Those stiff, dark jeans are going to look very, very different in eight months if you take care of them correctly.
1. Know the difference between unsanforized vs. sanforized denim.
If it isn’t clearly labeled on the jeans, it’s very important that you ask the salesperson (who hopefully is knowledgeable enough about the brands they carry).
If you’re buying unsanforized jeans, you definitely want to wait until after your first soak before getting your jeans hemmed — or else you risk ending up with a pair of $200 highwaters.
source: Denim Future
2. But keep in mind that all raw denim will stretch out.
When you factor in vanity sizing, stretching, and shrinking, the size it says on the tag can be incredibly inconsistent across brands. Superfuture has a good thread on brands and how they run sizing-wise. If there’s a particular brand you’re interested in, it’s a good idea to research them first so you know you’re buying a size you’re not going to regret later. For instance, APC jeans stretch about two sizes, and they should fit tight, at least for the first month.
3. The first rule of raw denim: Do not wash the jeans. SOAK THE JEANS.
If you wash your jeans too soon, you run the risk of ruining your fade, as well as any future fading (premature washing will eventually make it twice as hard to get that perfect creasing). Soaking the jeans in warm to hot water for a couple of hours will shrink the jeans to their natural state, so you have a better idea of where the real hem length will fall. It should also remove some of the excess indigo dye so you’re not leaving blue stains everywhere you go.
Remember that the hotter the water, the more they will shrink.
Quick note: If the denim is sanforized, it’s not necessary to soak the jeans. Just start wearing them.
4. Hang the jeans to dry — don’t fold them.
Use clothespins, pants hangers, or binder clips. Don’t fold them or you’ll make extra creases.
While the jeans are still damp, this is a great time to put in a little extra work to wearing in your jeans. Put them on and move around. Sit cross-legged.
5. If you really want to avoid this cumbersome process, you could always buy “one wash” jeans.
One-wash denim has already been washed once, eliminating the shrinkage issue. It should still fade exactly like any other raws. Blueingreen.com in NYC sells them, but at the high price of $275.
[source: Denim Blog]
One-wash denim is usually soaked in sea water by hand. That’s where they differ from sanforized jeans, which are preshrunk by a mechanical process in a machine.
[source: Rawr Denim]
6. Starch helps you get the sharp, dramatic creases that you want.
The reason why a new pair of raw denim jeans are so stiff is because they are highly starched. It comes off in the initial soak, so many raw denim fanaticists insist on spraying their jeans with starch. You can DIY your own in a spray bottle: 2 heaping teaspoons of corn starch to a liter of hot water.
This isn’t totally necessary, unless you are deeply concerned that your creases won’t be profound enough.
[source: Rawr Denim]
7. You’ll want to wait to “officially” wash your jeans — ideally anywhere from 4–12 months.
The thing about raw denim is that you’re not supposed to wash it. If you wear your jeans everyday, you can probably get away with washing them 4–6 months after purchase. If you alternate jeans, you’ll want to wait longer. If you feel happy about how your jeans are fading, it might be time to finally give them a wash.
Wash them alone in a washing machine on the gentlest and shortest cycle at a low temperature (ideally, using a small amount of Woolite Dark) and hang dry.
If you’re really concerned about the sanitary conditions, rest assured that not washing your jeans will not result in any unusual bacteria growth down there .
8. Don’t go longer than a year without washing.
The bacteria will eat away at the nether area and you’ll blow out the crotch, which sounds even more painful when you consider how much you paid for these things.
9. Now that you’re officially washing your jeans, avoid washing them too often.
Washing your jeans constantly when they aren’t particularly soiled or sweat-laden will break down the fibers and drastically reduce the lifespan of your denim.
10. You can always freeze your jeans to kill bacteria if they start to get super grody.
If your jeans are starting to smell, turn them inside out and spray with Febreeze. Then, place them in a plastic bag and keep them in the freezer for 24 hours.
11. You’re a slob and you spilled wine all over your jeans. Now what?
If you can help it, don’t be a slob. But if this happens, you don’t want to use soap or detergent if you can help it — else you risk getting a weird looking fade. Just dab at it with a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. Or scrub at it with a wet towel.
source: Of Iron and Oak
12. “Weft” is the underlying color that your jeans will eventually fade to.
Common weft colors: indigo, brown, olive green, and yellow.
13. Look for jeans made with ring-spun yarn.
“One of the main characteristics of ring spun yarn is its slubbyness and uneven surface, which is a result of its varying diameters. This gives the fabric an authentic vintage look once worn and washed. Additionally, ring spun yarn is both softer and more durable compared to open end yarn.”
[source: Denim Hunters]
14. “Selvedge” doesn’t necessarily make the jeans more durable.
“Selvedge” is one of those buzzwords that no one actually knows the true meaning of, yet it evokes a vague sense of authenticity. It simply means that the edges are sewn on old-style shuttle looms. This finish is usually the sign of a higher-end brand, but if you’re on a budget, it’s certainly not something that should make or break whether you buy a pair of jeans. It is no longer a definitive indicator of quality.
Quick note: If you’re cuffing your jeans, a selvedged edge might appear slightly cleaner than a non-selvedge hem.
15. Pay attention to the weight of the denim you’re buying.
The weight will determine how comfortable your jeans feel depending on what climate you live in. However, heavier denim will result in sharper fades.
16. You have three options when it comes to the length: hem, cuff, or stack.
These are your three options when it comes to your jean length.
Hemming: Do not hem your raw denim jeans prior to soaking as the denim will naturally shrink in length.
Cuffing: Cuffing can look great with sneakers, but some people are diametrically opposed to this look. Any cuff over 1.5–2” could result in some unwanted rockabilly connotations.
Stacking: This is the technical term for the effortless “bunching up” of the jeans at the ankle. Too much stacking looks awkward, but just the right amount can leave you with some nice, natural-looking creases.
17. Here is a selection of a few of the most popular brands, ranging from $100–$300.
On fit: If you have short legs, you might want to opt for a mid-rise as opposed to a low-rise. A higher waist will give the illusion of longer legs. And be sure to check the butt — huge pockets aren’t super flattering for your ass.
Two quick notes: Definitely research the stretch factor before purchasing. A.P.C.’s have a tendency to stretch two sizes. And some retailers, such as Nordstrom’s, have a great return policy that are basically like a warranty for your jeans. If they start to fall apart in a year, you should be able to return them (but keep the receipt just in case).
18. Understand that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
This photo illustrates a pair of APC raw denim jeans before and after. A pair of raw denim jeans will create creases and fading in a way that is a unique reflection of YOUR body. They can be incredibly uncomfortable for the first day, or even week. But if you follow these rules, your jeans will one day look like the perfect pair of worn-in blue jeans. And they will turn into the most comfortable jeans you’ve ever worn.
For even more raw denim maintenance tips in harrowing detail, check out Superfuture’s raw denim “encyclopedia.”