We at of Iron & Oak are obsessed with denim. From off-the-rack basics to exclusive raw selvedge, our team loves jeans. If you’re looking for product suggestions and tips on how to wear denim hit up our partners at The Selvedge Yard, Alex at The Pantalones, or Dillon at Thread & Salt.
Today, our main goal is to teach you how to care for your denim. If you live your life in denim like us than you’re better off investing in one great pair over several cheap alternatives. We’ll teach you how to care for your perfect pair.
To be brief, raw denim, sometimes referred to as dry denim, refers to an unwashed pair of jeans that will be dark, stiff, and rich in dye. Selvedge, means the pants are made on old-style shuttle looms. The two are often thought of as synonyms, but they’re actually independent of each other.
So why go raw? In a world of mass produced, pre-faded jeans, wearing the perfect pair of raw denim will set you apart from every one else. The jeans will fade, stretch, and change over time with you. You will create a unique pair of trousers, one with a fit and fade particular to you and your lifestyle.
Because a good pair of raw denim is a long-term investment, you have to care for it properly. There are adequate options for raw denim below between $40 – $80, but a real quality pair of raw denim will exceed $100. Realize though that a high quality pair of raw denim can effectively be worn everyday for the rest of your life. There are many schools of thought on the proper way to care for denim, and the topic has been beat to death on every style blog/website/forum. To soak or not to soak? When to wash and how to get rid of smell. But we’re here to tell you the six things, the only things you need to know about denim care. No bullshit.
First off, try the damn things on. This step really simplifies the process. You’ll see threads upon threads on any forum asking about how this pair fits versus that pair, to size up or to size down, how much a pair stretches, etc. It’s be worth the hour or more commute to truly get a pair of good fitting denim. When purchasing, note if the denim is sanforized (pre-shrunk) or not. Then you can choose the appropriate size.
In general, it’s better to get a slightly smaller pre-shrunk pair because they will still stretch out. We recommend staying true to size, or even a size up on a non-sanforized pair. Again, it all depends on what you think and feel when you try them on. Every body is unique.
After getting the right fit, it’s time for the initial soak. This is important to get the right fit as well as beginning the fading process. The soak should be done as follows:
STEP ONE: THE SOAK
Fill a bathtub with enough water to submerge the denim completely. Temperature isn’t overly important as some say you’ll lose less indigo with a cold soak, but if its a quality pair of jeans it shouldn’t matter. We’d recommend just using warm water.
STEP TWO: AIR DRY
Hang dry them indoors. Use binder clips or clothes pins on the waistband and let them hang naturally.
STEP THREE: STRETCH THEM OUT
While the jeans are still somewhat damp, you should put the jeans on. The denim is easier to stretch when it’s damp. It’ll probably feel uncomfortably tight at first, but they should fit perfectly soon.
STEP FOUR: WEAR THEM OUT
Wear them, man. Live your life. Cuff them. Uncuff them. Put shit in your pockets. Run around. Whatever it is you did before your raw denim, continue doing so.
STEP FIVE: DON’T WASH THEM
Don’t wash them. Some people will tell you to not wash them for six months. Some will tell you a year. Others will tell you to never wash them. Honestly, when I was younger and unaware of what raw denim was, I wore a pair of Raw Levi’s that I picked up at a J.Crew outlet. I just wore them the same way I wear all of my pants. I’d wear them a few days. Put them away. Wear them again, spill on them, wash them and hang them dry. I didn’t think about it, and I have to say the jeans still look pretty damn good. We’d recommend going as long as you can without washing them, but that’s up to you.
Here are some guidelines to consider. If you have a stain that you can’t live with that you can’t get out with a sponge and water, then it might be time to wash your jeans. If the seat of your denim begins to puff out like you’ve been squatting everyday for the past month, then it might be time to wash your jeans. If your jeans start to smell like the underarms of a middle linebacker at the end of the 3rd quarter, then it might be time to wash your jeans.
Washing the jeans is simple. Put them in the washing machine. Keep in mind though, you only need about an eighth of the amount of detergent you’d normally use. Pick a rinse cycle with minimal spin and use cold water. Then hang your jeans up to dry as previously instructed. Put them on damp the same way you did with the initial soak.
If you’re obsessed with not washing them, then here are two ways you can keep them fresh for months.
For stains, Mr. Clean Magic Erasers work wonders. But a rag and some water will also work pretty well. For smells, use Febreze or put them in the freezer for a few hours. The cold will kill any fowl smelling bacteria.
STEP SIX: GIVE THEM TIME TO FADE
The last and most important thing is to give your denim time. Give them a chance to wear and fade. It will be completely worth it when you look at them a year or two from now and see how far they’ve come. With our guide on how to take care of raw denim, you’re jeans will look great for the rest of your life.