Buying Your First Pair Of Raw Denim: The Beginners Guide

While many readers here are well past the point of their first raw denim purchase, we figure there are just as many who are fresh to the entire concept. If by chance you fall into this bucket, there are a few things you should take into account when you decide to take the plunge. Note as well that pinpointing the “perfect pair” is never an easy feat. There are so many attractive options on the market, not to mention brands offers a multitude of fits and fabrics.

Right off the bat, however, the easiest and best solution is to head to a store that offers a healthy range of raw denim and is run by a knowledgable staff. This should give you an excellent opportunity to try a lot of different pairs as well soak in advice given by someone who knows their trade.

The fact remains though that raw denim is still not always easy to obtain, and the internet is the only option many people are left with. Finding the goods on the web is not a problem at all, but many people struggle with the unknown and end up in a dilemma with a lot of unanswered questions. To help you through some of the basic challenges you may encounter, we walk through the denim buying process in five simple steps.

1. Know Your Measurements

First and foremost, you need to know your measurements. One of the easiest way to do this is to take one of your own pairs of denim or pants that have what you consider to be an ideal fit. From the images below you can see what measurements are required when buying a pair of raws, then by means of a simple tape measure, you can reproduce the same measurements on your own pair.

While you’ll still want to double check the measurements with the retailer (particularly if you’re purchasing online), below is the common seven-point criterion to get you moving in the right direction.

Waist (Band)

Waist measurement

Based upon this pair of LVC 501, the denim measures approximately 16”, or 32″ total (note: tape not laid flat in image)

Lay your denim on a flat surface and pull the front waistband up so that it is on the same level as the rear waistband. Measure your waistband from left to right and multiply by 2 to find your waist size.



Inseam measurement in this case is 34’’ (note: tape above not measured exactly from crotch)

Start with your tape in the center of the crotch and measure alongside the inseam until you reach the hem.

Leg opening/hem

Leg Opening

The leg opening measurement of this pair is 8.5’’

To measure the leg opening, place the front and the back of the hem in-line so that they are on the same level. Now measure the width of the hem. 

Upper Thigh


The upper thigh here measures 12’’

Measure horizontally from the crotch to the outside of the leg as shown in the image above.



The knee of this pair measures 9.5″

Start with your measuring tape in the center of the crotch and measure 13” downwards, alongs the inseam. 

From this point turn your tape horizontally and measure the width of the leg. This will give you your knee measurement. 

Front rise

Front Rise

The measurement here is 12’’

Measure vertically from the crotch to the top of the waistband with your denim facing up.

Back Rise

Back rise

The back rise on this pair is 14″

Measure vertically from the crotch to the top of the waistband with your denim facing down.

2. Determine Your Budget

It goes without saying that a pair of raw denim is a quality item. It’s durable and can last you for years assuming it is maintained and treated well. The weight of the denim is an important aspect that determines the quality and durability of a pair. For this reason the higher weights denim (17 oz. and up) are traditionally more expensive. There is also a big difference between handcrafted jeans and those made in a mass production factory. Some brands make their denim by hand and in small batches, a time-consuming process but one which can give the denim a story and more character.

The price for a decent pair of raw denim starts around $80.00 and can go up as high as $2,000.00 in the exorbitant case of the Momotaro handwoven G001-T Gold. Think about what you are willing to pay for a pair of raw denim and try to stay in your price range. For a few examples, see our lists of raw denim under 100 dollars, between 100 and 200 dollars, and between 200 and 350 dollars.

3. Sanforized or Unsanforized

Before you move forward on any one specific denim, you’ll want to know whether the denim is sanforized or unsanforized as both options call for different sizing methods. We previously published an article on sanforization which makes for a useful reference in fully understanding the sanforization process. To re-cap though, the basics of (un)sanforization follow below.


Most raw denim is sanforized, meaning that they’ve been treated with water once to avoid any shrinking that may have occured during your first wash. When buying a sanforized pair, although they how will stretch roughly 0.5″ – 1.0″ with wear, bear in mind that they will shrink roughly 1% – 5% and you will need to size down accordingly.


While more uncommon, numerous vintage brands still utilize unsanforized denim. Implied within the name, this is raw denim that has not undergone the sanforization process and thus will shrink a fair amount when they are washed or soaked for the first time. Most pairs will shrink about 7% – 10% which could be 1.5 to 3 inches in total, if not more. Due to this immense shrinkage, one often sizes up so that the denim won’t be too tight or short after the initial soak.

4. Picking The Right Size

At this point you’re likely starting to really hone in on a few makes and models. Before jumping ahead though, you’ll want to combine steps 1 and 3 above in order to determine the optimal size you need. This is sometimes as easy as referencing a sizing table on the site (note this is not always 100% reliable) or emailing the store owner.

In general though, it will boil down to three options:

True to Size (TTS)

Buying the size tag that has the closest measurements compared to yours.

Sizing Down

Buying one or more size tags smaller than what you currently measure. This is typically the case when buying a denim that stretches a lot and/or you know you’ll be wearing heavily. The caveat with tight-fitting denim is that they are more prone to blowouts, but if you’ve done your homework well enough (see step five), this will be an easy decision.

