The GQ Guide to Buying Raw Denim

By Brad Nash
22 August 2018
Style, Denim, Buying Guide
Giuseppe Santamaria
Everything you need to know about the fabric that makes up the DNA of the barista.

In the world of apparel, raw denim is the fabric that makes hipsters sing a romantic jingle. It's a material for the passionate and the committed, which is obviously a bit of a ridiculous proposition, as there's nothing that intrinsically makes a pair of raw denim jeans better than a pair of high-quality jeans you can buy from just about any brand. However, buying raw denim is, if the enthusiasts are to be believed, a way for someone to create a pair of jeans that perfectly suits their personality and their wearing habits.

Buying raw denim will open you up to an entire online community of enthusiasts, like a car club you'd never want to join, but raw denim also comes with an inherent layer of craftsmanship and romanticism behind it that's actually quite intriguing. In no other circles will you find people so passionate about their pants, and that's kind of endearing. If you want to take the plunge in the indigo pool, here's everything you need to know.

First of All, what makes Raw Denim 'Raw'?

Raw denim is basically defined by the way it's coloured and treated (or not treated) before it's sold to a customer. Most denim is dip-dyed in indigo to give it its blue colour, and in the case of most consumer jeans you can buy at, say, General Pants, come pre-washed to remove some layers of the indigo, reduce shrinkage, and soften-up the fabric for instant wearability and comfort.

Raw denim jeans forgo the last part of this process and are sold to the customer in the condition they're in directly after the dying process. This means that raw denim jeans are generally stiffer when you buy them and look entirely untreated, unworn and unfaded.

This is where the fun part of owning a pair of raw jeans come in, as they will slowly stretch and fade to your shape and wear habits. As the multiple layers of indigo come away from the fabric of the jeans, they'll take on a look that's entirely unique to the wearer depending on how often and how harshly they've been worn. Because the un-faded denim is more heavily dyed, this often creates a far deeper, richer faded look than you'd be able to attain by simply buying a pair of pre-faded jeans.

The time it takes for a pair of raw denim jeans to take on that personal look depends on a couple of things. First of all, raw denim comes advertised as a certain weight, ranging from somewhere between 5 oz to 20+ oz per square yard of fabric. The heavier the jeans, the longer they'll take to break in (and become comfortable), and the more extreme look they'll provide.

Most importantly, however, it's all about timing. Jeans worn more often will take on a more distinctive, worn-in look, and the longer you wear your jeans between soaks (especially before soaking them for the first time), the more intensely the areas of stretching, staining and creasing will fade. MAJOR TIP: Don't wash raw denim. Always soak it in cold, detergent-free water.

What's the difference between 'Raw' and 'Selvedge' denim?

'Raw' and 'Selvedge' are the two terms most-often used to indicate jeans of a higher quality, but few know how they actually differentiate from one other. You can actually buy raw denim Jeans, selvedge denim jeans AND raw selvedge denim jeans all exclusively from one another. While Raw Denim refers to the way the jeans are treated before being sold, Selvedge denim actually just refers to the way in which the fabric is actually sewn together.

Selvedge denim is the OG of denim – the name comes from the type of fabric used to make denim jeans before in the ’50s.

They were made on shuttle looms and the jeans made with these looms came with tightly women bands down the side to stop it from fraying and coming apart. These edges were referred to as “self-edge” (because they came out the loom finished), and so came the name “selvedge”.

Selvedge jeans generally tend to come from higher-quality denim mills where traditional methods of jean-making have been preserved. This is a particularly prevalent practice in Japan, with Japanese selvedge jeans amongst the most sought-after and expensive you can buy.

Raw denim isn't necessarily a beacon of high quality, but brands who do sell raw denim products often produce some of the best jeans money can buy. Raw Denim will generally set you back over Dhs500, and due to the fact that it's stiffer, will often come in either regular or slim fit cuts as opposed to skinny. Finally, it's well worth looking out to see if the jeans are sanforised or unsanforized. Sanforized denim has essentially been treated and pre-shrunk, while unsanforised jeans will shrink somewhere between 5-10 percent after their first soak.

Here are a few brands look out for when buying your first pair of raw denim jeans.

Acne Studios
Cheap Monday (look for their 'Unwashed' range)
Iron Heart
Levi's (generally only released in limited quantities)
Naked & Famous
Nudie Jeans (look for 'Dry' on the label)
Pure Blue

Via GQ Australia