New To Raw Denim? – 5 Things I Wish I’d Known

Here at Rawr Denim we normally don’t like to talk about ourselves much. After all this site is about denim, not us. But today I’d like to share with you a few things I wish I’d known when I started wearing raw denim.

Inspired by this post on (a great resource for people interested in learning Japanese), these are lessons I learned the hard way over a number of years and multiple pairs of jeans.

It’s a bit of a long read but I hope these tips can save you some of the stress and uncertainty (and money!) that I went through in my early days.

1. Pre-soaking Is A Must

We’re always getting e-mails asking about pre-soaking, and they typically go something like this:

“Hi, I’m new to raw denim and I just bought a pair of <insert jeans here>. Now what? Should I soak them? How do I do it?”

(Note: If you’ve written in an e-mail similar to the one above, thank you! We’re always happy to answer any questions.)

New To Raw Denim? - 5 Things I Wish I'd Known

Unless your jeans are once-washed (check when you buy them), the answer will forever be a resounding “YES!” Soak ‘em! Most importantly, it will make the jeans shrink down to fit your body better. Most raw denim is unsanforized, meaning that it is what Levi’s so aptly named “Shrink-To-Fit”. Pre-soaking is important if you want to get a good fit.

Secondly, a pre-soak will get rid of starch used in the manufacturing process, as well as any excess indigo. Contrary to seemingly popular belief, this is a good thing. (More on that later.)

For more info on how to pre-soak your jeans, see our previous article – “Soaking Raw Denim: The Critical Preliminary Step

2. Not All Jeans Fit The Same

New To Raw Denim? - 5 Things I Wish I'd Known


I know, I know. You’re thinking “Duh, Sean…” but hear me out. Just because you fit a 32 in A.P.C. doesn’t mean you’ll be a 32 in IronHeart, and vice versa. Because different brands each have different sources of cotton (including different cotton types), each type of denim has its own characteristics. Some will shrink more than others, some will stretch more, etc.

For instance, Samurai Jeans Co.’s “Zero” denim is renown for it’s intense shrinkage, and also for its ability to stretch back out. In this way, some brands are best to buy in direct correlation to your actual waist-size (“true-to-size” or TTS), whereas with other brands you should buy one size up or down depending on the denim.

If you’re uncertain about sizing for a particular brand, it’s best to check with someone who is familiar with the jeans. We recommend that you ask the retailer from whom you’re purchasing.

3. Not All Jeans Fade The Same

As I’m sure you’ve noticed from our weekly Fade Friday features, not all raw denim fades the same way. An easy example would be The Flat Head’s famous 3XXX denim, which is known to produce fades at a faster rate than say, Eternal’s denim which is said to fade slower than many brands.

In the same vein, don’t expect a pair of LVC jeans to fade the same way as that pair of Skull Jeans you saw on a forum. They each have their own characteristics, despite both being made of raw selvedge denim.

If you’re interested in getting a particular type of fading, its best to do some research and find out what brands you should be looking at.

4. There Is No Recipe For “Sick Fades”

I’m sorry, but it’s true. There is not, and never will be, a step-by-step guide to getting good fades. Besides, it largely boils down to opinion. One man’s “grail” pair is another man’s idea of “fugly”.

New To Raw Denim? - 5 Things I Wish I'd Known

It doesn't work that way!

In all seriousness, though, despite what the internet (perhaps our site included) may lead you to believe, there’s no secret surefire technique to raw denim. Each person has their own methods. Some people (like me) wash their jeans pretty frequently, whereas others (like Mr. Le) go for over a year without so much as a soak.

You might love the fades on someone else’s jeans. But even if you buy the same jeans and follow the same washing schedule, you probably won’t get the same exact fades as what you saw. Stop comparing and just wear your jawnz, dude!

5. The “6-Month Rule” Is A Guideline, Not Rule

You know that scene in Pirates Of The Caribbean where they’re talking about the pirate code and Johnny Depp says “They’re more like guidelines…”? That’s what the whole wait-six-months-before-you-wash-them business is.

New To Raw Denim? - 5 Things I Wish I'd Known

Jack Sparrow's Guide To Sea-Washing Raw Denim?

This is one of my biggest pet peeves. I’m sorry, but I’m so tired of seeing “since they’re raw denim, make sure you wait 6 months before you let them touch a single drop of water” on every blog and website. It’s simply not true.

Sure, I agree that you should wait to wash them. And yes, there can be problems if you wash them too soon, but 6 months is not the magic number that will dispel all fears.

You can get a great start by washing after only 4 months of wear. If you don’t wear your jeans everyday, you might need to wait longer than 6 months before the first wash. It depends.

For more info on when to wash your jeans, hop over to our past article – “When Should I Wash My Raw Jeans? – A Rough Guide

Though we’re not trying to assert ourselves as the ultimate voice of raw denim, we hope this clarifies a few things. Everyone has their own methods of everything, and I respect that. But I hope that I’ve dispelled some of the confusion surrounding the world of raw denim.

Stay tuned for “5 More Things I Wish I’d Known About Raw Denim” coming up in the near future.

Stay Raw!

– Sean
tw: @rawrdenim | fb: Rawr Denim | newsletter: Rawr Denim


An enthusiast for all things denim, vintage and manly; speaker of Japanese; Rawr Denim's Managing Editor. When he's not being a grammar-nazi, he can be found finishing his degree in East-Asian Studies.

