Shock, Horror! British Press Gets Raw Denim All Wrong!

Popping up on our media feed this weekend was an article in the fashion section of the UK’s Guardian newspaper. With the title “Why you should never, ever wash your jeans (unless you really, really have to)” it obviously caught our attention. Now, as much as we respect The Guardian, this article simply contains too many factual errors and too much mis-information for us not to comment on it. We are not trying to be smartypants, we are just pointing out that you will trash your precious jeans if you buy in to this tosh.

On the whole, the article reads much like a Johnny Come Lately with regard to the present attitude towards the question of when, or indeed if, you should wash your raw denim jeans. In all of fashion, as soon as the marketing guys get hold of an idea and run with it, the it is often on the decline and the next big thing is on the horizon. We’ve seen this recently when the big brands got hold of the “no wash” policy and started telling us to freeze our jeans. By this time, the die-hard denimheads had a couple of project pairs under their belt.

The practicality and anti-social nature of the whole concept of not washing was beginning to change people’s attitudes. We saw experimentation into the best way to wash your jeans; the best way to maintain the colour, encourage the fades, and prolong the lifespan of the jeans themselves. Perhaps the whole misconception of the Guardian article is summed up in the first quote from Hiut Denim. “Raw denim is best given a good six months before washing. The longer you leave it, the better your jeans will look.”

Need to brush up on the right way to keep your raw denim gorgeous? Click here.

Why You Should Never Say “Never Wash”

Agreed, the longer you leave it the better your jeans will look. But they will not last nearly as long and besides, “six months” is half a year, which is considerably shorter than “never.” And, as much as the true denimhead is fascinated in the evolution of the denim, he is also looking for something that will endure. This is what will finally tip the argument towards washing. Your raw denims, which you love so much and which you dropped a heavy chunk of cash on, will simply last longer with the occasional wash.

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Sadly, the Guardian article states exactly the opposite when they inform us “the point of not washing for as long as possible is to avoid breaking down the fibres of the denim.” In fact, not washing your denim does exactly the opposite. The dirt, oil, skin and grit that you accumulate on your jeans over time create a kind of abrasive paste which slowly grinds away at the very core of the fabric, destroying it from within. It is also where all those bacteria feast, emitting that odor so commonly associated with breaking in jeans in the “proper” way.

The lack of water to remove the leftover starch from the weaving process also makes the cotton brittle and more prone to breakage. All in all, not washing your jeans will in most cases mean that they wear out faster.

It should be made perfectly clear that we are not preaching that there is only one way to break in raw denim. It is completely up to you, the wearer, how you choose to go about it. But we cannot stand by and let raw denim novices and the general public believe that denimheads always say never wash. If you are in the process of breaking in your first pair of raws and want to try the “no-washing” path, all power to you! Have fun with it. But there are a couple of things contained in the text which you simply should not do.

Setting The Record Straight

Jeans are bound to get dirty sooner or later. To postpone washing, we often see recommendations about rubbing off stains with a damp cloth. This should be done with care, and you can expect the indigo to rub off with the stain and leave you with a lighter spot, which, on the first wash, will get more pronounced. Instead, try rubbing of the spot likely with only water and your fingers.

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Also, sanforized denim is not the same as pre-washed denim. Sanforization is the process in which the fabric is stabilized and pre-shrunk to prevent shrinkage when the jeans are washed. And only a very small amount of raw denim out there is unsanforized, and it will shrink, which is the whole point.

Wash or Don’t Wash; The Choice Is Yours!

Although the article is pretty wide of the mark in most of its advice, it does serve to illustrate an interesting point. Raw denim is still very much to the fore of the denim scene and indeed wider fashion. And due to this, the ethos of a pair of raw denims is very much in the zeitgeist.

People want products with a soul and a story. They want to be able to call it theirs and therefore want it to last. As much as we denimheads tend to take this for granted and get hung up on the details of fit, repro, stitching etc., it is still the craft, the process, and the longevity of a pair of raw denim jeans that is at the heart of what we love about denim.

And this is bringing people flocking to the fold; so wash or don’t wash, it’s up to you. Just wear them! And if you decide to wash, always turn them inside out!

Photography curtesy of Andrea Barbuska (aka Beatle)

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