Sizing Up

Buying one size tag or more larger than the size that compares to your measurements. This could be the case with denim that is very sturdy/strong/tough and has little to no stretch, denim that is smaller and tighter in certain areas, and/or denim that is unsanforized or shrink-to-fit.

5. Pick a Brand And Do Your Homework

Without doubt, this step is completely personal and depends on your taste and style. What color denim do you like? Do you like visible backpocket stitching or would you like them to be clean and simple? Do you prefer slim, straight, skinny, etc.?

Nearly every brand has a few different styles and fits. Pick a few that suit you best and search attain as much information as you need to make the decision comfortable. There are a number of online options of course, including yours truly and a variety of forums.

In essence, although buying your first pair of raw denim can sometimes be a daunting process, it doesn’t necessarily need to be. We believe following this succinct five-step guide is a great approach to getting the job done right the first time, but if you have another process, let us know through the comments below.

And be sure to check out our new tool, the Rawr Denim Scoutwhich allows you to search all the raw denim in the world by almost any preference you can imagine.



Somar is a young and passionate denimhead. He's in over his head and his denim addiction has definitely taken over all his free time. ''October 2012 was when I discovered raw denim and it definitely got a hold on me! Every day I'm still learning and discovering new stuff.'' Next to reading and writing about it, Somar also has his own blog called 'Fade Project' where he posts updates about his denim. Tumblr: Instagram: @fadeproject

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  • OT

    Considering all the info involved, it’s hard to get it right the first time. I think that this guide will definitely help though (if the person reading it isn’t immediately overwhelmed lol). I do think there is merit in figuring it all our yourself and coming to love your not-so-perfect fit raw denim.

    • Chris

      Agreed, i stupidly went through 4 pairs of raw jeans before i realised i needed to size down. Yes, that is one pair of nudie average joes, one edwin rainbow selvedge, one prps raw and one hiut selvedge. So please people dont make the mistake i did and not size down on sanf jeans!

      • Somar

        Be aware that this advise doesn’t go for ALL sanforized denim. My Railcars for example would never have fit if I had sized one down on them. I think it comes down to step 4 & 5: Do your homework! Read a lot on different forums and/or ask the manufacturer for advice.

        What OT said (up) is actually the best thing there is to say :).

  • Devan Prithpaul

    hi after months of posting comments on here i think i am ready to buy my first pair. the only question is apc super tiny guys or dior cms *flips hair* omg thank you.

  • Chris

    Im looking to buy some regular Oni jeans. My perfect fit so far has been 0702 momotaros w32 which fit tight and then stretch out. When i come to wash these i assume i should wear them to prevent shrinkage past the current comfortable fit? However i wouldnt expect the jeans to shrink that much anyway?

    For the Oni purchase as unsanf. I assume i should size to a w34 and do a pre-soak wearing the denim? My concern is that they wont shrink down enough?!

    • Devan Prithipaul

      They will stretch back a little bit after being worn for a while so your best bet would be to get a 34-33, depends on how you like your fit.

      • Chris

        So 33 for oni rather than 34?

        • Devan Prithipaul

          also depends on the temperature of the soak, im a size 28 SKINNY and i bought my oni’s size 30 (smallest oni offers) and soaked them in the hottest water my tub could get for about 2 hours, now they fit perfectly in the waist but are a bit big in the thigh and an ankle, so…they are a tad big, because the waist will obviously stretch.

  • kai

    You are never going to get that perfect fit unless you get jeans custom tailored specially for you but unless you have an open check book the chances are slim . Most jean patterns today are copied from very popular brands ! So the majority of the brands that you see will have similar style and fittings depending on the the denim fabric that is used . Is it sanforized or unsanforized how much stretch is there left in the fabric . Yes it is very hard deciding what jeans to buy online soooo many choices to pick from ! Unless you are lucky enough to live in area’s were they have shops such as SELF EDGE so you can try before you buy .

    • Chris

      Disagree. Jeans are not as complicated as a suit in terms of proportion. I could not ask for a better fit than my momos and surely shrink to fit really works well for some people? I could go tailored if i wanted to but actually ive not found the need as my physique isnt overweight or overly slim… I would expect others to agree with me on this… We may all like different fits but that fit can be the perfect fit as there is so much choice out there…

      • kai

        I dont know chris ? It sounds like you have the right body structure to fit in to most jeans . Me personally I find it a little harder to find the perfect fit because I work out regular having bigger thighs and slim waist . So I find I have to up size to cater my legs but leaves the waist and seat area very baggy . I was only talking about custom tailored jeans as an example to having a perfect fit !! Iam the same as yourself it all depends how you like you’re jeans to sit . But in my case more often it has to be a relaxed fit to suit my body type !!

