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A Beginner's Guide to Raw Denim

A Beginner's Guide to Raw Denim

Let’s talk about raw denim. Now I’m going to guess most of you guys out there are wearing store-bought jeans, from places like H&M, Topman, and so on. Raw denim, on the other hand, is a nostalgic cry back to the days of yore, specifically the 1950s in the United States. In those days, denim was largely relegated to the realm of workwear, and thus it needed to be sturdy and hardy. Over the years, as consumers’ desires changed and trends evolved, we reached a point where men started looking for denim that they could buy off the rack, that looked like it had already been broken-in. We’re talking about pre-washed, pre-faded, and in some cases, even pre-ripped jeans. However, starting sometime in the early 2000s, consumers began looking for more. With this, the raw denim movement was revived – men wanted a pair of high-quality denim that they could break in themselves, giving it the unique look that they could call their own. There are a couple things to consider before you purchase your first pair of raw denim. But first, here are some key terms to keep in mind.

Key terms

Sanforized: A treatment process that basically involves washing the denim before it’s sold, effectively making it pre-shrunk, thus reducing shrinkage that would otherwise occur after the first wash. (no need to size up)

Unsanforized: Denim that hasn’t been through sanforization, so it hasn’t been washed or stretched. While sanforized denim is usually smoother in texture, unsanforized denim is basically denim in as close to a natural state as possible.

Selvedge: This refers to a self-finished edge of fabric, and is a result of fabrics being woven on shuttle looms. In terms of denim, selvedge prevents fraying of the fabric, and provides a cleaner, neater look.

(L-R: Selvedge denim vs non-selvedge denim. Courtesy of thegatewayonline.ca)

(L-R: Selvedge denim vs non-selvedge denim. Courtesy of thegatewayonline.ca)

Fade: The pattern that emerges as you break in your denim. Fades usually come about as a result of your daily lifestyle and movement, and is a huge part of the appeal of raw denim.

(Before: Courtesy of www.nakedandfamousdenim.com)

(Before: Courtesy of www.nakedandfamousdenim.com)

(After: 2 years and 2 months later. Courtesy of www.heddels.com)

(After: 2 years and 2 months later. Courtesy of www.heddels.com)

Now that we’ve got that sorted out, before you rush to the nearest store or most convenient website to buy your first pair of denim, here are a couple things you should consider.

  1. Sanforized or Unsanforized?

Raw denim generally comes in two options – sanforized and unsanforized. If you opt for the former, that means the denim has been pre-washed and pre-shrunk, so you can just go ahead and get a pair in your regular size, and they should be pretty comfortable from the get-go. If, however, the denim is unsanforized, you’ll want to get a pair that’s anywhere from half a size to a full size larger than you usually wear, to account for the shrinkage that’ll occur when you wash the denim for the first time. Also note that unsanforized denim is usually pretty stiff to begin with, so you’ll have to put in some work before they become really comfortable. Just think of it like breaking in a pair of hiking boots.

  1. Weight

Raw denim comes in various weights, and is measured in ounces. On the lighter end of the spectrum, you have 8 oz. denim that’s perfect for wearing in summer and spring. At the extreme opposite end, you have 32 oz. denim that’s so stiff, it’s capable of standing up by itself. For a beginner, the sweet spot is usually somewhere in the middle, between 12 to 14 oz. Denim of this weight generally works well from fall through to spring, and won’t be too stiff when you first start wearing them.

  1. Cost/Brand

As with any other type of clothing, there’s a wide range of denim available, from the wallet-friendly to the bank-breaking. Brands like A.P.C. and Momotaro, which use high-quality denim from Japan (and in the case of Momotaro, that’s woven on vintage shuttle looms), run upwards of hundreds of dollars, while brands like Levi’s, Unbranded, and Gustin boast prices that are a lot easier on the wallet. For your first pair, I’d recommend getting something under $100 – that way, it’s not too much of an investment, and if you realize you’re not into the whole raw denim gig, you can cut your losses pretty easily.

What to do with your new denim

Now that you’ve bought yourself a pair of raw denim, there’s the question of what to do with it. Some websites recommend washing it once before you wear, with some even going so far as to suggest you should soak in the tub while wearing the denim, allowing it to mold to your body shape. But for busy people like yourselves, here’s my advice – just wear them. Sure, the first couple times might be a little uncomfortable, but the more you wear them, the more comfortable they’ll get. Wear them around the house, wear them when you nap, where them when you do the groceries, where them to class… you get the idea. The next step, then, is the first wash. Most denim enthusiasts agree that you should wait anywhere from three to six months before washing your denim for the first time. This will give the denim ample time to really mold to your body shape. When you first wash your denim, a lot of the dye will run off, resulting in what will hopefully be a great fade, fully displaying the contrast between the dark and light areas of the denim. Because of the runoff, you'll probably want to wash your jeans by themselves, so that your other clothes don't get stained in the process. If you're using a regular washing machine, set it to a cold wash. Any detergent is fine, but enthusiasts will tell you to use some Woolite Dark, to prevent too much indigo loss.

Whatever the case may be, at the end of the day, your raw denim is personalized to you - your body, your daily habits, and your lifestyle. If that sounds like something you'd be into, be sure to stay tuned to this blog, as we drop more nuggets of raw denim-related information in the future. In the meantime, be sure to check out websites like Heddels (formerly RawrDenim) and Self Edge for your daily dose of denim tips!

Featured image via

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