Utilitarian and unpretentious, denim is perhaps the fabric most readily associated with that elusive essence of ‘effortless cool’ that is so highly sought after and simultaneously so difficult to nail down. Initially worn by American gold miners in the 19th century before being adopted by early 20th century cowboys and later, motorcycle-riding ‘bad boys’, it evolved to become synonymous with a sense of youthful freedom and rebellion. Style icons like Steve McQueen, Marlon Brando and James Dean only further cemented its status as a sartorial staple to be embraced by men the world over, and it persists as one of the most ubiquitous cloths in fashion, regardless of shifting style trends.
Denim’s enduring popularity can be attributed to its incredible versatility: its simplicity and understatedness enables it to be interpreted in myriad ways, whether dressed down in homage to its workwear roots or integrated into tailoring and formal eveningwear (yes, we're talking about you Ralph Lauren). The comfort and ease-of-wear to which denim lends itself makes it a seasoned favourite: it takes just a quick glance around any of the world’s most fashionable cities to note the inventive ways in which it is being appropriated. Of course, the classicality of denim jeans makes them a perennial staple, but how they are styled is completely up to the wearer. This season has seen them belted at mid-waist, either with a raw and rugged aesthetic or a clean-cut minimalism. But the appeal of denim extends beyond the humble jean: Western shirts are having a moment, responsible for bringing a touch of old-school Americana to more contemporary ensembles and seen on the streets paired with everything from Stetson hats and cowboy boots to blazers, pocket squares and ties. The denim jacket also endures as the ultimate transitional throw-on-and-go piece, whether layered nonchalantly over a plain white tee or worn underneath a sophisticated overcoat.
The grainy quality of denim makes it ideal for layering with other interesting textures - think corduroy, leather, wool and linen. Even coupling different colours and cuts of denim in a 21st century take on the Canadian tuxedo can instantly elevate an outfit: as summer nears, white and pale blue shades will replace dark indigos and blacks. For a modern approach, keep combinations minimal and relatively fuss-free in muted tones. Accessorise with understated jewellery, a signature pair of sunglasses and a raffish air of insouciance for ultimate effect. Ultimately, it’s a matter of experimenting and pushing the boundaries, playing with conventions and breaking them. When building up your denim collection, it pays to invest in high-quality staples that will stand the test of time and beg to be worn time and again. Make your pieces what you want them to be by injecting your own sense of style and adding flair where you see fit. For of all fabrics, denim truly is the ultimate agent of self-expression.