Denim has become the ubiquitous unisex, all-day material for people of all ages across the world. The comfort, price point, and versatility of the fabric has made it nothing short of a worldwide phenomenon.
Denim became popular as a fabric for the American working class, especially among men who worked physical labour on railroads and construction. Before the 1950s, most denim jeans were made from raw selvedge denim. However, production changed dramatically as cost concerns, overseas outsourcing, and scalability drove a rapid decline in the quality of the average pair of jeans (even as more were being produced than ever before). Consumer expectations also evolved, as people chose to pick out pre-faded, pre-broken in, and pre-torn jeans that gave the appearance of years of wear and tear.
First of all, let us explain what raw denim is. The average pair of jeans you may buy today has been washed already to soften the fabric, reduce shrinkage, and to prevent the dye from rubbing off.
Raw denims are simply jeans that have not been pre-washed. Because of this, they are relatively stiff when you wear them for the first time, and they take a few weeks of regular wear to feel ‘normal’. The indigo dye also usually rubs off.
Raw denim (all denim for that matter) comes in two types: sanforized and unsanforized. Sanforized denim has gone through treatment which prevents shrinkage after wash, while unsanforized denim shrinks by 5-10% after your first wash. Make sure to make a note of this when you are picking out a pair.
While they are significantly more expensive than a regular pair of jeans, a pair of high-quality raw denims can last years, and you really only ever need one pair. Raw denim also just looks better than regular fabric; it has a special sort of sheen and evident stamp of quality that any discerning eye will catch.
One of the biggest draws for many people toward raw denims is their personalizable nature. While mass-produced jeans come with factory-set fades and distresses, the creases, wrinkles, and fades in a pair of raw denims are shaped by actual years of wear and tear.
Many people never wash their nice jeans. This is a perfectly legitimate strategy if you can keep them from getting too dirty. If you absolutely must wash them, handwash them in cold water with just a pinch of detergent. Do not, under any circumstances, dry them in a machine.
Where to buy raw denims? The Japanese, because of a long and winding history which involves the founding of the Toyota company, have historically produced the best and most raw denim in the world. The best manufacturers remain either Japanese or American, and range in prices wildly from under Rs. 10,000 to more than ten times that. Here are some options across budgets:
Intro budget: Levi’s “Rigid” 501
Mid Budget: A.P.C. Petite Standard