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Sanforized vs Unsanforized Denim: Risks, Rewards and How to Soak and Size.

Choose the right size, fit and how to shrink your unsanforized jeans for perfect results, every time!

In the previous article, we spoke about sizing and getting the right size of jeans for your body in your chosen fit. It’s not that complicated. Just need a pair of jeans or trousers that fit you well and a measuring tape. Easy right?

We yes… and no. Things can get a little more complicated when you throw in sanforization into the mix.

Sanforize…… What Did You say?

Sanforization is a method of processing denim to stabilize it and reduce the amount of shrink and distortion the fabric will experience when the jeans are washed or given a hot soak.

When denim comes off the loom it is in its purest state, “Loomstate” as it is known. It can then be taken off and sewn into a pair of jeans right there and then. But here comes the issue. When the jeans go through their first soak, some shrinkage will occur. Sometimes-dramatic amounts of shrinkage.

Sanford has the Solution!

Sanforization is a process that was invented by Sanford Lockwood Cluett

Way back in the 1930s. Using a horribly complicated bunch of rollers and steam and heat and magic. The loomstate denim is pulled this way and that and comes out the other end in a much more stable form of its former self.

Why the hell do they still make jeans out of unsanforized denim, why would you want jeans that shrink?

Well, there are a couple of reasons. First history. This is now the first jeans were made. Did you hear of Levi’s Shrink to Fit? Well, that’s where this comes from.

That’s Just Twisted!

Along with this comes some really geeky things like leg twist. That’s where the leg of the jean twists round sometimes 60, 70 or 80 degrees. This is caused by the shrinkage of the denim and the manner in which it has been woven. If it right-hand twill, like traditional Levi’s for example, your selvedge ID will twist towards the back of the jean. Left-hand twill from the likes of Lee will twist the ID towards the front of the jeans. Some denimheads just love this feature of jeans and the unsanforized denim do this most dramatically.

Can’t say for sure…

There are a few more things that are just purely subjective. The look and feel of the denim. The fade possibilities. The longevity of the jeans. The overall character. All of these things depend on so many other factors it is just impossible to say.

Not the Norm!

It is worth noting that unsanforized denim is certainly in the minority, even in the world of selvedge denim. Therefore the mills that do produce it and the brands that use it are top notch. They really know what they are doing in terms of weaving denim and constructing a pair of jeans. So they are something really special.

So you want history,  character,  leg twist! Bring on the unsanforizeds you say…

Wait wait wait. Remember the shrinking part?

The shrinkage does throw a certain degree of uncertainty into the mix when getting the right size. Particularly in leg length.

With leg length, I think all unsanforized denim will come in one standard size. That’s ok if they are too long after the soak, you can cuff them or get them hemmed. But if they are too short, you’re in trouble. And remember, these unsanforized jeans tend to be on the pricier side.

With overall shrink in the waist, thigh etc, form my personal experience this was not so much of an issue. They tended to stretch out after a few wears to the size before the soak. But length, you can’t do much about that.

TL:DR. Click now to watch the video

Considerations with Fit and Denim Weight.

With denim weight, after the soak, the denim will go up in weight. If the same amount of fabric suddenly shrinks by 10%, 1 square meter of that fabric will weigh more.

At the lighter end of things, the 13-14oz mark, this won’t make much of a difference. When you get to the heavyweights. This could make a considerable difference. I think I remember reading that particular 21oz denim would shrink to a 23oz denim after a wash.

When it comes to fit, shrinkage can make a big difference. Especially in the rise. If the rise is bang on before the first soak, then after you are likely to find that it’s too short and your ass is hanging out.

Okay, you need a really long leg. But what about the waist?

I would say in the unlikely event that there are variations in length, go for the longest possible. For the waist. Maybe an inch but not more. You could end up with jeans that stretch out to the original size and are now just too big. Personally, I go true to size.

So sanforized, unsanforized. Confused?

