When the whole selvedge/raw denim craze began in Western countries, a lot of people would wear brands like Nudie, etc ‘dry’, and defer the first soak or wash as long as possible. Many reasons exist for this – some people wanted to prevent indigo loss, some wanted to keep the stiffness/starch in the denim so creases would form better, some just did it because everyone else was doing it 😛
I guess it’s all a matter of opinion, I just find the “I’ll never wash my jeans” thinking a tad weird. Imagine if a vintage shirt craze started, and everyone walked around in shirts that haven’t been washed in months… A lot of Japanese denim nuts do that too, but that’s beside the point.
Most artisan denim makers, though, meant for their jeans to be soaked before wear – the old Levi’s ‘Shrink-to-fit’ concept. Many advantages exist in soaking your jeans before you wear them, including (but not limited to): better fit, increased fabric density & strength, corrected stitch tension to fabric pull balance, removal of chemical coatings used during the manufacturing process, and removal of excess indigo (most companies tend to over-dye) so your furniture won’t be ruined. Rest assured, well-dyed Japanese denim will not suffer from excessive indigo loss – most makers actually recommend washing their denim once every month or so, to prevent bacteria & grit degradation of the denim, thus prolonging the life of the jeans (preventing crotch blow-outs, butt rips, etc).
Furthermore, what you’ll find is that vintage denim hobbyists tend to do it the old fashioned way too: shrink-to-fit (soaking or washing) before wearing them & washing them more regularly (Samurai Jeans recommends monthly wash, Sugar Cane recommends quarterly wash). In this way, you will get more authentic vintage ageing, i.e. the creases & ridges will form on the different seams, the twist in the legs will become apparent, the denim will be stronger and therefore allow longer wear, the fading will become less contrasting and more vertical, achieveing more ‘hue’, etc. This is my preferred method! I would soak before wearing even for sanforised denim, because they do shrink as well, just not as much as unsanforised denim.
However, the same may not be said of Nudies, etc – my comments only applies to Japanese makes. For the care of brands like APC, Nudies, etc please refer to the mynudies.com forum 🙂
Of course, always keep common sense in mind. If you’re wearing a pair of Studio D’Artisan 23oz jeans in the Australian summer, you would want to wash them frequently – there is a fine line between dry denim hobby & hygiene hazard 😛
How do you soak a pair of Japanese denim?
There are many different methods, but this is the one that I have found to be the best, after having pre-soaked more than 20 pairs…
1. Hot soak at around 50 degrees C (a bit lower if natural indigo) for 1 hour
2. Change water, soak another 1 hour in same conditions
3. Repeat step two
4. Oil the leather patch
5. Dry in shade
For jeans that are a tad big, or heavily dyed, I chuck the jeans, inside out, after Step 1 into the washing machine. 30 to 40 degree C hand-wash cycle (or gentle wash). Proceed to Step 4 afterwards.