Introduction to Raw Denim

By Guest Blogger, Liann

I think we all have some major struggs associated with finding the perfect pair of jeans. Typical women’s and men’s jeans never satisfied my needs. I didn’t like the thin material used with women’s jeans and they either accentuated my curves if I wore them above my hips, or displayed far too much backside if I sagged them. I also didn’t like the cut and style of typical “men’s” jeans: they were too baggy, had too much rise, and fit too tightly around my hips. And, no matter how I wore any of them, they never looked particularly clean-cut.

But a new-found love for jeans came back full throttle four years ago, when I permanently switched to wearing raw denim.

What is raw denim, you ask?

When you buy a pair of blue jeans, overwhelming chances are that they have already been treated in some way outside of the “cotton+indigo+weaving+sewing=jeans!” equation. Any type of fading, distressing, bleach spots, or frays are all purposely done by the producer to make them feel softer and look cool. Even stiff-feeling dark wash jeans have probably been hit with a resin coating to prevent color loss.

pre-distressed Levi's jeans

These jeans are the big kahuna when it comes to pre-distressing (from us.levi.com)

Raw denim (also sometimes called “dry denim”) does away with all of this. They generally have no stretch, feel as stiff as cardboard, and are a deep, near-black indigo when you first try them on (although they’ll bleed sky blue on everything). With raw denim, you’ll want your jeans to be anywhere from a bit tight to soul-constricting for the first few days. The differences in immediate comfort and freedom of movement between “jeggings” and non-stretch dry denim are very quickly apparent, but after a couple of weeks your jeans will begin to mold and fade perfectly to your body.

Since there’s no treatment to keep the indigo in the fabric, people generally avoid washing their jeans for as long as possible. A lot of people swear by not washing for 6+ months to develop a high-contrast fade, but that’s not really necessary. You shouldn’t wash them every day, but every 30 wears isn’t a problem either. I personally wear them until they start to reek, at which point I throw them in the bathtub with some detergent.

worn raw denim

My own Gap Skinny Selvedge, left (4 days, 0 washes) and heavily patched APC New Cure, right (1+ year, 3 washes)

A lot of raw denim is also selvedge, meaning that it has a self-closing end on the outseam. Contrary to popular belief, selvedge edges (or lack thereof) don’t guarantee quality, but they do generally correlate with a higher quality final product because they are more expensive to produce. If you have jeans with a selvedge edge, it’s common practice to show them off by rolling up your jeans a bit.

Ellen Degeners Selvedge

Ellen DeGeneres showing off some selvedge on her 3Sixteen raw denim jeans

The quickest way to this dapper, androgynous look is probably APC. Lots of their fits are branded as unisex, which is virtually unheard of in the denim world and is proof of their ability to look fantastic on just about anyone.

If you’re looking for men’s raw denim that doesn’t accentuate curves while fitting well, look at the skinniest fits and lowest rises you can find. Also, you shouldn’t be concerned if your sizes are all over the place. When I was trying on two different Naked and Famous brand men’s jeans in the same size but different cuts, one was far too loose in the waistband but I couldn’t button up the other. This is just a side effect of not knowing exactly how, and where, they will sit on your body.

On that note, TRY THEM ON before you buy! I cannot emphasize this enough, especially for people with curves looking at men’s denim. Raw denim is finicky and expensive. I also recommend this for women’s raw denim, although Steven from Railcar Fine Goods helped me a lot in finding a well-fitting pair of Viper X001’s via e-mail. Also, don’t be scared if you have to make the jeans skinnier below the knees to achieve the perfect look – even “skinny” men’s denim doesn’t compare to the amount of tapering you are used to with women’s jeans. Denim Therapy offers this service for $40. As with most things, fit is most important.

Sartorialist raw denim

The Sartorialist himself admits that his he bought raw denim that is too tight to wear comfortably…. Don’t emulate! (from thesartorialist.com)

Zac Efron Raw Denim

Left, Zac Efron dressing down some well-worn APC’s(from upscalehype.com)

I know I’ve just made this seem like a lot of expensive work, but well-fitting raws will blow any jeans you currently own out of the water— I promise. Here are suggestions for skinny, low rise, and/or women-specific jeans. If you want an easier time with fitting, try the ones with some stretch:

Less Expensive (under $100):
Gap Skinny Selvedge
Uniqlo Slim Selvedge
Unbranded Skinny Selvedge
Levi’s Shrink to Fit

Expensive ($100-$201):
Naked and Famous Weird Guys/Skinny Guys
APC Hipster/Petit Standard/New Cure
Railcar Fine Goods Viper
3Sixteen Slim Tapered Fit

Really Expensive (you don’t want to know):
Samurai Geisha
Dior Homme Raw
Skull Jeans Linda
Pure Blue Japan Women’s Slim
The Flat Head Balder
Real Blue Japan Slim Tapered

Cover image via tenuedenimes.com

As Qwear's Founding Editor, Sonny’s work centers around envisioning a future in which the clothing people wear does not dictate their chances of survival. Sonny was awarded 2015 dapperQ of the Year and was the first trans blogger to be sponsored by Topman. In March 2016, Sonny spoke at South by South West's first official queer fashion panel.