Well. Just keep these few things in mind. First off, if you’re new to this game. For your first pair go for a sanforized denim. It takes all of the guesswork out of finding the right size and the uncertainty as well.

Try and buy unsanforized jeans in the store. I say this for all jeans but with unsanforized jeans, this is doubly important. If a store is selling unsanforized jeans then they know (or at least should) know a ton about denim and specifically the shrink characteristics of the jeans they sell. They will be able to advise you not only on the right size but also the right way to shrink the jeans.

If they tell you to wear them in a bath and then walk around in them till they’re dry. Flick them in the forehead and steal the jeans. They deserve it!

Finding that Fit

I would stick to the roomier fits with a high rise when it comes to unsanforized jeans. With the high rise and more room through the thigh, you have more room for unexpected results. You won’t notice losing an inch in a pair of LVC 1955s but in something low rise, that’s going to make a world of difference.

Decide home much leg length you have to lose. If you cant risk to lose four inches, I wouldn’t risk it. Also, keep it in mind that you might want a cuff this takes off a couple of inches too.

So how do you shrink your jeans then?

Easy! Run a hot, hot bath and chuck your jeans in. Make sure they are weighed down using a few glasses. Don’t bother turning them inside out. That’s only when they go in the washing machine.

After 30 mins or so. Agitate the water a little bit to make sure all the fibres get a good soak. Leave for 20-30 mins more.

That Sinking Feeling

Do not fold them up and throw them in the sink. The jeans need to be laying flat so they can shrink uniformly overall. The creases where they are folded will prevent them from doing this. If you don’t have a bath…. Go visit a mate with one.

After this, hang them up in a well ventilated, warm room, open out the legs and just let them dry naturally. Similarly with folding them and sticking them in the sink. Don’t hand them over a clothing rail. It won’t be quite as bad but you’ll get funky looking ladder creases in them.

My Personal Experience

My experience with unsanforized denim has been nothing but good. First with a pair of Big John’s Rare 008 and then with a pair of Red Clouds.

Hypebeasted… Big Mistake!

With the Big John’s I listened to the hype and wore them in the tub and wore them till they were dry. The most insanely uncomfortable thing I have ever done.

After, they had to go right back in the tub to get out all the weird ways in which they had stretched. The knees had this horrible elbow scrag look going on…. Not what you want! They lost a load of length, 8-9 cm but the waist, rise etc. stayed pretty much where they were.

A Lucky Find

Next up, the Red Clouds. I picked these up for a crazy low price and to be honest, I don’t think I would have gone for them if they were not so cheap. They were HUGE! And I am not a small guy.

I decided, fuck it. Let’s see how much shrink these babies have in them! First off the tub soak. In they went with water that was as hot as it would come out of the tap. They came in a little in the waist. Rise lost ¾ of an inch. They were high-rise anyway being a 1955 fit. Leg lost about 3 inches and there was about another 4 to spare.

But I was still wondering… how much more shrink do they have.

Now, don’t start sending hate mail or getting out the torches and pitchforks. I threw them in the washing machine… inside out of course… at 60 degrees.

And you know what! It was the best thing I could have done!

I got the perfectly fitting pair of jeans. Perfect in the leg, perfect rise perfect waist. Just awesome. I’ve machined washed them a couple of times since then at a more sedate 40 degrees with no shrinkage what so ever. Just a great pair of jeans!

Don’t Risk It!

Guys. If you are going to get unsanforized, I’d maybe not gamble like I did one the machine wash. It was a bit reckless and the shrinking process is unpredictable enough. Stick to the tub.

Do you still want Unsanforized but without the risk?

One last thing…. If you are new to the game but have your heart set on a pair of unsanforized jeans there is a solution that will take some of the risk out. There are a few Japanese brands who offer “one wash” jeans. They have taken the loomstate denim, sewn it into jeans and then kindly shrunk them down for you. So the waist measurements won’t change (much).



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