Raw denim has gained a cult following, with hundreds of thousands of subscribers on the r/rawdenim subreddit praising the durability and unique fading patterns of this old fashioned way of making jeans.
If you appreciate owning jeans that fit well and last a long time, especially when they’re hard to make and embody a significant degree of artistry, you may find yourself exploring this bizarre world of antique looms, smelly jeans, and Japanese subcultures that can be pretty tough to navigate.
In this article, two veteran denimheads — Stridewise’s founder Nick and Naked & Famous‘ Creative Director Bahzad Trinos — will explore the five most frustrating things about raw denim, from its care requirements to its environmental impact, to help you make an informed decision about whether this trend is right for you.
1. What Size Is Anything?
Raw denim is typically free from polyester, which means it doesn’t hold its shape as well. That can be a good thing: cotton jeans conform better to the shape of your body over time, producing a better fit, but cotton is a bit… unpredictable.
Most product pages will tell you that the jeans will stretch, but their estimates very wildly, making it hard to choose which size to purchase. Different kinds of denim will stretch differently, with looser weaves that undergo less tension in the manufacturing process being more likely to stretch. You can’t return them after a few days of wear and the realization that they won’t stretch as much as you thought! Then there’s the fact that they also shrink with washing, and the fact that sizing consistency is tough for the kinds of smaller brands that abound in this industry.
“(The claim that your jeans will stretch) is actually the biggest bit of misinformation in the raw denim sphere,” says Bahzad. “They’re never going to stretch that much. You might get an inch maybe, maybe, but you’re not getting two inches out of a gene. That’s not happening.”
While a lot of folks will tell you to buy uncomfortable jeans and expect a lot of stretch, when you do up the top button, it should not be too tight or too loose. The fabric should be able to stretch slightly, but not to the point where it becomes strained or damaged. When guys buy jeans that need a lot of squats to stretch out, they’re putting more stress on the fabric than they should, which makes it prone to damage like seams bursting or tears forming.
Don’t buy them loose, but don’t buy them uncomfortable either.
2. People Mistreat (And Don’t Wash) Their Jeans
I’ve been wearing my jeans every day. And they’re like, the crotch is blowing out. Why is the crotch blowing out of my jeans?
“You kind of answered your question when you sent that e-mail,” says Bahzad. “‘I’ve been wearing my jeans every single day for 12 months. I’ve never washed them and clearly they’ve faded.’ You know that the fabric has worn away to some degree, so why is it unusual that the crotch is worn out?”
With the promise of tougher jeans that fade better with fewer washes, scores of guys figure they should just wear their jeans for as long as possible, as hard as possible, without washing them. Watch the video above to hear Naked & Famous’ CEO address this approach:
People ask us that all the time, and there is no one answer. You can’t just say ‘yes, you should wash your jeans, or ‘No, never wash your jeans. The whole fun of raw denim is that you get to decide.
“Some companies will say, ‘Wash that after six months,’ or ‘wash at whatever mark,’ but that’s so silly,” adds Brandon. “What if one guy is a bike messenger and he’s beating the crap out of his jeans every single day, and another guy is an accountant and he wears his jeans casually on the weekend, or in front of a computer? Those two dudes don’t have the same pair of beat-up jeans after six months right? So how could you tell them a magical number?”
Bahzad and Brandon both come to the same conclusion: it’s probably best to wash them when they smell. If you wash them much more often, it’s totally fine. The difference is that seldom washers have higher contrast fades, regular washers have more uniform fades. If you don’t want to go months without washing them, just don’t!
3. Washing Your Jeans is Complicated
Do I need to turn jeans inside out? Wash them on their own, away from any of my other clothes? Only wash them cold? Can they go in the dryer? Should I really add bleach for higher contrast fades? Or am I really meant to soak them in a bathtub instead of using a washing machine at all?
Naked & Famous’ Zeke Hartwell discusses all the ins and outs of washing jeans above, but the short answer is: wash ’em cold, inside out, and hang dry them. Consider washing them on their own the first time you wash them, after that it should be fine to include other dark/blue clothes in the load.
