Trouser Tuesday: Iron Heart Beatle Busters 21oz jeans

Welcome to the first post in what is intended to be a substantial run of trouser reviews. I intend to cover a variety of trousers, both with regards to style and materials. My aim is to help my readers become more informed and aware of what goes into a pair of trousers (and I don’t mean your legs, though that is obviously also true).

P1050047

The rear leather patch on a brand new pair of Beatle Busters

To kick things off I’ve selected one of my most notable pairs of trousers, the Iron Heart Beatle Busters. Iron Heart is considered to be one of the premier Japanese producers of quality jeans, most notable known for it’s use of heavyweight denim fabric and the attention to sturdiness in their construction. There is a certain level of biker chic in what they do, where the jeans are said to be both inspired by and appropriate for motorcycle use. I’m not really into this side of the denim look, but I can certainly appreciate a well made and solid pair of denim trousers!

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A little bit of info attached to the rear pocket. A nice touch.

In a world where it seems every cool designer is a Japanese pedant with an extreme focus on detail and a near autistic fascination with vintage Americana, it is quite refreshing to note that the Beatle Busters are actually designed by a female German denim enthusiast who goes by the nickname Beatle. This is becoming something of a trend, whereby denim enthusiasts go from being enthusiastic wearers to designers of denim garments.

P1050025

No shame in showing off some selvage cuff! I like to go double-roll and narrow cuff.

As mentioned before, Iron Heart are very much known for their denim, which in this case is a 21oz indigo selvedge variant. Milled in Japan on a narrow loom, giving it the tell-tale selvedge edge as shown above. The weight of most common denims is around 12oz , so this is notably thicker and sturdier. It is also very soft, due to the fabric being woven quite loosely from quite softly spun long staple cotton. This means the tales you may have heard about the pain and suffering involved in “breaking in” a new pair of hardcore jeans is not so much a factor here. These are quite comfortable from first wear. Not to say they don’t get more comfy, they do, but there is no biblical suffering or bloodshed involved. If you’re in doubt, this is a good thing.

Really heavy denim might not be the best thing for the summer season, but where regular issue denim might feel a bit light and unsubstantial during the colder months, heavyweight denim does a good job of blocking wind and providing some comfort for exposed legs.

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Front view shows plenty of personality setting in.

It is also notable that the denim used is sanforized. This means that the denim has been pre-treated to stabilise it before it was cut and assembled (more about this in my Denim Guide part 2). This may sound like a trivial matter, but it means that the trousers you buy will basically stay the same size even after you have washed them. There is a lot of focus on raw unwashed denim these days, which is good and fine, but the huge disadvantage of the unwashed part is that the first time you wash them you basically making a gamble on what your trousers will fit like after the wash. Shrinkage of up to 10% is not unheard of, which may stretch out again at the waist, but may leave you looking quite silly with the hems halfway up your shins!

The fact that the denim is sanforized, i.e.. has seen water after it left the loom, means that you don’t need to worry about soaking to make the denim less stiff. You can just buy them, pull them on, do a few squats and lunges to let them know who is boss, and go your merry way.

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Good solid metal buttons ensure long life.

The fly is of course of the button type, with solid metal Iron Heart branded buttons. Rivets are both visible and hidden, which seems a little odd, but I often see “hidden rivets” proclaimed as a desirable design feature so there must be more to it than I can imagine. The quality of buttons and rivets tells you that no short-cuts have been taken and these trousers have been built to last.

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Rear details of seams, branding and patch.

Given the incredible range of jeans available today, every brand tries it’s hardest to find some way of making itself unique. From the hipster “non-branding” like Universal Works have done on their new “Made in Britain” denim range, where the only label showing the brand is on the inside, to variants where the brand is spray panted onto the legs. I think Iron Heart has done a fairly subtle variation of this, where there is the stout leather patch in the traditional position, the “Arcuates” (stylised stitching) on the rear pockets, and the red W on the right hand pocket. Really, given that a belt will most often cover the leather patch, and everyone and his pet tortoise has some squiggle on the rear pockets, the “W” stands out as the most recognisable marking on them. And it’s quite subtle at that.

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Rear view showing bicycle seat wear!

A big thing about denim today is buying it without any pre-distressed markings. Oddly, some people actually prefer to buy jeans that are torn, worn, bleached, acid-washing, sand-blasted, paint-spattered, sanded and whatever, in an effort to make them look like the owner has actually lived in them. The thinking now is that your jeans should reflect the life you lead and age gracefully through your use. As can be seen for the above photo, my jeans show quite clearly that I cycle. Almost every time I wear them, which has been on average once a week since last summer, I’ve cycled. Hence the odd wear. We’ll leave it at that.

