Are You a Denim Head? | The Art of Wearing Raw Denim

March 28, 2013
What’s in your freezer? If the answer is “a pair of jeans”, then you’re definitely a Denim Head. If I ask how long you’ve been wearing a pair of jeans that have never been washed and the answer is six months… you better be a Denim Head!

So, what’s all the stir about, and why have raw jeans captured the interest and imagination of so many guys? Possibly because the topic involves a man’s favorite article of clothing – his jeans – and not because he doesn’t like to do laundry.

Men have been walking the earth in blue jeans since 1873, thanks to two entrepreneurs, Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss, who created the first pair and brand of blue jeans. Their comfort and durability quickly caught on, elevating the blue jean’s status to America’s favorite trouser in no time at all. It wasn’t long until the rest of the world shared our love affair, giving rise to their popularity, which continues to grow today. For short, men everywhere love a good pair of jeans and can’t imagine life without them!

This fondness has become personal, for lack of a better word. I don’t think many of us can deny the attachment we have to a favorite pair that’s been with us through thick and thin. Much like a child’s security blanket, men and their blue jeans are inseparable. How many of us would rather give up just about anything before letting go of such a good friend?  Lots, I’m sure, but no one more than the dedicated Denim Head, who takes his love of jeans to a whole new level.

Jeans are synonymous with comfort. They soften and fade with time, and transform into what feels like an extension of our bodies, or a second skin… and therein lies the love affair. But some of us want more, so much so, we’re willing to put the time and energy into tempering a pair of jeans to truly make them our own. Such commitment and dedication results in a pair of jeans that, like a mirror, reflects one’s very existence. Ok, so maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but a properly worn pair of dry denim jeans will present a “roadmap” of sorts, of the wearer’s individual body and its movements, while revealing where he’s been. Let me explain…

Cotton jean fabric is dyed, and is then washed once the jeans have been constructed – all before leaving the manufacturer and landing on a store shelf. This process of washing, known as “sanforization”, is done in order to reduce the amount of shrinkage that would naturally occur after their first wash post-purchase. This process ensures our jeans will shrink no more than 5% after we wash them the first time. Great idea – thank you Mr. Sanford Cluett. However, not all jeans today are sanforized, which means they will shrink approximately 10% after their first wash. That may not sound like much, but it’s pretty substantial. Non-sanforized jeans require they be purchased 2 inches larger in both the length and waistband, due to the extent cotton initially shrinks when wet. Raw denim is not sanforized, which is why the terms raw and dry are used, so remember to add those additional inches. If not, you’ll end up with a pair of high waters!

Sanforizing also removes some of the dye; creating a faded jean that doesn’t look brand new. The process also softens the denim, which adds to their immediate comfort, and accelerates the break-in period. Since raw denim is not sanforized, these jeans are purchased in full-dye/color, with a stiffness to match. The advantage to wearing this full-colored, purest form of denim is the color will fade in any area the denim is continuously rubbed or creased, as opposed to sanforized jeans that tend to fade all over, in a generalized manner. Overtime, the natural fading of raw denim creates patterns of wear, known as whiskering, which are unique to the individual, much like a fingerprint. Since this personalization takes months to achieve, raw denim must be cared for in a specific, disciplined way.

Raw Denim Care

Pre-soak: This step is optional and only needs to be done once if the jeans are too rigid and stiff to wear comfortably after purchasing.

  1. Fill a bathtub with 2-3 inches of hot, but not scolding, water. The hotter the water, the more dye will bleed from the fabric; defeating your mission.
  1. Turn the jeans inside out and lay them in the tub. In order to keep them completely submersed, place something heavy, like filled water bottles on top. Avoid moving the denim once it’s in the tub, since movement will cause more bleeding.
  1. Remove the jeans from the water after 1-2 hours, and hang them upside down to air dry. Hanging them upside down will reduce the shrinkage amount.


Once dry, put your raw denim jeans on and wear them as much as possible, since the more they’re worn, the more they’ll wear and fade. Some enthusiastic heads wear them daily or even to bed, in order to get the best results.

Odors, Smells, and Funk

Obviously, wearing anything everyday for months, without being washed, is bound to get nasty. Odor causing bacteria will inevitably cause a funk no one wants to smell. The following maintenance tips will help to keep things under control, so you won’t lose all your friends.

After wearing, hang the jeans up on a hanger, so they can air out. Do not fold them over a hanger, since this will prevent air from reaching the entire jean. It’s all about air circulation. Another benefit to hanging raw jeans, versus dropping them on the floor in a heap, is no unwanted creasing will occur.

As necessary and beneficial as hanging is, it won’t be enough to control the odor and bacteria indefinitely. Humid environments invite bacteria to grow, so where there’s bacteria, there’s odor. Naturally, the longer the jeans are worn, the funkier they’ll get, so, what’s a guy to do?

Take the jeans off and lay them flat on a bed or table. Empty the pockets and brush them off with your hand. Carefully fold the jeans and put them inside a plastic bag.

Put the bagged jeans inside the freezer and leave them in overnight, or for at least 5-6 hours, which will kill the bacteria. Remove the jeans from the freezer and the plastic bag and marvel at how fresh they smell! You might want to wait until they reach room temperature before putting them on… I’m just sayin’.

Another option for controlling stink is to use Febreze, which can be lightly sprayed on hanging jeans. I still recommend freezing them, but if freezing alone is not sufficient, give Febreze a shot.

Giving Raw Denim a Bath

Other than wearing your raw denim until you decide to give them a bath, which can be as long as twelve months, that’s all the maintenance you need to do. Speaking of baths, the following directions are recommended, in order to preserve your months of hard work.

  1. Do not wash raw denim in a washing machine.
  1. Fill a bathtub with 3-4 inches of cool to lukewarm water.
  1. Add a small amount, about 1/2 of the manufacturer’s recommended dosage, of gentle, non-bleach, dark-color-saving laundry detergent to water and mix. Woolite Extra Dark Care is a safe brand.
  1. Turn the jeans (or any raw denim) inside out and lay them flat in the tub. Grab those water bottles again and place them on top of the jeans to keep them submersed.
  1. Let them soak for 45 minutes.
  1. Empty the soapy water and rinse the jeans in cool water to remove the detergent.
  1. Remove the jeans and hang upside down to dry. Hanging them outside in the sun is safe to do.


Gentlemen, that’s about everything I’ve got on raw denim. For more information, checkout Raw Denim. There you’ll find everything you need to know about raw denim, including who makes it and where to find it. As always, no matter what you wear, wear it well and wear it proud!

by Aaron Marino

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