full range of motion when zipped, and feels like the correct width. I worried it might be too big before purchasing, but in fact it feels just right. The jacket’s length is also correct: the ribbing falls just below belt level. All of these aspects let me wear the A-2 and get a classic-looking fit that works for my body type. This jacket has a very versatile fit that should work for many different body types.

Conclusion

After spending some time with this jacket, the foremost question on my mind was: why did I wait so long to check out this brand? This A-2 nails all of my needs for a leather jacket, from the materials to the aesthetics and fit. I might have an insatiable appetite for flannel shirts, but all I really needed was one leather jacket, and this one is it. For those interested in motorcycle jackets and other military reproduction outerwear, the Real McCoy’s has those, too.

If you can handle the steep price point, The Real McCoy’s A-2 is about as good as it gets.

Strike Gold SGJ50S “Optical Ice” Jacket: Initial Impressions And Review

I have been trying to find a denim jacket that works for me for years now. I have the weird proportions of 6’3” / 165 lbs, so a lot of tops are too wide in the shoulders and/or too short in the sleeves. On top of that, I like a classic looking fit for jackets, where the hem of the jacket hits at the bottom of my belt. Many raw denim brands modify their jackets to make them quite a bit longer, and I don’t really like this.

I tried a TCB 50s jacket a few years ago. This had a great fabric, but it was very tight (particularly in the sleeves) and too long in the hem, so I wouldn’t have liked the look if I sized up. Some time later, I scored a 3Sixteen Caustic Wave jacket, and while it fit a bit better, it was still too tight, particularly in the sleeves. (A size L might’ve fit, but these were sold out by then.)

I went a while without looking for a denim jacket and sort of gave up. I kept wearing my Flat Head 7002w denim shirt like a jacket instead. But this year, I resumed the search. I needed something with long sleeves, not too much body length, and enough room in the chest and sleeves to comfortably accommodate a heavyweight flannel underneath, sweater, or sweatshirt underneath. Hand warmer pockets would be nice, but as long as I can fit my phone into a pocket somewhere, that would be enough. This Strike Gold jacket ticked all the boxes, aside from lacking hand warmer pockets.

Then it (fortuitously) went on sale at Self Edge, so I bought one in size 42.

The Setup

When I got the jacket, I tried it on and found that it was a bit big – which was perfect, because it’s unsanforized and would shrink a lot. I did my usual routine for unsanforized denim. I turned the jacket inside out, buttoned it, and hot-washed in my top loading washer with Woolite Dark detergent. After the wash, I hung the jacket up to dry. This seemed to get rid of all the shrinkage at once.

By the next morning, my jacket had finished drying and was ready to wear.

Steel buttons.

Design

The Optical Ice jacket is based on a 1950s Levis Type II jacket. Many Japanese denim brands offer something similar to this, but there are a number of thoughtful design details that stand out. First and foremost, the front pockets are big enough to easily hold my iPhone 6s. Tiny, unusable pockets are a big issue I have with many repro-style denim jackets, so I’m pleased that these are useful, while maintaining the classic look. 

The jacket features the double-pleated placket of all Type IIs, and it looks great. I like the contrast of the natural colored button holes against the rest of the denim. The jacket also features adjustable buttons on the back near the hem, a feature some makers omit from their jackets. It’s slim enough at the waist as is, so I left them alone.

Copper/Iron Rivet, reinforcing the cuff opening.

One cool detail worth noting is Strike Gold’s rivets – found near the sleeve opening. The flat round part is copper, and the prong/point is iron. This is a design detail unique (as far as I know) to Strike Gold, which over time will offer contrast with how the two metals age. On the other hand, the jacket’s buttons are steel – this is the one design detail I’m no crazy about, as I’d have preferred iron buttons due to their greater aging potential. But perhaps the buttons will surprise me with some wear, and they don’t look bad as is.

Deerskin patch.

Finally, the jacket has a deerskin leather patch below the collar. It’s soft and supple like deerskin usually is, but is a light, almost veg tan cowhide sort of color, which you don’t usually see with deerskin patches. I’m curious how it’ll age. By the way, I much prefer this type of patch to the super-thick chunk of veg tan cowhide many denim brands use for patches.

