Well-Made Essentials » Defining 'well-made' and 'essential'

The Foundation of our Buyer’s Guides

How do we define ourselves? Are we denimheads? Most likely, yes. Is the clothing we love workwear? Yes and no. Vintage? Sometimes. Heritage? Not necessarily.

The manifesto for these buyer’s guides establishes the principles and priorities for how we choose our clothes. And we’re calling it ‘well-made essentials’ because this captures everything we want to include.

On this page we cover:

Not everything on our lists is denim. But everything is well made and, as we argue, absolutely essential.

Denimheads love premium selvedge, but they also love loopwheeled cotton tees, wool cardigans, leather jackets, and silver accessories.

If you agree that these are essential pieces, and if you want goods that are made passionately and without compromise, our Well-Made Essentials Buyer’s Guides will hit you square between the eyes.

Our Definition of ‘Essential’

Everything ‘essential’ fits two criteria: it’s both timeless and adaptable.

Essential Criterion #1: Timeless

A well-made garment is not rooted in a particular time or place. True, it might be associated with epochs in time and perhaps with a very specific place as well, but timeless style has battered down the fences that once held it in place.

It might be reminiscent of the garments worn by nineteenth-century railroad workers or of motorcycle outlaws of the ‘50s, but these styles have endured. They’ve remained steadfast as flash-in-the-pan fads have come and gone. They have lasted for a reason. 

Think of the Lee Storm Rider or the Levi’s 501, of the M65 or the N1, of the Converse All-Stars or White’s Semi-Dress boots. Since the introduction of these items, there hasn’t been a time when they haven’t been worn stylishly and passionately. 

We are confident that every item we recommend will live comfortably in your wardrobe for as long as you own it. It won’t go out of style by the time the leaves change colour.

Essential Criterion #2: Adaptable

Denim makes a strong case for itself as the world’s most adaptable fabric. It can be dressed up or dressed down, and it always seems at home. Like denim, the other pieces in our guides can be rolled through the rotation with ease.

Some items we recommend might combine effortlessly across styles and looks; others might only work with a handful of looks. But being adaptable doesn’t mean the item has to work with everything.

When we splurge on a full well-made kit, we know that the components of the outfit can be broken apart like lego pieces and assembled into new looks. Our new pieces can live comfortably next to time-worn favourites at the back of the closet. This is what it means to be adaptable.

Back to overview

Our Definition of ‘Well-Made’

‘Well-made’ does not equal expensive. Yes, the brands and pieces we drool over are often ten times (give or take) the cost of what we can pay if we shop at fast-fashion outlets, but it’s not the price tag that separates the wheat from the chaff.  

That said, in the world of well-made goods, cost connects tangibly to the makers behind the brand—to their skill as artisans and to the passion with which they make everything that bears their name. 

The principle that distinguishes the best from the rest is this: Passion Before Fashion

The makers we highlight in our Buyer’s Guides are all guided by this ethos. They strive to distinguish themselves with a meticulous dedication to the tailor’s art, not with outlandish prints or cuts.

For those who know what to look for, the evidence of this is fairly easy to spot. We use three criteria: fabric, construction, and intention.

Well-Made Criterion #1: Fabric (what it’s made of)

We can take it for granted that your list of essentials includes a few denim pieces, but you’re probably also looking at a good mixture of non-denim vintage workwear staples as well.

Whether it’s made of cotton, wool, or leather, the well-made garment tends to be on the heavier side of the spectrum. The makers have paid close attention to how the fabric was made, where it was produced, and by whom. 

We can see this care on the face of the fabric. When we rub it between our fingers or run our palms over its surface, we can verify that the garment hasn’t been rushed through a factory process. It’s been passionately made, and its makers know it will be worn with the same kind of passion. 

Well-Made Criterion #2: Construction (how it’s made)

To merit inclusion in our list, makers should demonstrate meticulous attention to even the smallest detail. 

Similar to the fabric, the construction of a well-made garment translates into both a tactile and a visual experience. Even when the material (especially denim) is exceptionally heavy, the stitches are clean, even, and purposeful.

Crucial stress points (such as the crotch in pants, and the shoulders in tops) should show that the garment will stand the test of time. We can feel the garment’s durability and quality when we slide it on.

We can also see it. The care surrounding construction is often visible to the naked eye (often when the garment is still on the rack). From across the room or under the microscope, it stands up to even the most meticulous scrutiny. 

Turn the garment inside out and inspect the nooks and crannies. You’ll see the same care on the inside as you will on the outside. The maker is counting on you to do this. German atelier, Johann Ruttloff says that the inside of a pair of jeans is his “playground.” Makers who put passion before fashion want you to notice this attention to detail.

Well-Made Criterion #3: Intention (why it’s made)

Well-made goods aren’t made to be worn for a season or two. They’re built to last. Subject a fast-fashion item to the same kind of abuse you put a well-made garment through and it will be ready for the rag heap before the seasons change.

Well-made goods are built of stronger stuff, and with a longer lifespan in mind. And it’s usually up to you, the wearer, to ‘finish’ the garment by wearing it until it has lost that fresh-off-the-rack look. The well-made piece reaches its apotheosis in the hands of a passionate wearer who inscribes his or her lifestyle onto the face of the garment. The well-made piece is made to fade. 

Well-made goods are made to last and, paradoxically, they are made to fade. Enthusiasts seek out jeans with a reputation for being fast faders. This doesn’t mean that the garment has a shorter lifespan—only that it will begin to show signs of vigorous wearing quite early. A well-made pair of jeans might last for a decade or longer if they are repaired regularly. A great denim or leather jacket might be passed down to the next generation as an heirloom piece.

Well-Made Essentials » Defining 'well-made' and 'essential'