Simply put, raw denim is denim that has never been washed or processed.
The “raw” in raw denim essentially represents the fact that this is truly virgin, unwashed denim. The cotton that makes your denim is spun into yarn, this yarn is dyed with deep indigo, the dyed yarns are woven into a fabric (typically right hand twill), and the fabric is cut, sewn, and finished as the jeans you know.
When the buyer first wears their new raw denim jeans, they begin the long process of breaking in, fading, and adding a truly personalized character to the pants.
Over time, raw denim reflects the way it’s been worn. From hot spots in the knees, lap whiskers, back of the knee “honeycombs”, and even wallet and phone markings, raw denim keeps its deep dyed color in some areas while lightening organically in others. Eventually this may even lead to heavily distressed areas that (over years sometimes) give way to need for repair. Knee blowouts and patching needs around the phone pocket are common — all of which ads to the natural unique character of your jeans.
This is the antithesis of your common, heavily-washed jeans from the department store…. It’s very easy to spot a jean that has a ton of love and hand work versus one that was yanked through a massive production line. Where fading, whiskers, and more details are artificially placed there by the manufacturer in typical modern jeans, with raw denim, the wearer adds the character.
Rules of Raw Denim:
Do Not Wash (at first)
Washing will remove indigo and alters the fabric, removing some of the wearer’s own ability to get the personalized fading they’re looking for. After buying, most raw denim wearers will put their jeans through 3 or more months of regular (if not daily) wear before considering washing. Some wearers may even forego washing for 3 years or more without washing. But this is an area where personal preference — and your tolerance for “smelliness” — is definitely a factor.
Find Your Cuff
Cuffs are popular in raw denim and you’ll likely need to adopt one for yourself when you start wearing. Raw denim jeans typically come a little long, so without hemming (which many avoid) cuffing is a good way to prevent weird bunching at the bottoms. Additionally, many brands of raw denim are sold selvage as well which is best worn cuffed to show the selvage “edge.” Some raw denim wearers roll the ends to give a more casual look (best if the pair is tighter fitting) and some prefer a more uniform tight or wide cuff of 1 to 3 folds. .
Size Them Down
Raw denim definitely stretches. This is one of those things you need to be particularly aware of when buying your first raw denim jeans. There is no doubting that most raw denim is expensive and take it from us, it is no fun at all making that investment only to find that you don’t actually like wearing your jeans.
The unfortunate part about talking stretch is that the amount of stretching in any one pair of raw denim will vary from that of the next.
Stretching will typically be about 1 size up after breaking in the denim. So if you wear a size 32 waist on regular pants, you should try on a size 31 to start. When raw, your denim shouldn’t fit comfortably quite yet or you will probably find them to be too large after wearing. Your goal fit is something tighter than you’re used to in the waist but not painful. Look for a pair that is buttonable but definitely snug.