Achieving the correct shade of white is more of an art than a science. A new Porsche 911 flying by in blinding white might be a far cry from elegance, but a vintage eggshell Porsche 356 defines elegance. This nuance is the beauty of white, a color that improves so few things that you always remember when it does. Denim is certainly one of those things.
Finding white denim that works for you can be daunting, but the main rule (like so much great menswear) is make your own rules. “They should be at least two or three days dirty,” says Ramdane Touhami, founder of Paris/Japan-based apothecary empire Buly 1803, “worn with a few paint stains, an off-white cashmere sweater and Birkenstocks.” While some let nature take its course, others look to cult favorites––or Japan—for that lived-in patina. Gauthier Bosarello of l’Etiquette Magazine and Le Vif boutique is loyal to his first pair from Anatomica, also scouring eBay for 1980s Levi’s 505’s. “I love white denim as a uniform on men with impeccable taste, who appreciate aesthetics,” he says, noting Peter Saville––the graphic designer who gifted the world with New Order and Joy Division covers––among his favorites.
Success is easily identified and usually comes in a stylish form of can’t-touch-me nonchalance. It’s a rebellious air of ignorance, or indifference, to the fact that one’s clothes are susceptible to disaster at every turn: every meal, every outdoor seat, every subway ride brings the threat of stains. The white ensemble Gary Cooper wore while fishing and sailing was only made better by the giant fish he caught while wearing it. He knew that the secret to wearing white well is not being too precious about it.
Not convinced? I was a white denim skeptic until Brunello Cucinelli and Tonne Goodman, unknowingly, converted me with the relaxed character they brought to theirs: always a little loose, just gracing the ankle bone and paired with neutral tones like grey or beige. Jamie Ferguson, the charming style photographer, took to wearing them after seeing how fellow photographer Robert Spangle treated his like any other well-loved jeans––stains be damned! The point of white denim is to live a full life in them––a little less polished, a little more unruly.
OrSlow 107 Slim-Fit Denim Jeans
OrSlow’s jeans are made in Japan using old-world manufacturing techniques that allow each pair to wear in well. Photographer Jamie Ferguson prefers them for their higher rise and slim cut, without being too slim.
Fortela ‘John’ Jeans
Indie brand Fortela uses Japanese selvedge canvas created on original old sewing machines with Italian tailoring sensibility. The founder, white denim devotee and Pitti Uomo style fixture, Alessandro Squarzi, prefers them to trousers that—unless clean—aren’t great to look at. White denim, he says, is more charming when dirty and affordable to wear.
A.P.C. ‘Martin’ Jeans
Made from a crisper shade of white Japanese denim, A.P.C.’s jeans will only get better with a few character-building scuffs and snags. But even in their fresh state, these are an ideal summer pant.
Brunello Cucinelli Over-Dyed Stretch Cotton Jeans
Cucinelli is the master of casual luxury, so it’s no surprise that he makes a superlative pair of white jeans. These ones in an over-dyed Italian denim look just as good with a blazer as they do with a simple tee.
Acne Studios ‘River’ White Jeans
Acne Studios’ jeans are cut with a tapered, slightly cropped leg that underscores white denim’s casual appeal. Paired with a cream-colored shirt or similarly neutral knit, they’re a recipe for off-duty elegance.
Levi’s Red Tab 501 Jeans
Sometimes you can’t beat the classic. While Levi’s may be best known as the originator of blue jeans, the brand’s iconic 501 model looks particularly handsome in this creamy eggshell hue.
Anatomica 618 Jeans
Another Japanese export and a prime example of white denim excellence, Anatomica’s high rise, straight leg jeans are beloved by everyone from London’s sartorial history buff Anthony Sylvester to Paris’s Le Vif founder Gauthier Borsarello.
RRL Rigid Mid-Rise Slim Fit Jeans
White jeans exemplify two poles of the Ralph Lauren world: the rugged Americana of denim and the country club heritage of tennis whites. This pair, with a trim cut in a hefty rigid denim, can easily go either way.