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If there’s one item every guy is always on the hunt for, it’s that perfect denim jean. Beyond finding the right waist size and length, you want the right fade, shape, and distressing (if that’s your style). Goldlilocks syndrome is seriously tiring! Just when we lost all hope, we discovered the GENIUS that is raw denim. Denim experts swear by it, and it’s no surprise why. By breaking in this super tough denim over a long period of time, you’ll finally have the perfect pair of jeans, all thanks to you!
What Is Raw Denim?
Raw denim is simply what it sounds like — denim in its purest form. While most jeans you buy in stores have been pre-washed after they’ve been dyed to reduce the amount of shrinkage and give it a softer feel, raw denim (or dry denim as it’s also called) hasn’t been washed. Raw denim can come sanforized or unsanforized. We know, the technical terms are a bit confusing, so let’s break it down: Sanforization helps to reduce the amount of shrinkage after washing. Unsanforized denim will shrink your jeans significantly with that first wash (though some say it’ll get you that perfect fit if you wear them in a tub of water and then hang to dry).
So, why put in the extra work of breaking in stiff AF jeans? Does rocking your jeans raw really give you the perfect fit and fade details? We chatted with a M-A-J-O-R expert to get some answers: Jonathan Cheung, Head of Global Design for Levi’s.
Why Buy Raw Denim?
“You get epic fades, with the satisfaction that you earned them yourself. Check out the whiskers and the honeycombs – denim nerd speak for the fading across the front of the hips and the patterns behind the back of the knee,” says Cheung, referring to his raw denim jeans he’s worn to perfection since 2013.
“Raw denim isn’t soft like a sweat pant, so expect a little bit of discomfort as you break them in. But then, if it was easy, then it wouldn’t be as cool.”
Wearing denim that I can only compare to the feeling of sandpaper on your legs isn’t the most enjoyable experience (ouch!), but the more you wear them, the more the denim breaks down to the movements of your busy day-to-day life. You’re basically molding the jeans to the shape that’s perfect for you! However, be careful where you sit in your newly purchased raw denim jeans — because the jeans haven’t been washed yet, the dye will rub off a bit. Alert: Avoid all-white A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G!
What Do Guys Need to Know When Buying Raw Denim?
“Start with the right fit,” Cheung says. “Take a bit of time to try on different fits and sizes. Most guys don’t try one size bigger or one size smaller than they think they are — that can make a difference.”
This is where the difference comes in between sanforized and unsanforized jeans. That first wash is crucial to seeing how your jeans will fit, which is why some recommend sanforized jeans for your first pair. If you’re going to take off on this denim journey for the magically perfect jeans, we say go in hard and go unsanforized (Harry Potter-style courage is needed!).
So, How the F*%* Do You Break Raw Denim In?
“Just wear them. A lot! The objective is to wear them as much as you can before washing them. The more you hold off, the more pronounced the fades will be,” Cheung says. “So, try and hold off from washing them for at least six months, assuming you’re wearing them at least a few days every week. Of course, use your common sense: If a slice of pizza falls in your lap, it’s time to say hello to the washing machine. In that case, just turn them inside out and throw them in with whatever dark clothing you’re washing on a cool wash. Hang dry. Enjoy!”
Wow, six months is a long time! But, we totally have to admit that avoiding laundry for our jeans for that long is a dream come true. Still, this is a lot of work for a pair of jeans, but it’s also all about the experience, and it’ll make you a true denim connoisseur.
“Wearing-in denim from rigid (that’s how we at Levi’s call raw denim) takes time and effort. It’s the denim equivalent of the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment,” says Cheung.
“You’ll treasure these jeans. The beautiful faded jeans will mean more to you because the fades are the tracks of your life spent in them.”
BOOM! Now, excuse us while we lose all chill and rush to buy ourselves some raw denim this fall, so our jeans are perfectly faded in time for spring.