*Note – this is an opinion piece. Feel free to disagree of course, but if you are already angered by the title, you probably should just stop reading now. This article is mainly meant for people who are relatively new to the world of denim/boots/heritage clothing and are having this myth spread to them.*
In a subculture and clothing style as steeped in a warped view of both history and masculinity as raw denim/heritage/boots/amekaji is, there are bound to be numerous myths, misconceptions, and misleading beliefs. They range from being annoying to downright disgusting and I must admit that I myself have believed and even perpetuated quite a few of them. There are quite a few myths that I would like to bust including the idea that you shouldn’t wash your jeans much if at all and the belief that slim jeans make people look slimmer. However, today I am going to tackle the misheld belief that durability is equivalent to quality.
To be fair, I do understand why some people believe this. For some products, durability is in fact the main telltale sign of quality. However, this is not always the case. Some people take the importance of durability from one or a few items that they own or know of and project that onto everything that they own or would like to own. This is the first and most important mistake. What determines the quality of a product is its purpose. Quality is the standard of something measured against other similar items and its overall degree of excellence. Therefore, durability can be part of or the main determiner of quality, but it depends on the item.
In terms of amekaji/heritage clothing and boots, durability is often an important factor, but certainly not the only important factor when determining how great a boot or piece of clothing is. From my experience, the incorrect belief that durability is the main determining factor of quality is held by a couple of subsections of denim/boot fans which sometimes overlap. The first group is the heavy denim crowd, a group that also often incorrectly believes that heavy jeans are always more durable and long lasting over general wear than lighter weight jeans. The other group is the group that I like to call the “‘Murricans.” These ‘Murrican denim heads are not even exclusively American, although it seems like the majority of them are. They generally believe that made in USA products are superior, tout the workwear heritage of items more than most, and also generally try to act and appear “tough” and “rugged.”
In general, what I have seen and heard is people speaking of durability as the determining factor of quality due to the workwear roots of the garments we wear as well as the fact that they personally want their clothing and boots to be durable. The fact is that the vast majority of what we wear is not actually meant to be workwear. What most of us wear are repro garments or modern interpretations of what used to be workwear garments. In addition, a lot of what we wear now was never meant to be workwear in the first place. Obviously, clothing should be durable to some degree. However, it is not the only important aspect of clothing.
As a basic example, a piece of iron is durable, but that does not make it a quality item. Another example would be cars. Certainly, consumer cars should be durable and reliable, but not all cars are designed with that as the main goal. Sure, a Peterbilt rig is made to be long lasting and durable, but a Formula One car is made to be fast. Yes, the Formula One car should not fall apart immediately so durability is part of its design in some way, but it is far from the first consideration. Even the Peterbilt truck has other important factors that were considered in design. The truck has to be able to tow heavy loads, be comfortable for the driver, have large fuel capacity, and have decent visibility. Modern truck makers are also doing their best to make the trucks as fuel efficient as possible too.
Similarly, a pair of engineer boots should be durable to a degree, but the main purpose of them is not to be tough as nails and be able to survive a forest fire and a direct hit from a 120MM Rheinmetall cannon. In the first place, all engineer boots today are reproductions because outside of a few nostalgia routes, nobody is using steam trains anymore. On that note, the original purpose of the engineer boot was not even to be insanely durable. Engineer boots were meant to be worn by stokers- the guys who shoveled coal into the train boilers. These were guys that work extremely hard, but actually did not walk all that much because they were in a train cab most of the time.
A reproduction chambray shirt may be fairly thin and have cotton stitching so it will not be as durable as a 12oz denim shirt with polyester stitching, but it will have other major advantages. The repro chambray will be lighter, more breathable, more faithful to original garments (if you care about that), and easier to repair if stitching does break thanks to the cotton stitching. I am not saying that this makes this shirt better than the modern denim shirt with poly stitching, I am just saying that they both are made with different goals in mind.
Keep in mind that a lot of what people love about this amekaji/heritage clothing is specifically how it falls apart and ages. To myself and many other denim heads, the most beautiful pairs of jeans, denim jackets, and shirts are the ones that are on their last legs. They have been worn threadbare in several places, repaired several times, and are kind of falling apart. In a similar way, when a pair of boots is really worn in and needs to be resoled is when they look best to a lot of people who enjoy this type of clothing. Even the toughest, most durable boots cannot survive everything and will need to be resoled at some point.
