Raw Denim 101

8.27.2014

By Evan Shinn

Denim still

If you’re a male who considers himself down with the fashunz, buying your first pair of raw denim jeans was probably baptismal to everything you know about #menswear today. Whether purchased from a brand like A.P.C., Nudie or Baldwin, you remember how sacred that moment was when you coughed over a couple hundred dollars for a single pair of jawns. But more importantly, you remember jonesing for the day you’d finally wash them.

Because raw denim culture insists you refer to denim’s lifespan in terms of “months, washes and soaks,” dudes go months and years without washing their jeans in order to individualize the denim’s fades, tears and rips. So, wash day is a big fucking deal, as it commemorates the time and effort spent “going hard” in a single pair of jeans.

If the term isn’t cringe-worthy enough, explaining the phenomenon is. Most dudes won’t even mention it as to avoid conversations that end with, “But won’t they, like, start to smell?” However, not washing jeans is just a response to the way raw denim is produced.

During the color treatment stage of raw denim’s manufacturing process, the indigo dye in which the denim is dipped isn’t 100 percent absorbed by the fabric. Because of this, the denim loses a bit of its color and rigidness with every wash thereafter. So, in order to sharpen and personalize their denim’s fades, dudes go six months to a year without washing their jeans, performing any and every activity that will emphasize the denim’s natural folds.

I remember when I first copped some raw denim. I was so hype about the whole not washing shtick that after a night of heavy boozing and throwing up all over myself, I tossed my jeans into the freezer and scraped off the frozen chunks the next morning. Everything worked out OK, aside from the fact that my jeans were walking biohazards; the denim wasn’t ruined, but I probably should have just washed them the next day.

Some denim makers refute a lot of what raw denim culture preaches, like Self-Edge founder Kiya Babzani and 3sixteen founder Andrew Chen do in a video for the Crosby Press, “Denim Mythbusters.” They explain why not washing your jeans and other methods of cleaning, such as freezing and ocean-soaking, are “moronic,” and recommend washing jeans every two months, at the least.

Unlike the actual show “Mythbusters,” Babzani and Chen don’t disprove techniques with experiments and results; you kind of just have to take their word for it. In all honesty, I take their advice with a grain of salt, as I’ve seen some successfully faded jeans using the methods denim heads have created for themselves, but I’m very behind the line of thinking, “If your jeans start to smell, wash them.” Airing out, freezing and spraying denim with Febreeze will only go so far.

I understand the fear of putting $250 jeans into a washing machine. However, there are other ways of making sure your jeans get cleaned on which I think both denim heads and the “Denim Mythbuster” dudes could agree.

Like many Kansas City-natives, I copped a pair of Baldweezys, and fortunately for you, a wash was due. As much as I’d like to have washed them in the Chi-O fountain in SOTH-like fashion to mock ocean-soaking denim nerds, it wouldn’t have been environmentally safe or effective. Instead, I washed them my usual way and provided a guide for all you noobs.

 

Video by Andrew Shepherd with music by Emilio Quezada

Edited by Hannah Swank

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