Bahzad has an unusual tip: he prefers washing his jeans with other clothes in the wash.
“Because if you wash that jean alone, and you’re putting in that spin cycle, you’ve got this wet ball of denim,” he explains. “It’s indigo. The indigo’s gonna fade. It starts smashing around the inside of that machine. All those little creases start getting abraded by the machine. And when you pull them out, you’ve got like, this marbling effect on your jeans. When you put it in with other stuff it’s not being hit so hard, it’s not smashing up against the inside of that machine. So put it in with some t-shirts, underwear, socks, whatever.”
If you are washing your jeans for the first time, it is not a bad idea to wash them alone to prevent color transfer to other clothing items. However, keep in mind that washing them with other clothing items in the future can help to protect the fabric from damage and fading.
4. Brands Don’t Talk to You
Getting information or even buying the jeans can be an incredibly frustrating experience. Many brands, particularly those based in Japan, seem to have little interest in hiring English-speaking marketing people, which can make it nearly impossible to get any information or even purchase the product. Many hallowed brands, like the incredibly influential Oni, don’t even have Instagrams.
“Once I found myself talking to the Pure Blue Japan account, after I’d tagged them in a million stories where I wore their jeans,” says Nick. “I asked them if I could buy a pair of black jeans I’d seen on their site, and they just said ‘No.’ They don’t sell direct to customers. I was talking to a company asking if I could buy their product, and being told ‘no’! It’s so unusual.”
While this may not be true for every brand — Naked & Famous and Tanuki have great social accounts ‚— it is a common issue for those who are interested in this hobby.
It’s important to understand that this insular attitude is not necessarily a deliberate attempt to be unhelpful or obscure. Japan has a unique culture and history that has shaped the way business is done there. For many companies, particularly those that are family-owned and operated, they have developed a specific way of doing things that has worked for them for generations, like only selling to brick and mortar stores.
But when you are willing to spend hundreds of dollars on a pair of jeans, you want to be able to get information and support from the brand!
5. Hemming Jeans is Too Hard
Selvedge jeans are almost always sold with long inseams of over 34 inches so that they can fit anybody, but when you want to hem them, you’re told you can’t go to your neighborhood tailor. It has to be done with a chain stitch on old fashioned machinery very few people own. Why? Well, it’s considered more authentic, and some people prefer the way the cuffs fade when they’re hemmed with a chain stitch.
Some people swear by the old-school chain stitch technique, claiming that it’s the only authentic way to hem jeans. However, this is simply not true. In fact, there are many authentic vintage ways to hem jeans, including the single needle technique.
“There’s many authentic vintage ways: even a single needle is an authentic vintage way. It’s also convenient and it’s also stronger to change them,” counters Bahzad, who thinks people overthink hemming. “We’re wearing our jeans rough and tough, and when you break part of that chain stitch, because it’s a chain, it’ll all unravel. It’s actually less secure than a single needle. The single needle locks it in, so even if you break a part of the single needle hem, it’ll hold together. They’re your jeans, do whatever you want with them. But know that you don’t have to follow all these rules.”
So, don’t feel like you have to follow all the rules when it comes to hemming your jeans. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide which stitching technique works best for you and your jeans. And remember, there’s no shame in seeking help or guidance from a professional if you need it. With a little practice and patience, you’ll be hemming your jeans like a pro in no time.
[Further Reading: 5 Reasons Cuffing Your Jeans Is Fine, Actually]
In summary, raw denim can be both fascinating and frustrating. While there may be some annoyances associated with breaking in, caring for, and finding the perfect fit for your denim, the end result can be well worth it for those who appreciate the craftsmanship and timeless style. If you’re looking to explore the world of raw selvedge denim, consider visiting Naked and Famous for all your denim needs! This isn’t an ad, we just like their variety and (relatively) low cost. Happy fading!
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