        • Chris

          I can see what youre sayimg, the distinction there is more that you as an individual will have problems with ANY item of clothing. I train too but as it ismore boxing oriented i struggle with the edge of the sleeve in ts sitting at the edge of my shoulder and not the sleeve material becoming the shoulder coverage!
          The more complicated/less standard we are to the average person in any element of our life the more we will struggle to find people to cater for it! That said Kai down my local gym ive seen advertising for custom jeans and i dont think the pricing was too bad… Sadly you lose out on all the options ofthe”massmarket”.good luck finding the perfect pair mate!

          • kai

            CHEERS !!!

  • comb

    Knee is supposed to be more at 16 ” and tights should be measured at 1 ” below the crotch…

    • Somar

      I know there are a few different methods (like yours), but this one is actually very common and used by a lot of people, manufacturers and resellers. Just google it! :)

  • jjimenezjj

    Nice article, Somar! I will be referring this to friends of mine that are having trouble buying their first pair of raw denim :-)

    John J, AKA Mr Plastik

    • Somar

      Thanks man, hope it helps :)

  • D Doke

    Everyone has good things to say here. However, as far as the perfect fit is concerned, I think it’s different for everyone. Personally, I have raw jeans from 5 different company’s “slim” fits, and although they all fit and wear slightly different, I still like them all. Still wear all of them, despite how they differ in size and fading. I was always in pursuit of the “ideal fit” jeans, and after acquiring a variety of fits, still don’t know if I’ve found it…not sure if I want to, as I’ve found a few dope pairs of jeans regardless of trial and error! I started with a price I was comfortable with and continue to buy, so GET MONEY! I’m sure many will agree that a passion for denim can be very costly, but the rewards are sweet! Good luck!

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  • Tymoteusz

    Hey there friends, am I huffing nail polish or is the upper thigh measurement in that picture clearly, 11″ not 12″? Perhaps I am missing something on the way this measurement is done? Thanks for the guide Somar, I’m searching for my first pair of RAW as we speak!

    • Somar

      Thanks for the compliment :). I think you got a point there! You are not missing anything, that is just a small error.

      And have you found a pair of raws yet?

  • Ery

    Yup… without any doubt.. buying for first time and trying so hard to finally owning a pair of my dream denim is a btain storming task. For 2 months I’ve been studying this brand to locate the best mesurement closest or completely as the same as mine, and now I’ve archived it. Only one more task to be passed and that is to determine the shrinkage amount of this dreamt denim . Of course it STF. But the biggest qiestion is what if the sized up that I’ve choose will shrieked exactly to my personel or dream mesurement? … Please show me the light cause I’m now at the end of the victorious tunnel only half blind course my light have warn off….

  • Aaron

    Hey guys, I have been wanting a pari of RAW Demin for quite a while now after having bought a RAW Demin Jacket from G-Star (New Comic Hooded) some months ago which I totally love.
    My big trouble is that I do not have any store near by that I could go to to try a pair.
    I live in Austria (Bregenz- known from Quantum of Solace) which is not really huge…
    This is where my next problem comes into play, most of the stores I find that sell RAW Demin (especially the model I have in mind) are across the pond.
    This makes it dificult to just buy a pair, try it on and then return it for a different one if it dosn’t fit because of long waits for shipping, expensive s&h costs and customs.
    The pair I am particularly interrested in is the 666-XHS Indigo 25oz by Iron Heart.
    I suppose they should not shrink as they are sanferized, but will such heavy denim still strech much?
    It’s a lot of $$$ for a pair of pants and I am only willing to spend that if they fit me like a second skin and if they will last me for years on end (which I would expect with such heavy denim).
    What would you suggest and who has some experience with these pants?
    Thanx for the advice!

  • mcronin

    One question I have is in regard to inseam. It seems that every pair I look at has 34″+ inseam. Is this common? Or are they made longer to account for shrinkage later on? I have a 32″ inseam and I don’t want to be cuffing my pants excessively.

  • Ocean


    Who makes a pair of indigo or black selvage jeans for less than $200 with higher quality material in the front pockets that won’t pill, ever? Putting your hands in your front pockets should be a pleasant experience not a frustrating reminder of greed and capitalism. It’s the simple details that matter to me.

  • Alex

    Will sanfordized raw denim still fade?

    • boogie with stu


  • Jordan

    The previous article on sanforization you reference states “most raw denim is unsanforized”, however above it is stated that “most raw denim is sanforized”.

    Which is it??

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  • Denverdiva

    Do any of the American made denium products for women have a small percent of spandex for stretch? Or just pure cotton?

  • Xewl

    I normally wear a size 29w on Levis 511 Indigo but it has since stretched out on the waist to about 30w-31w so it keeps falling below the desired level.

    If i was to purchase raw denim sanforized (Nudie Jeans or Unbranded) should I size up or down? I’m confused because you say that it will stretch .5 to 1″ but will shrink 1%-5%.

  • Uberskeiver

    A tough dilemma but a visit to a knowledgable shop is probably the best way to go for a first-timer. I have had some great advice from Rivet & Hide and Son of a Stag (UK shops) and Pronto stores in Bangkok. Some sites will often sell ‘one wash’ versions from manufacturers – sizes of raw and unwashed are available on a number of sites. Although there will be some variation one will be a ble to get a good idea of shrinkage rates from brand to brand.

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