Sure, a pair of Iron Heart jeans is meant to be durable, but again, that is not the only goal of their jeans. To be fair, I do not know the designer, Haraki-San, but from what I understand, his jeans were originally meant to be worn by motorcycle riders and the reason the jeans were a heavy 21oz was for fall protection. Protection and durability are certainly related here, but there were other considerations as well. There had to be because if durability was the only factor thought of, then the jeans would be basically unwearable due to lack of comfort and range of motion.
Also, if toughness were the only important factor, then Iron Heart would not bother to make selvedge jeans dyed with indigo that are meant to fade in an aesthetically pleasing way. This is not a dig at Iron Heart at all by the way. Of course they have to take in other considerations for their products. They would be crazy not to! My point is simply that even for a brand that is famous for toughness and durability, there are many other important factors to their clothing.
The same goes for the hardcore work boots that people mention quite often when talking about durability. The amount of times I have seen someone say that a pair of Whites/Wesco/Nicks boots are the best because they are “the most durable” rivals the amount of times I’ve seen people call chambray ‘denim.’ Just because a pair of 16” tall work boots with quadruple leather midsoles, 24oz leather uppers, and a depleted uranium shank is durable, does not mean it’s a good boot. More realistically, just because Smokejumpers or Builder Pros are more durable than a pair of Clinch Grahams or John Lofgren Donkey Punchers does not mean they are better boots. They are built for quite different purposes and honestly, you probably shouldn’t be wearing Smokejumpers or Builder Pros for anything other than serious work and manual labor situations. They clearly serve their purposes well, but they are specific purposes.
Another example is the simple thickness of leather. As with jeans, many people seem to be under the impression that the thicker the leather (or the jeans) the more durable and therefore better it is. This is not necessarily true. While in some examples and situations, a thicker piece of leather could be more durable than a thinner piece, there are other factors that go into this. The quality of the original hide, the tanning methods, how well the leather is cut and/or skived, and how the leather is finished and turned into a product all matter in terms of durability. In addition, just because a piece of leather is thicker and more durable in some situations does not automatically make it better. If you use leather that is too thick, you cannot make certain items.
This article is not meant to argue that heavy jeans or thick, heavy duty boots are bad by any means. For some people and in certain situations, they do serve a purpose. Plus, I know that it is silly of me to judge people’s taste in clothing. If we’re honest with ourselves, much of what we wear in this clothing hobby/subculture is impractical. My more vintage-style repro-oriented clothing is just as, if not more impractical than anything else in the denim/amekaji world. I can and probably will write an entire article eventually on that subject.
However, a major reason that I do have an issue with the idea of durability being the harbinger of quality is that for most of us, this is largely irrelevant. Sure, we want our clothing to be long-lasting, but almost every brand in the amekaji/heritage world makes products that are durable enough for most people. Pretty much none of us actually live “rugged” lives. Even the people who do yard work in their “workwear” are overdoing it. I wear my Nick’s boots when doing manual labor, but if I’m honest with myself, they are not necessary. I could pretty much do all of it in a pair of Converse. There are some people who wear their raw denim and/or boots to do actual work and that is great, but that is a miniscule minority of people who wear selvedge denim and heritage boots.
I’ve seen people go hiking in Grant Stone boots which while not cheap, are not made to be hyper-durable. The boots took the punishment with no issues at all. I have even seen someone wear cotton stitched denim to do construction work and they actually did a pretty good job holding up. I’ve also seen several people wear cotton stitched jeans to do carpentry work and again, they did fine. I’m not saying that there aren’t technically better products for these situations, but my point is that the vast majority of people do not require extremely durable products to live their lives. With this being the case, why do we prize durability so much?
A huge majority of amekaji/heritage nerds such as myself also own several pairs of jeans and multiple pairs of boots. In many cases, multiple pairs of boots are sold before the treads on their Vibram soles are even worn through. Most of us do not ride motorcycles and do not need thick jeans. In fact, most of the people I know that do ride motorcycles that are into this clothing wear standard weight jeans.
With all else equal, the more durable boot is objectively the better boot. However, in most cases, all else is not equal. Those other factors must be considered. If you like super heavy jeans and/or crazy tough work boots with ultra thick leather, that’s great. Like whatever you like. Just don’t believe or go around telling people that these products are better than others or the best just because they are so tough and durable. If you actually need real work boots, then this whole article is completely irrelevant to you and in that case, durability is a prominent, if not the most prominent consideration along with support/comfort. However, the issue is the numerous people who act like or even say that they need work boots when they do not actually need them at all.