What The Hell is a Grail Item Anyway? The History of the Term and My Quest for the Ultimate Imperishable Wardrobe

If you are reading this article without someone forcing you to (and what kind of cruel punishment would that be?) then you are likely familiar with the term “grail.” If you don’t know what this term means, then you do not know where it traces its origin from and if you don’t know what the original grail is, then you are 1: not and have never been a Christian and 2: have not seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Having no association with a certain religion is obviously perfectly fine. However, if you have not seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail, I have to seriously question what was wrong with your parents and/or friends. What kind of terrible sense of humor did they have that they did not show you this masterpiece of pants-pissing hilarity? Were they Sarah Silverman fans or something?

Joking aside, the term “grail” comes from the mythical Holy Grail that Jesus Christ supposedly used during the Last Supper before his death and also supposedly also the cup that Joseph of Arimathea received Christ’s blood in. In the Middle Ages, when Christianity was even more popular and widespread than making fun of Nickelback, the legend of this cup was woven into the idea of a vessel that gave whoever possessed it happiness or infinite life. It was heavily associated with Arthurian legend and Medieval literature. This was of course parodied in the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail and was a major part of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as well as The Fisher King, Persona 5, and the Fate game/anime series. (As I write this, I can’t help but realize that all of these are actually pretty great films, games, and anime series.) Regardless, in the Mirriam-Webster dictionary, the first definition is the religious-related one, but the second states that a grail is “the object of an extended or difficult quest.” This second definition is certainly traced from the first one and does explain how the term transitioned into a fashion/clothing term.

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As I understand, the association of this term with clothing started with sneaker heads sometime in the ‘90s. I imagine it started off as a term referring to any sneaker that did not make the wearer look like Jerry Seinfeld, but the ‘official’ urban dictionary definition states that a grail is “the shoe that sneakerheads want the most for their collection. The shoes they will do anything for… including selling or trading their whole collection for it.” It isn’t hard to see how this term quickly worked its way into other parts of the clothing world. Today, the term is highly prevalent in the world of raw denim, workwear, leather jackets, and vintage-style clothing. There is at least one thread on superdenim with “grail” in the title, denimbro uses “grailed” as a title for its most senior members, and one of the most popular websites for selling denim and workwear is called “grailed.” At this point, the term seems to mean one of two things: 1. A highly desired item that is difficult to attain due to rarity and/or price and 2. Jeans that has reached the ultimate form of fades due to quality of the denim the effort and commitment the wearer has given them.

Already, there is a problem here. The denim world already uses the term for more than one definition. The first is more prevalent, but even with that definition, there is an issue. The term is more overused than Nickelback jokes (see what I did there?). People have a grail item for every single item of clothing from hats to shirts to jeans to jackets and some of multiple grails for each item. Hell, I myself have been guilty of this. I have used this term to death. I would have a grail item, obtain it, then have a new grail item. I don’t know where to begin discussing how stupid this is. Even the sneakerheads used the term more properly and they were co-opting it to begin with. I, like so many others, have turned to using the term “grail” to just mean any awesome, expensive, and desirable item of clothing. Worse still, we have begun using it to refer to brands and items that are the best of the best of a certain category. This is completely incorrect and I admit that I am absolutely part of the problem here.

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Just because a Himel Bros. jacket is expensive or a (insert random Freewheelers or Mister Freedom piece that they don’t make anymore, but everyone wants them to make again here) is rare and difficult to obtain does not make them grail items automatically. The sneakerhead definition refers to the one single item that you want more than anything else and do anything to get. Hell, a Himel jacket is throwaway money for some people. If we were to go further back to the original definition, the grail would have to be one single agreed upon item or release that everyone in the entire denim/workwear world wanted and it would have to make you immortal! OK, I was kidding about that last part, but the part where everyone would have to agree would be just as impossible if we’re being honest here. Hillary and Trump will have a slumber party together before Oni and Tanuki fans are accepted by the rest of the denim world.

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Analyzing all of this lately has made me realize that if we are going to continue to use the term “grail,” it should refer to the one single item of clothing that a person wants more than anything and that item will be very difficult for them to obtain. The reason I realized this was that I came to the understanding that I actually don’t have a grail item right now. At 25, I actually don’t have a single item of clothing that I truly covet more than anything. Sure, I’ll probably buy more leather jackets down the road and yes, I really wish that Freewheelers would remake the Morgan trousers in olive so I could have them in my size, but I don’t feel the need for any of those items. The last item on my list was actually quite incredibly difficult to obtain and did truly fit the definition of a “grail” item more than even most crazy rare pairs of sneakers do.

The item in question is a pair of boots from White Kloud. These are handmade, handwelted boots that are constructed entirely by one man in a small neighborhood in Tokyo, Japan with less than 60 pairs being produced every year. They are likely the best made work boots on the entire planet and are unsurprisingly, prohibitively expensive. This alone makes them worthy of grail status, but there is something else that makes them deserve the “grail” moniker. You have to go to Japan to meet and be measured by the man who makes White Kloud boots in person. This means that if you are from the western world, you need to fly to Japan and back to get these boots. As a result, to obtain these, you are looking at spending at somewhere around $6,000 at least to get these boots plus waiting nearly 2 years in total.

I knew that there was a chance that I would never own these boots, despite them being the item I wanted most in the world other than a Himel Bros. leather jacket (which I do own). Through a series of very fortunate circumstances, I was able to make this happen and my boots should be done less than a year from now. According to Goto-San, the owner and sole maker of White Kloud, I am the 5th non-Japanese person ever to buy a pair of boots from him. Based on his blog, at least 2 or 3 of these people are workwear and denim celebrities who already have reason to travel to Japan which means that they really are a true grail item.

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Not all personal grail items are this extreme, but this example is more along the lines of what I think a grail should be than what I used to refer to a grail as. With this definition set for myself, I do feel that I need another term to use for those ultimate items of a given category that I used to use “grail” for. My favorite example is from Megatron1505, the operator of the Denim World Championships and former author of the DenimHQ blog. His term was First World Artefact and referred to items that were timeless, made ethically and of the highest quality materials and to the highest standard, durable, and something that would be with you for your entire life.

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I absolutely love this approach to quality clothing. This way of thinking has influenced me greatly since I first read that blog 2 years ago. In fact, Megatron1505 is one of the biggest reasons I actually found out about White Kloud in the first place. I’ll be honest, I’m basically going to paraphrase his idea of the First World Artefact and use it for my own blog because frankly, I love it and also because he stopped his blog a long time ago and hopefully won’t mind. Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, right? I won’t be using the same term, but I will follow a similar line of thinking.

My ultimate items that most people would refer to as grails will be called imperishables (notice that I not-so-sneakily inserted that word into the title of this article.) These are items that I consider to be the absolute best of the best in terms of construction quality, materials, durability, and aesthetics. They are items that I love, that will always look good no matter the current fashion trend, and are the best of the best in terms of quality. In many categories, it is pretty hard to define what is the very best, but all items will at least be in the very top tier. At the same time, I will also review and discuss items that belong in lower level tiers. In fact, the very next article will be about these specific tiers and how they work so stay tuned for that!

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