Now, anyone following my blog for a while will have noticed that I’m on a bit of a crusade when it comes to sizing and the lack of predictability when it comes to the size marked on garments. Hence, in each review I will get out my tape measure and actually measure the trousers. In this case, I have a special case where I have two pairs of the same trouser in the same size. One with around 8 months of use and one totally unworn.

P1050048

Leather patch some 8 months in.

The Iron Heart website gives good advice on the measurements and sizing on their jeans, in this case they give the reassuring advice to go true to size, i.e. buy your waist size. It will feel tight to start with, but will expand about an inch.

Both pairs are marked as 33″ waist. The used pair measures 34″ and the unused pair measures 32″. In fact, I can’t even get the new pair on without extreme discomfort. The pair I’ve worn feel great, I might even have successfully “broken them in” and the waist has certainly stretched a small amount.

inner label

The pockets are made in nice herringbone cotton, with the vital information repeated!

Fit-wise, these jeans are on the slim side. On me they could definitely have been a little larger over my thighs, but this is mostly down to me having almost super-human muscles in my legs. To give you an idea of the measurements they are 9″ wide at knee height and the leg opens 8″ at 30″ inseam. What we call tapered, rather than straight. This suits me well, as I often find straight jeans to look a little too flared for my taste.

Also, I’d like to give kudos for having a decent rear rise on these jeans. Rear rise means how high the trouser goes up over your posterior, and for proper gentlemen it should be sufficient to ensure you never show any butt cleavage. If you feel a cool breeze whenever you bend over, you either need more rise on your trousers or you need to tuck in properly.

Professional posterior photo to illustrate butt-enhancing properties of the heavyweight denim.

Professional posterior photo to illustrate butt-enhancing properties of the heavyweight denim.

Note, there are two schools when it comes to desirable denim today. One that is looking for denim that will quickly wear and develop patterns of fading, the other that appreciates quite the opposite and prefers a pair of trousers that will stay looking fresh and clean for a long time. I am quite firmly among the latter!

In summary, would I recommend a pair of these? Yes. You can find any number of cheaper jeans, but nothing has the sense of quality and heft of a pair of really heavy jeans like these, and when the construction and materials are as superb as these, it’s hard to not see the sense in them.

Sizing and washing:

Both pairs are marked as 33″. The unused pair measures 32″, the worn pair measures 34″. Iron Heart state to go true to size and to allow an inch of expansion in the waist.

The label inside states that a 40 degree regular machine wash is the appropriate wash for these 100% cotton trousers.

Production details:

  • Fabric – Japan
  • Jeans – Japan

Score (1-5, 3 being average):

  • Assembly: 5
  • Details: 4
  • Quality: 5
  • Value for money: 3
  • Cool-factor: 5

 

I have a pair of sulphur-dyed black “Beatle Busters” for sale on my For Sale page.

What exciting pair of britches will I feature next week? All will be revealed.

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15 Comments

  • Adrian Dale 08/04/2014 at 21:02

    Great review Nick. I can never convince myself to part with the premium (have to tell my better half how much I’ve paid) for Iron Heart denim.
    I know they’re good. I know lots of chaps who’ll tell me how good they are from experience.
    My question is this: I can buy some Unbranded 21oz for £86, has anyone owned both (or just the Unbranded) and are they any good (fit, quality) in comparison and will they perform or last any less well?

    Reply
  • Scratch 09/04/2014 at 09:57

    I haven’t really got on this UnBranded gig but they are good jeans by all account. The thing perhaps is that as a relative newcomer, no ones had a pair for very long so who knows how long they’ll last?
    The longevity of Iron Hearts is well documented – but Mr Stebson, it probably depends on are you the sort of cat who wants a couple of pairs of jeans for several years or are you clucking for a new pair every 12 months just for a change so are not too bothered about a pair not lasting very long?

    I’d imagine that £86 is less than the trade cost of IH in Japan never mind the EU so while you will undoubtedly pay a premium for the IH brand, I cannot swallow that the quality will be the same – unless Unbranded are running a charity.

    To me, just like shoes, the litmus test is how they look after hard use. Cheaper stuff often looks just as good as spendy gear to start with, after a few washes & wears they begin to look tatty – the spendy gear however invariably still looks pukkah.

