Comparing Pants (A Pants Off?)

By , April 6, 2014

I used to feel extravagant buying the TRU-SPEC 24-7 pants I prefer (see Pants Worth Paying For) until I had the opportunity to test them against a tough pair of secondhand pants.

In late February, I worked on firewood in the Blowdown at the west end of our property for a run of days (see Coming Into the Wood Work). I started the work in a pair of TRU-SPECs, and ended it in a pair of Carhartt carpenter pants.

If you can tell a Southeast Alaskan by his/her footwear or jacket (see How To Dress Like a Southeast Alaskan) then you can also tell them by their Carhartts. This clothing line provides gear that’s strong enough for almost any Alaskan job, but that quality does not come cheaply. This is why I rejoiced when Michelle brought home an item she’d picked up at a roadside “free box” on the way home from work: a pair of Carhartt carpenter pants in my size. They were well used and somewhat paint spattered, but wholly sound.

These have become my main pair of heavy work pants. Work clothing has taken on a different emphasis in our home since moving to the property. Almost everything I wear qualifies as work clothes—since there’s no such thing as office wear for me anymore—but I do try to change into the rugged, will-never-be-nice-again clothes we keep for the really tough jobs. These Carhartts, made of tough cotton canvas, are practically bullet proof! They’re good enough that I break my rule against wearing cotton (see Cotton Kills) especially because they’re not very absorbent, so they don’t hold moisture next to the skin as much as other cotton garments.

I like the Carhartts enough that the next thought after realizing my “philosophy” described in the last post, I began to wonder if I shouldn’t invest in some newer pairs. The used pair was a stroke of incredible luck—more so for being free—as Alaskans tend to wear out Carhartts rather than pass them on. If I want more, I’ll likely need to purchase them.

Then came my inadvertent comparison.

I feel that the truest test of whether or not an item of clothing is comfortable lies in whether or not you notice that you’re wearing it. My comparison test began the moment I felt the Carhartts; I noticed that I wore them, but had to think hard to remember what I’d worn the previous day.

The Carhartts are ruggedly built, as I said. In the U.S., nothing exemplifies that quality more than rivets on pants. Levi Strauss supposedly riveted the pockets of his iconic Levi’s blue denim dungarees (blue jeans) as a joke. His Californian, gold seeking customers complained that their accumulating gold ripped the pockets out of their other pants. These rivets supposedly also led to the single modification of the original Levi’s 501 jeans: after heating up at the campfire and burning a company executive, Strauss removed the rivet he’d put in the crotch!

My Carhartts offer the opposite problem. The rivets of the front pockets fall rather low on my lap. In cold weather, they transfer cold to my skin in two distinct spots. It makes me feel like I’ve wet my pants—not a comfortable sensation!

But I also noticed the pants because they were holding my heat as I worked. Despite working in daytime temperatures in the low singles or teens, my legs sweated. I hadn’t noticed the pants I’d worn the day before, because they breathed better than the heavy canvas, regulating my body heat better, even though their fabric is probably half the weight of the Carhartt’s.

Body heat regulation may be the most critical safety factor in this region. People layer their clothing aggressively here, to allow multiple adjustments throughout the work day. We need to stay warm, but not too warm, as that inevitably leads to cold. As soon as I realized the difference between the two pairs of pants, the “victory” went to the TRU-SPECs over the Carhartts.

I will, of course, continue to wear the Carhartts until they’re rags (see Goodbye Old Pants). However, ever since that day, I always qualify the decision to wear them based on their inferiority (for my uses, at least) to other pants I own.

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