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What Exactly Is Raw Denim?

What Exactly Is Raw Denim?

There’s something so iconically American about a good pair of denim jeans. Few garments are more timeless and unquestionably stylish. Jeans have been a mainstay in this country’s sense of fashion for generations. Beginning as tough workwear in the mid-1800s, denim jeans have withstood the test of time as a durable style mainstay. Now there are dozens of brands producing high-quality denim clothing in modern fits and washes. But, for the purest jeans, the blank denim canvas, you’re going to want to seek out raw denim.

Much like natural wine, raw denim has always been around but has become increasingly in vogue as consumers seek better, more interesting, and perhaps more sustainable clothing. Is raw denim better than your stonewashed pair of Levis? Do raw denim jeans need to be meticulously cared for? We’ll get to the bottom of it.

So, What Is Raw Denim?

Raw denim is essentially pure or unwashed denim. Most jean brands pre-wash and/or dye their denim to get a desired color, texture, and fit. Because raw (or dry as it’s sometimes called) denim is untreated, it’ll feel stiff and scratchy at first but will gradually break in over time, like a good pair of boots or a leather jacket. To keep the wine analogy going, your standard pair of jeans is like a commercial bottle of wine treated with sulfites and other preservatives to keep it shelf-stable. It’s solid, consistent, unchanging. Whereas your raw denim is au naturel, it’ll take on the complexities of its environment and change over time.

raleigh denim selvedge

And Selvedge Denim?

Although the term “selvedge” is often used alongside raw denim, there’s a key difference. Raw or pure denim refers to the wash. As mentioned above, raw denim is dry, unwashed, and unshrunk. Selvedge denim signifies your jean’s construction. Selvedge denim jeans are stitched with the use of a shuttle loom. You’ll notice a wide, carefully sewn seam on the inside of your selvedge jean pant legs. (See above for an example from Raleigh Denim Workshop.)

Well-made selvedge denim jeans can last far longer than your standard pair and will certainly earn you some points with denim heads. However, selvedge denim will run you a bit more as the process of making them is more labor-intensive and the quality tends to be higher. So, while most selvedge denim is in fact unwashed, raw and selvedge shouldn’t be used interchangeably.

How Do I Wear and Wash Raw Denim

Like a good pair of boots or leather gloves, your raw denim jeans will need to be broken in over time. Your fresh pair of raw denim will likely be stiff and pretty tight, perhaps a bit uncomfortably so. But, wear them enough, and the denim will mold to your body for a comfortable fit. That’s why raw denim is so adored; it creates a unique, personal pair of jeans every time.

Because raw denim isn’t washed, your jeans will fade and age with you over time. The outline of your phone might start to show in your right pocket or you’ll find creases based on how you sit on the sofa. Raw denim is like a natural customization process that leaves you with a pair of jeans built just for you.

Some folks suggest that you should never wash a pair of raw denim jeans. While they shouldn’t be in your laundry basket every week, washing them a few times a year should be perfectly fine. Just make sure to wash them inside out in cold water and let them air dry.

The Best Raw Denim Jeans

Now that you’re a true denim head, it’s time to get yourself a quality pair of jeans. Here are some of our favorite producers of raw denim jeans.


A.P.C. New Standard

The French denim manufacturers A.P.C. have been working with raw denim for years — well before it had entered the mainstream style vocabulary. The New Standard jeans feature Japanese raw denim with an orange topstitching and selvedge stitching on the interior. A.P.C.’s jeans run a little long but look great cuffed.


Raleigh Denim Workshop Alexander: Selvedge Raw

Raleigh Denim Workshop makes some of the most well-regarded jeans in the country. While they’re certainly more expensive than your standard pair of Levi’s, they’re built to last. And the quality is immediately clear. The Alexander jeans, dubbed “the most well-crafted jean I’ve ever had on my body” by Tommy Fazio of GQ, feature intricate selvedge stitching and a clean, simple construction. They’ll look great uncuffed with a pair of leather boots or cuffed with your favorite sneakers.


Fint & Tinder Raw Denim

We’ve been really impressed with Flint & Tinder’s products lately and it’s clear they take their denim seriously. This pair of raw denim features a slim fit for snug yet comfortable jeans. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better pair of jeans in this price range.


Todd Snyder Made in USA Raw Selvedge Denim

For an all-American pair of raw denim jeans, head to Todd Snyder. Their small batch denim line is a true passion project with the cotton woven on vintage looms at Vidalia Mills in Vidalia, Louisiana. The relaxed fit will give your legs some room to breathe but will still mold to your body shape as you wear them. They’re a stylish, well-made pair of jeans that will only get better with age.


Naked & Famous Weird Guy Stretch Selvedge

Naked & Famous makes denim fun. With wacky collaborations and oddball inventions (scratch and sniff jeans?), the denim brand has made a name for itself in irreverent fashion. Their Weird Guy Stretch Selvedge combines the long-lasting unique qualities of raw denim with the comfortable fit of stretch jeans. This pair, in particular, features a medium rise and standard fit in the thigh before tapering down slightly.

Want to read more about the best denim jeans? Click here for Cool Material’s Guide to Denim.

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