01/27/2023

Why I Only Buy Raw Denim

For the past decade and a half, I've only bought and worn raw denim. Here's why.

Raw denim had a moment a few years ago – suddenly, everyone who wanted to be cool had to have a pair of jeans from Imogene + Willie, with cuffs rolled sky-high to show off that sweet selvedge ID. For some, the decision to go raw was a fashion statement, but for me, it was a matter of practicality. 

What Is Raw Denim?

Raw denim is a pretty loose category, with a handful of analogous names: dry denim, rigid denim, selvedge (which is actually talking about the weave of the fabric, but tends to go hand in hand with raw jeans), etc. But what does this all mean? 

In the most basic of terms, we’re talking about jeans that haven’t had all the starch and color washed, tumbled, sandblasted and wrung out of them. They’re stiffer, non-broken-in, solid colored jeans that in the best of conditions can literally stand on their own without a set of legs holding them up. 

For years, this was the only way you could buy a new pair of jeans. All the whiskers, honeycombs, rips, tears and fades had to be earned by the wearer themselves through rough and tumble work and play. 

Why Did People Abandon Raw Jeans?

Over time, people began to associate well worn jeans with some additional cool factor. Instead of patching holes, people began proudly wearing their tattered trousers, and wearing them to cool-guy places like rock concerts. 

It takes time to break in a new pair of raw jeans

Everyone wanted to look like their favorite band, but there’s the rub: it takes time to break in a new pair of raw jeans. Eventually, big box denim providers caught on and began selling pre-distressed jeans en masse to every clothier in every mall so that anyone could look like Kurt Cobain or Bruce Springsteen (or even Justin Timberlake at the drop of a hat. 

Why I Only Buy Raw Denim 1

The Cyclicality of Style

As fashion tends to go, the pendulum eventually swung back in protest of the downfall of denim. What was once rugged workwear had become bleached, bedazzled, and blown up cotton-elastic blended madness with only a handful of wears remaining at the time of purchase. This wasn’t what denim was supposed to become. 

Suddenly, people began looking for the original denim – the old raw standards. According to Google Trends, this reached a fever pitch in the fall of 2013, when everyone and his brother was searching for “raw denim.”

Why I Only Buy Raw Denim 2

It had now once again become fashionable to wear completely raw selvedge denim, eschewing any markings at all. The deeper and cleaner the blue, the brighter the selvedge edge would shine as a beacon of status. Interestingly, since the boom, many of the companies that made their names by “stepping out” from the pre-distressed jeans game are now offering their own pre-distressed options

Why I Made The Switch

Now that the history lesson is over, let’s get back to the premise: why do I only buy raw denim? The answer is simple: I buy raw jeans because I have weird genes. My weird body doesn’t play well with the pre-wrecked options. 

Until I discovered raw denim, I could hardly wear a pair of jeans for a month before the crotch and/or back pockets would just spontaneously shred. I don’t know how I did it, but it was the same story every time, regardless of the brand I purchased. With raw jeans, I could wear them for a year or more without incident. 

Beyond the durability improvements, my weird body also led to the pre-distressing and fake-fading looking totally out of place when paired with my natural stress points – knee fades might be halfway up my thighs, whiskering at the pelvis would often be halfway down my thighs, and behind-the-knee honeycombs would be smack dab in the middle of my calves. With raw jeans, all the fades and whatnot that came with time actually looked natural on me because they were made by me

How To Get Started For Yourself

Are you pre-distressed over how to get started with raw denim? Don’t be. While you can easily spend a fortune on fancy Japanese selvedge raw denim, it’s just not necessary. Take a look at sub-$100 offerings from Levi’s, Wrangler, Lee, and Unbranded Brand. Wear them like you stole them, and see how you feel.

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