When it comes to denim wear and care there is no one correct way. However, the way you treat, wear, and wash your denim will directly impact the way it looks and feels over time. Some of us care deeply about this; others, not so much. Our Wear & Care guide is for those who want to know how to achieve a certain look, extend the life of their jeans, or are simply curious about denim. And for those who like to just let it ride—that’s great too.
THE DENIM LIFECYCLE
As you wear and wash your jeans, the denim changes in a predictable way. A brand new pair of jeans typically looks crisp and clean and works well in more formal environments, unless you’ve purchased a distressed pair. As you wear in your jeans, get them dirty, wash them, and so on, they take on a more casual look best suited for nights and weekends. At the end of the lifecycle, after hundreds of wears and multiple washes, you’ve developed a great summer casual jean—super faded and broken in with a few holes sprinkled about.
Depending on how you wear and wash your jeans this cycle could run its course as fast as a year or two—it all depends on the activities you take part in. The harder you wear your jeans, the shorter the lifecycle.
Both raw denim and washed denim go through these same phases. Raw denim’s big difference is that it takes significantly more time to break in and it’s more dramatically affected by wearing and washing.
RAW DENIM BREAK-IN PERIOD
Raw denim is, well, raw. It feels stiff. It looks stiff. And, if you bought the right pair, it feels tight in the waist, hips, and upper thighs. Don’t worry, this is all part of the raw denim experience. As soon as you put on your jeans you’ve begun the break-in process. After two to three weeks of daily wear, you’ll notice the denim loosening up in all the right areas and it will begin to mold to your body. It takes a little bit of discomfort in the beginning, but after a month or two of consistent wear your jeans should start feeling like a second skin, fitting perfectly and comfortably everywhere.
TO WASH OR NOT TO WASH
But we all get dirty, and our pants can stretch too much.
So, many of us denim heads follow a simple rule of thumb: wear your denim as long as possible before you wash it for the first time.
Delaying that first wash will give your jeans the best opportunity to develop your personal wear marks. The longer you wait, the more prominent your contrast and fading will be. This is especially true for raw denim, but can also apply to washed denim as well.
So, how long is as long as possible? Well, depending on the denim, it can run from two and eight months of actual wear for most. (Though legend has it that some extreme denim heads go as long as one or even two years.)
Depending on how you want your denim to develop, take two main variables into consideration when deciding to wash: 1) days of wear and 2) desired color loss. As you wear and wash your raw denim, the ratio of wears to washes will impact the overall color and fading that occurs. Every wash strips away some of the indigo dye, and in high traffic areas, indigo loss will be more substantial over time.
By delaying washing while wearing frequently, you’ll minimize the color loss and maximize fading in areas of high abrasion: front pockets (whiskers), thighs, behind the knees (honeycombs), and ankles (stacks).
The way you wash your jeans dramatically impacts the way your jeans fade.
Once thoroughly soaked, give your denim a good rinse with fresh water to remove any remaining soap or dirt, roll up in a towel to remove excess water, and hang until dry.
A cold soak delivers minimal impact on your jeans and minimizes dye loss. Rather than fading the jeans, a cold soak removes dirt and eliminates odors.
Soaking in warm water can remove more stubborn stains and odors, but it’s little harder on the pants and accelerates the fading process. Follow the instructions for a cold soak, but sub warm water. Temperature tip: water should be warmer than room temperature but cooler than your morning shower.
Warm water will shrink your denim; however, as long as you purchase sanforized denim (or followed shrink-to-fit steps with unsanforized denim), shrinking should be minimal. Within a few days of wear, your denim will return to normal.
Cold Machine Wash
Machine washing will more thoroughly clean your denim than cold or warm soaking, but it will also wash away more dye. We recommend setting the cycle to delicate and turning the jeans inside out to reduce the fading and distress.Again, we recommend using Woolite Black to keep color loss at a minimum. Once cycle is complete, immediately hang to dry. We prefer hang drying to the dryer because it reduces additional shrinking, fading, and fiber loss. Machine washing is generally reserved for after the desired fading has occurred or you are ready for the color of your jeans to lighten more dramatically. If you are seeking high-contrast fading, don’t be afraid to do a machine wash after one to two years of heavy wear. Your jeans will likely come out looking great if you have been wearing your denim regularly and performing cold soaks for light cleaning.
Dive into the ocean, but keep your jeans on. Cover and rub your denim thoroughly with dry sand. Repeat multiple times depending on how much fading you want. Rinse with fresh water to remove the sand … and the ocean smell. Dry in the sun. If you are more experimental, this is a fun technique that can provide unique fading after you’ve worn your denim for a long period of time.
Dry cleaning is an effective technique to clean your denim while keeping fading to an absolute minimum. However, over time the chemicals used in dry cleaning will break down your denim, which makes us sad. If you go this route, be sure to ask your dry cleaner to skip on pressing your denim.
If you intend to wear your denim as long as possible without washing, this can be a very effective first wash, but it’s not recommended over time as a substitute to a bathtub soak or the good ol’ washing machine.