    Reply
    • Adrian Dale 09/04/2014 at 13:04

      Thanks Dave, I think it would be silly of me to expect I’m buying the same thing or something of the same quality, I hear you there. In fact ‘buy cheap and buy twice’ holds undeniable logic for me.
      I delved into the murky reaches of the internet this morning to try and find out more.
      It would seem that Unbranded is a side project of the folks behind Naked and Famous. The denim (blue ear selvedge by all accounts – I’ve yet to discover what this is) is the same denim used in their premium products but construction is farmed out to China. Along with reducing the quality of rivets and fastenings, this all contributes towards the savings passed on to the punter.
      I think the most enjoyable part of my research this morning has been reading the snarky comments from denim hipster kids berating others for having the temerity to even consider not wearing £200 plus jeans. Don’t they know about the special indigo and dyeing processes used?
      It would seem that it’s down to saving money on the manufacturing costs that enable the Unbranded to be available at £86. The Iron Heart will be more labour intensive and have closer attention to detail with more expensive fastenings/stitching/pockets etc.
      So. Nothing wrong with the Unbranded then. Some folk say they fade rapidly. Some folk want this in the world of ‘Honeycombs’ and ‘Whiskers’. I’m still slightly confused by this world of ‘entry level’ and premium selvedge. I think there’s an obvious kudos attached to a more expensive item, and clearly, the attention to detail and craftsmanship, in most cases I should imagine, is superior to a great many ‘entry level’ brands. I reckon 21oz Unbranded will stop cold wind on my legs next winter (the point to all this by the way, after attending a football match with my sons and being rather miffed at the wind deflecting ability of the Allevol I was wearing), it’s unlikely they’ll fall to bits in a hurry, I should get some ‘sick fades’. Worth a punt then I reckon (although I’ll steer clear of any raw denim forums).

      Reply
      • Well Dressed Dad 09/04/2014 at 13:10

        I think your research is a credit to you, Adrian! It is very easy to be completely taken in by they hype and mythical properties laid out in various forums. I’ve tried to steer clear of that in my (so far) 3-part denim guide.

        Reply
  • Scratch 09/04/2014 at 13:15

    Are you still wearing those LVC’s 1944’s btw chap? I have been bonding with a new pair (actually in the correct size this time!) of them I got a while back over the last few weeks. Lovely jeans and they’re in for their first wash right now.

    Reply
    • Adrian Dale 09/04/2014 at 13:37

      Still going strong pal. I’m less precious about them now and took your advice about giving them some abuse. In fact I fixed the car in them last week.
      Absolutely love them and still have a pair in reserve from that End sale.
      I stumbled across some LVC 37 a couple of weeks ago on eBay but I think they’ll be going back on.
      Still the lovely soft Cone Mills denim, and a slightly different hue to the ’44 but, blimey, they ain’t half a ‘fuller’ cut. As enticed by a crotch rivet and cinch as I was, I’m not ready for a full on Woody Guthrie/Dust Bowl depression era vibe just yet.

      Reply
  • Scratch 09/04/2014 at 13:49

    Oh man, I love those ’37’s. I fact I just like the wide cut of workjeans in general. Their not smart, but they aren’t supposed to be. I have a pair of the LVC 1927’s and I really like them – I also rock braces with them after cutting the cinch off. Look great with a pair of RedWing work oxfords or supersoles.

    Certainly a look that’s not for everyone but it is for me.

    *walks off humming “These Jeans are your jeans….”*

    Reply
    • Adrian Dale 09/04/2014 at 14:11

      They’re certainly flipping comfy. It’s just the initial shock of being so ‘wide’, just not used to it anymore.
      I’m a tad flummoxed by the cinch ‘and’ belt loops.
      I’m sure I read some blurb about original Levis stockists having heavy duty scissors to remove the cinch? I’m think punters could also request press on buttons if they couldn’t live without their suspenders.
      In fact, jolly fascinating stuff this evolution of the 501. I believe the ’37 was the first to benefit from concealed pocket rivets and the first to feature the ‘Big E’.
      Sold, I’m going to persist with them just to enjoy a slice of vintage Americana if nowt else!

      Reply
  • Scratch 09/04/2014 at 14:22

    I believe that the belt loops were somewhat of a fashion concession. While the old timers always wore braces, the younger crowd felt a belt much smarter so Levi’s tried to accommodate both.

    I think you’re right about the ’37 and the red tab. My ’27’s don’t have a tab on at all as it was still the stuff of a madmans dreams back then – they are the first cone mills levis jeans though by all account and the LVC repro’s are ace.

    Reply
  • Adrian Dale 09/04/2014 at 17:58

    Had a look at the Denim Guide Nick, most enjoyable. Nice to read some level headed and less mythologised info on the subject.
    I realise it’s a serious issue for some, and I think you’ve done an admirable job of keeping to the facts. Facts are good I reckon.
    I may risk irking purists but I usually throw my selvedge in the washing machine at 30 degrees. I try to keep to one pair for as long as possible (months to be fair) which usually doesn’t effect domestic harmony until, upon discovering said denim placed hopefully in a washing pile, Mrs D will utter ‘are these a pair of your poncey jeans?’. Well……….no need for that, but never the less they haven’t suffered for having a regular wash and being left to dry naturally.
    Great stuff, thanks Nick.

    Reply
    • Well Dressed Dad 10/04/2014 at 13:34

      Thanks, Adrian 🙂 I had a good chuckle at your Mrs D’s description of your fine manly strides!

      Reply
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