Ever battered a meathead before feeding him to a crocodile? Doubtful, considering you’d probably be wearing the wrong jeans for it. But in the new remake of the 1989 classic Road House, Jake Gyllenhaal makes it work, paying tribute to Patrick Swayze’s turn as bouncer Elwood Dalton by dispatching half a dozen goons in impossibly tight denim blues.

The next time a bar brawl breaks out, would a pair of 501s see you through? The professional hard man class would need something more… bespoke. “I would have specially designed tearaway jeans and make sure I’m wearing my fight gear underneath,” says UFC fighter Michael “Venom” Page. When pushed to choose jeans he’d have to keep on, he points to a pair with added “ankle zippers for maximum damage.” Oh, and creative tassel decoration for “swag.”

Image may contain Patrick Swayze Clothing Pants Face Head Person Photography Portrait Jeans Adult and Footwear
Image may contain Jake Gyllenhaal Clothing Pants Face Head Person Photography Portrait Adult Sleeve and Jeans

Anyone who’s spent all day at a desk in jeans already knows that mobility and breathability aren’t at a premium. Ksubi’s denim designer Ben Turner does, however, contend that “super rigid 100% cotton slim straights are good for protection.” In the original Road House, Swayze wears Levi’s and Wranglers, while Gyllenhaal’s ex-UFC fighter Dalton can be found in relaxed tapered Raleighs and a stretch-slim number by Purple Brand. For costume designer Dayna Pink, these were options that “felt like Dalton could fight in”—despite the ever-present risk of rips. “I will always find a way to make it work with the help of many multiples and sizes,” she says. Case in point, Conor McGregor’s purple Tom Ford trousers, which were brutalized across several takes despite additional gussets and generous sizing.

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Conor McGregor’s ripped trousers on the set of Road House (2024). Courtesy of Dayna Pink.

Even with a massive costume department on hand and a looser fit than Swayze’s sprayed-on look, Road House’s costumiers had more than just ripped seams to think about. During the filming of the remake, Road House’s on-set dresser Perry Goyen discovered a new problem: the heat. The Dominican Republic, which stood in for the Florida Keys during filming, was “very sticky”: according to some rudimentary meteorological research, even more humid than the Missouri town Swayze straightens out in the original. Goyen’s solution? “I had a leaf blower that I used to blow up the jeans to cool [Jake] down,” he says.

Why then, put Swayze or Gyllenhaal in jeans at all? It’s a question that could also be asked of Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne or Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt, who love blockbustering in jeans, or James Bond and John Wick, who prefer the equally restrictive two-piece suit for their own brand of world saving. Like most clothing conundrums, style wins out over substance. As Venom says: “Patrick Swayze looks good and kicks ass.” It also makes sense to have Dalton in the workwear staple. In both films, he’s an unassuming guy who needs to blend into the dives he’s managing, much in the same way Bourne can remain incognito in black Lees.

Unassuming or not, on a practical level both costume designers and menswear pros concede that, shockingly, jeans are not ideal fighting gear. “There’s a reason those [UFC] guys fight in satin shorts,” says Turner. And if you don’t have a pair of those handy before sending a bunch of bikers to the ICU, almost any non-denim trousers are preferable.

The Mr. P slacks Gyllenhaal also wears in the film lend much more to mobility, but since he just won his UFC debut by decision this month, we’ll give Venom the last word. For him, lycra shorts and wrist-locked leather fighting gloves are ideal. At the bottom of his list? “Slim fit or skinny jeans.”

This story originally appeared on British GQ with the title ‘Road House and denim: we asked the experts if you can really fight that hard in jeans’

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