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  • Wefty

    Nice article. I agree that washing frequency depends on wear and use. I know a guy that triple-soaks every pair of jeans he has, but it’s because he plans on wearing them for 10+ years and leaving the starch in the fabric would yield crotch blow-outs pretty quickly on heavier denim.

  • Grazfather x

    Good article. I will be linking this to people who need a primer. It’s a lot easier than explaining everything.

  • I’mNewHere.

    So, If I just bought a pair of elephant 2’s I SHOULD soak them, even if they’re Sanforized and worn for a couple days already?

    • Grazfather x

      It matters less if they’re sanforized.

    • Wefty

      I don’t typically soak my sanforized denim, if it’s really heavily starched (as in the creases behind the knees make you bleed), you may want to soak them to remove some of it.

  • MCT

    thanks… another good post.

    • sle-z-e

      I’ll fill in the blanks for you then.  If MOST raw denim is in fact not unsanforized, you do not need to soak to start thus confusing probably 75% of the readers here.  If you’re buying $400 Flat Head’s and you don’t know that you have to soak them first, you’ve got bigger problems than that….

      • MCT

        I don’t think you meant to reply to my comment?

    • sle-z-e

      bahahaha sorry MCT.  I thought your comment was in response to mine with sarcasm… I love the internet…

  • sle-z-e

    “Most raw denim is unsanforized”…… I wouldn’t say that at all.  Not even close

  • 91

    some think soaking speeds up the process of washingand some says otherwise….

    can anyone help me out with this debate??? (those who have experienced it for themselves)

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  • ohwussup

    you might want to add or note

    unsanforized = lots of shrinkage
    sanforized = little to no shrinkage

  • Anthony Savoy

    So. I got my raw denim…Now what? soak in cold or warm water? Do i add anything to the water? do i air dry?

    • Rawr Denim

      Sanforized or unsanforized? Mandatory for the latter and recommended for either. No need to tamper with the water (as long as it’s about room temperature), and hang drying is best too.

  • Chris

    I’m wearing my Edwin Jeans now for 1 month. I didn’t soak them. Is it possible to do it now or should I just continue wearing them until the first wash?

    • Rawr Denim

      Depending on how worn in they are now, soaking at this point wouldn’t hurt. If you’re finding they have been broken in fairly well though, it may be best to hold off until the first wash.

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  • Ck

    I’m been wearing my Momotaro 0100SP for a month now,but i think the fit is a little baggy.Should i soak them?

  • Kevin L. Terlep

    How long should they be soaked for the first time?

  • Kevin

    I just bought a pair of Unbranded 101 skinny selvedge jeans (my first pair of selvedge denim), I believe they are sanforized. I have two questions, if anyone is able to help me out it would be great. 1) should I soak them prior to wearing them? I got theme in the same waist size as I wear in Levi’s 511s which fit me well so I don’t want much (any) waist shrinkage. 2) they are a 34 inch inseam, which is much to long for me, I generally buy 30 inch inseams which is still too long and just either cuff or have them tailored. However, cuffing with a 34 inch will look ridiculous as I’ll need to cuff about 5 times, so my question is can I have these tailored shorter right away? Should I wait until after the first wash? Or just deal with it and cuff them a bunch of times and never have them shortened? Any help would be much appreciated. Thanks

  • Grace Elizabeth

    Can I actually christen my raw jeans in the Atlantic Ocean? That pirate might actually be on to something…

    But srsly, will that work? Can I go down to Coney Island, run through the water, and have the most perfect jeans ever?

  • c-boy

    Not sure of the soaking. I wore a pair of Nudie Thin Finn’s (oh how do I regret my skinny jean days) for a year without soaking/washing and they turned out pretty good.

    • Henry Alexander

      How come you regret your skinny jean days?

  • Okc Dave

    That’s completely gross, the idea of not washing your jeans as often as you wash yourself. Further all these ideas are just silly.

    1) Buy jeans.
    2) Wash jeans.
    3) Dry jeans

    4) Wear jeans
    5) Goto 2

    It isn’t more complicated than that. If you’re so obsessed with a particular denim look or spending $100+ on jeans, there’s something wrong. They are not rare, not dressy, and not complicated to own.

    • Zelch

      Man who doesn’t appreciate raw denim visits raw denim website, results as expected. Lack of research causes confusion, confusion causes anger.

      • Okc Dave

        Actually I do appreciate that it is durable and easy to care for, and I don’t even mind a hole here or there to give them character. The madness is being a slave to some concept that one should pay a premium then worry about them. This kind of obsessive compulsive disorder could be applied to most aspects of life and it’s a form of mental illness in any of them.

        My “research” is decades of owning, wearing, washing denim. I am quite capable of thinking someone is a dolt while feeling pity rather than anger. To assume otherwise would be silly.


          decades of owning denim less than 100 dollars?

    • lanmanna

      I don’t know about you, but I bathe and wear underwear. What’s the problem?

  • Oroku Saki

    Sean, I want you to know true pain like a close friend.

  • Maman

    I bought my flathead’s 502 skinny and i didnt soak them for about 4 months so isit safe for me to soak it now???