Gold Spark selvedge inside the placket.

The Denim

Alright, here we go. This denim is seriously wild. Probably the craziest I’ve ever owned.

Looking inside reveals the denim’s crazy texture.

I’ve never been into the really wild fabrics made by companies like Oni, Pure Blue Japan, and others. I tend to prefer the middle ground between those fabrics and vintage-style ones – represented by companies like Flat Head. I primarily bought this jacket for the fit and design, but I have to say the denim is quite impressive.

This is the same denim Strike Gold uses on the 5109 and 5104 jeans. The cotton is an extremely short staple, very rough and abrasive, but I wouldn’t describe it as slubby, as it’s not made with slub threads.

The warp is dyed extremely dark, though not quite as dark as Eternal or Flat Head, and the weft is gray, similar to Strike Gold’s 3109 denim and Pure Blue Japan’s XX-011 denim. In fact, the colors remind me more of the latter than any other fabric I’ve handled, though this denim is right-hand twill. This resemblance is a good thing, as PBJ’s XX-011 denim is one of my favorites.

You’ve got to have some pins on your denim jacket.

The weave is quite different, however. In a word, it’s crazy. The fabric was woven under extremely low tension on a very creaky loom, leading to a wildly uneven fabric with thick horizontal irregularities. Kiya’s description of the denim as having a feel reminiscent of an old Persian rug seems apt. It reminds me a bit of a very high-quality burlap sack. The texture comes from the short-staple cotton and the weave. The weave is extremely loose as well – once this jacket is broken in, it should be comfortable in warmer weather, and it’s already clear that it’s exceptionally breathable (though it does add warmth as a layering piece.)

The fabric is, of course, unsanforized and completely loomstate. It’s described as 15 oz, though the extreme texture of the fabric makes it feel maybe a bit heavier than that.

There have been many faded examples of the 5109 jeans featured on Reddit and elsewhere, so I have a pretty good idea how this denim will fade, but I’ve never seen any faded samples in jacket form. Due to the nature of the denim, I think it will age quite a bit faster than the average jacket. With only a few wears, I see hints of electric blue fading on the arms.

Adjustable waist buttons.

Construction

I can’t speak for sure about the machines used in constructing the jacket, but it’s safe to say that vintage Union Special and Singer machines probably did much of the sewing. It is made with 100% cotton thread, which as you might know by now, is one of my favorite nitpicky points of denim construction. These yellow threads ought to fade to a nice lemony color over time.

There is a lot of heavy-duty chain stitching in the jacket, as is normal for Type II jackets. I have to say, I’m really impressed by the quality of Strike Gold’s construction. The sewing is very neat and regular, definitely on the same level as Flat Head at their best.

The only other thing I have to say about the construction is that I wish the pleats were pressed a little bit more. I haven’t had much success trying to iron it to be a bit more flat, but this isn’t necessarily the fault of Strike Gold; more likely just a side effect of shrinking the jacket inside-out with a machine wash.

The Fit

Success! I finally found a denim jacket that fits just how I want. In fact, I’d say that in each dimension, it fits ideally. It has an overall vintage appearance, but with a few thoughtful additions (like slightly narrower shoulders) that make it a bit more wearable than a more vintage Type II jacket.

The sleeves are the perfect width and will easily accommodate any of my shirts, and the sleeve length is just right, as well. Often denim jackets taper a lot in the forearm; thankfully, this one does not.

The length is also correct. I hate it when denim jackets end far below the belt, so I like that this one ends right around the bottom of my belt.

Conclusion

Strike Gold’s jeans have always intrigued me, but their fits don’t really work on my body. Fortunately, this jacket fits just how I wanted, and will be a wardrobe staple for years to come. Even though I wasn’t necessarily seeking out a jacket made from a really non-traditional denim, I really like the fabric and how different it is from my other jeans. It’s easy to recommend this jacket to anybody who wants a slightly-modernized Type II with some unique attributes. I might still want a more traditional denim jacket at some point, but this one will see a lot of usage, and is easy to recommend.