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How to Style Raw Denim

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Raw or selvedge denim jeans have been one of the most coveted clothing items among denim enthusiasts and fashion lovers alike for years, with names like Nudie Jeans and Levi’s 501 jeans often being thrown around, but they may seem fussy to others who don’t understand the trend. However raw denim jeans and selvedge jeans have been quickly making their way into mainstream fashion, and for good reason.

Whether you’re wondering what the deal is with wearing raw denim, what the difference is between raw denim and selvedge denim, how to care for your pair, or how to style and wear them once you’ve got them, this guide is exactly what you need and will make you want to get your own indigo pair as soon as possible.

What is Raw Denim and Selvedge Denim?

Most men are accustomed to regular jeans and pre-distressed denim that can be found on the high street which have already been chemically treated, meaning they’ve been dyed, pre-washed, distressed, pre-shrunk, softened, and stretched. 

Raw denim, also known as dry denim, on the other hand is untreated and has only gone through the sewing and dyeing process, making them very stiff and a dark indigo colour before they’re broken in by wear.

While raw denim and selvedge denim are often used interchangeably, they actually refer to different things. Most selvedge jeans are made with raw denim, but selvedge denim refers to the edges of a fabric spun on a shuttle loom, which results in a tighter loom and more premium quality denim. 

These were often made in mills in Japan and North Carolina, but factories all over the world have started reusing the technique since raw denim has found a resurgence in popularity. Selvedge jeans are finished off on projectile looms with tightly woven bands that are designed to prevent fraying or unravelling. Given the edges of denim made on shuttle looms come out already finished, these are referred to as having a “self-edge.”

Brands like Nudie Jeans, Levi’s, Acne Studios, and Blue Blue Japan are just some of the most popular choices to go for when buying raw denim and selvedge jeans.

How to Care for Raw Denim

Unsanforized Raw Denim vs. Sanforized Denim

Raw denim jeans that come straight off the loom and are left untreated are also referred to as “unsanforized denim.”  Raw denim heads know that unsanforized denim will shrink up to ten percent, and they’re also known as “shrink-to-fit.” 

Unsanforized jeans should have their first wash in warm water for 30 minutes once you get them if you wish to prevent shrinking. Raw denim enthusiasts also take this to the next level by wearing their new jeans in the bath to ensure a perfect fit to their body. The new pair of jeans should then hang dry outdoors and hung by their belt loops so they don’t lose their shape.

Because raw denim jeans and selvedge jeans have become so popular in recent years, sanforized jeans have become more widely available. This means they go through the process of being steamed and stretched beforehand to eliminate shrinkage and so you can wash raw denim without fear that they may feel tighter once you put them on. However, you should still soak these jeans in cold water to remove starchiness and make them easier to break in.

How to Break In Raw Denim

The process of breaking in a pair of raw denim jeans can take a few weeks, but the result is undoubtedly worth it and you probably won’t be reaching for any other pair in your wardrobe soon after.

Whether they’re unsanforized or sanforized, you should still have an initial soak for your first pair of jeans to help remove starch and make them slightly softer for your first wear.

Once you start wearing your raw denim pair, it’s important to remember that the breaking in process isn’t a comfortable one. This new denim will feel very stiff as you wear it and will inhibit your movements for a few weeks. There isn’t any other solution to breaking in a pair of raw jeans but to wear them religiously, so simply be patient, keep wearing them, and be rewarded by the results.

However, wearing jeans that are fresh off the loom also means that the indigo dye will bleed and transfer quite a bit during the first couple of wears. Just remember to be mindful of where you wear your raw denim to make sure you don’t get indigo transfer on anything important.

How to Wash Raw Denim

It’s also very important to remember that washing raw jeans and selvedge denim isn’t like washing jeans you’d buy from the high street. Many men who love to wear selvedge jeans and raw denim will have differing opinions on how many times you should wash your jeans, with opinions ranging from every few months to not having them washed at all. If you can’t make up your mind or find anything conclusive though, take the best of both worlds with your best bet being to avoid washing too frequently.

Because raw denim and selvedge denim aren’t left in a vat with dye, the indigo colour doesn’t completely saturate the core of the denim’s yarn. Over time, selvedge denim jeans will begin to fade and show new shades of blue and signs of time and wear. These elements become more apparent with infrequent washes, while a pair of raw denim jeans that are washed regularly produce a more even fade throughout. How your jeans fade will be completely up to how you want to style them.

We recommend one wash every other month by soaking your jeans inside out with some cold water and detergent (you can add less or more detergent as you see fit), wringing out excess water, and leaving them out to air dry. Make sure, however, that upon first wash in the washing machine of your raw jeans that you wash them alone, as the indigo dye may seep into other clothing and fabric.

How to Wear Raw Denim

Now that you know the difference between raw denim jeans and selvedge jeans, how to break them in, wash them, and now have a pair of your own in the wardrobe, how are you going to wear them? Well, the best part about selvedge jeans is how easy they are to style and wear with anything and for anything.

Unlike regular jeans, the sturdier fabric of selvedge denim makes them great for workwear, so you don’t have to worry about wear and tear too much. Depending on the colour of fabric you choose as well, you can easily style and wear raw denim jeans from day to night and for various occasions.

Wearing a pair of selvedge denim jeans with a black leather jacket and white trainers is a cool and classic casual look that brings the ruggedness of the jeans to the next level. If you want to go a bit smarter with your look, you can wear your selvedge jeans to the office by simply styling them with a crisp button-down, tie, blazer, and your favourite dress shoes.

Men all over the world absolutely love raw denim and selvedge jeans thanks to how simultaneously versatile yet personal they are to the wearer, so feel free to style and wear them with absolutely anything you like.

Final Note

From breaking in and washing to styling and wear, raw denim and selvedge jeans require a certain level of attention and patience. However, as many men throughout the years can attest, the results that raw denim shows after much love and wear are quite worth it.

As long as you’re willing to stick it out and take the right steps of care, raw denim and selvedge jeans will quickly turn into your number one wardrobe essential that will last you years to come and look good with any article of clothing you put on. If you’ve been thinking about getting yourself a pair of raw denim but just haven’t gotten to it, this is your sign to buy and wear a pair.

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Jack Wilson

Jack Wilson is a 29-year-old writer based in Manchester. While initially uninterested in fashion when he was younger, Jack has since developed an affinity for men’s style. Because he’s always out and about, he’s always on the lookout for anything that looks good without sacrificing functionality to add to his collection.

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