Raw Jeans: The Great Unwashed
Keep out of laundry for 6 months, buyers told, to personalize themBy: Mike BenzieThe Atlanta Journal ConstitutionPublished on 01/27/08
Jarad Seavers, a graphic designer at Earnest Sewn, wore this pair of jeans for more than a year before he washed them.
“Do not wash these jeans for six months.”
What about the washing?
There is another important question, one most people ask when I tell them I’m up to this challenge:
In six months, will there be a discernible difference between a pair of raw jeans that were washed immediately and a pair of raw jeans that were not?
Denimheads say absolutely —
that coveted indigo will chip away when washed, essentially dulling the color contrast that adds character to each pair.
“It’ll just look like a navy, boring, dad-kind-of-a-jean,” said Tammy Wong, North American brand manager for the Swedish designer Nudie.
Nobody wants that.
The women at the Atlanta alteration shop where I took the jeans to be hemmed were, however, less than impressed by my fancy new purchase. We embarked on an epic standoff when the manager told me I needed to wash the jeans before she could shorten them because they would shrink. I told her I couldn’t wash them until I wore them and couldn’t wear them until she hemmed them.
The manager looked me over. She looked at the jeans. Spoke briefly in Korean and then conveyed the oh-so-universal sign of holding her nose with one hand and waving the other in front of her face. Which translates to “stinky.”
‘Fabric is more rugged’
“It’s funny how some people are so grossed out about not washing their jeans,” said DressCodes co-owner Karen Mascavage in an e-mail. Mascavage sold me the jeans at her Decatur boutique. “I have received some of the most hilarious looks from people when I tell them not to wash the raw jeans for six months.”
Mascavage said raw denim — which typically starts at about $150 —
is a bigger hit with men, mostly because they’re willing to trade initial discomfort for the long-term payoff.
“With women, it’s a hard sell,” she said. “They want to put it on and look like a million bucks right away. They don’t want to work for it.”
With raw, Mascavage added, “they wear you for the first two weeks.”
Some favor the authenticity.
“The thing I like about raw jeans is they sort of represent how jeans were originally meant to be,” said Philip Teske, 49, of Midtown. “I like the fact the fabric is more rugged.”
Even folks who don’t live and breathe denim understand the satisfaction of a perfect fitting, worn-in pair of jeans. We treat jeans differently and with a little more love than, say, slacks. Jeans are personal, in the same family as a beloved T-shirt or a perfectly molded ball cap —
items that tend to look better with age.
Washing instructions have always varied, from turning jeans inside out to soaking in a tub. One of designer brand A.P.C.’s suggestions: Take your dirty unwashed jeans to the ocean, where you should alternate between swimming and rubbing dry sand on the denim. Then, rinse with fresh water and dry in the sun.
Teske, who works in finance, is new to raw and said he’s probably a little more into jeans than the average person.
He’s washed some pairs after four months and waited eight months to clean others.
“I can’t say they really smell,” he said, but when they need freshening, he puts his jeans in the freezer.
Still, Teske keeps a cool perspective.
“At the end of the day, they’re just jeans,” he said. “They’re a simple product, and I sort of like simple things.”
A blank canvas
By not washing the jeans for months, raw jeans enthusiasts say you’re not just helping them take the form of your body, you’re forming them to your habits. The basic idea is the denim serves as a blank canvas and the wearer plays an active role in the way the jeans eventually look.
This is probably the point where those who are not raw jeans enthusiasts roll their eyes. Perhaps even you, right now.
Let’s hear them out.
Earnest Sewn president and founder Scott Morrison, who describes himself as a “never-wash-his-jeans-type-of-guy,” said “in six months of aggressive wearing … you’ll see interesting marks starting to form.” This can be from wallets, keys, tobacco tins, stains or smudges.
Mascavage knew someone who purposefully customized a pair of jeans by putting a calculator in the pocket so the keypad’s subtle indentations would be visible.
And then there’s this from Nudie’s small hardcover book “The Naked Truth About Denim”: “Jeans are all about passion and deep relationship. … Your everyday life gives the denim its unique character, formed by you into a second skin —
personal and naked.”
Thinking too much about jeans
I’m not sure I want to be in a relationship with my bluejeans, and I am sure I don’t want to call them my second skin. But it’s not often that I’m challenged by a piece of clothing, and I’ve found the idea of molding bluejeans fascinating.
For me, owning this pair of jeans is a cross between raising a puppy and owning a pet rock. Call it a project. I’ve thought about taking them along when I do cool things and go cool places so that they will somehow reflect an awesome life I’m living. I’ve thought about what I’m putting in my pockets and how this will shape these dirty, dirty jeans six months down the road. I’ve thought about that day in May when I will throw these suckers into the wash for the very first time. And I’ve though probably way too much about a pair of bluejeans.