Denim Care

Should you soak your jeans before wearing? Or, should you wear them raw? This debate has been ongoing since Western hobbyists started obsessing about Japanese denim at the turn of the century.

When I first started doing this denim thing, I wore them raw, I wore them to sleep, and I certainly did not wash them. Five years into the hobby, as I started appreciating the finer details of the hobby, I learnt that, with most unsanforized denim, their true potential in terms of the show of character could not be realized without shrinking the fabric. Five years again after that, as life became ever busier, I tend not to give too much special attention to my denim – machine wash before wear, machine wash once every month, low heat machine dry if I need to shrink them down.

Tanuk Retro denim, raw state
Tanuki Retro denim, raw state
Tanuki Retro denim, after one-wash
Tanuki Retro denim, after one-wash

Of course, at every stage and every depth of this hobby, we are looking for slightly different things, perhaps. And everybody is entitled to their own methods – they are your pants, after all!

With today’s post I wanted to outline some arguments for soaking and going raw. Maybe giving you more information to make an informed decision as to your modus operandi.

The advantages of shrink-to-fit:

  • Increased denim density and strength
  • Removal of chemical coating utilised for coating the fabric
  • Possibility of a better fit, as most Japanese makers cut with the one-washed fit in mind
  • Enhanced character & texture of denim
  • Creation of interesting aging details, e.g. seam ridging
  • Removal of excess indigo dye, preventing staining to some degree
  • Increased life-span of denim
  • No issues with foul smells or other hygiene related issues
  • More ‘vintage‘ looking fades

The advantages of staying raw:

  • Easier sizing, little neeed to accommodate for shrinkage
  • Enhanced denim creasing
  • Faster fading of indigo dye
  • More ‘contrasting‘ looking fades

From my perspective there really is no right or wrong. Even though I personally favour shrink-to-fit, I do understand that many hobbyists – especially those just starting out – are looking for sharp fades quickly.

Japan Blue Godzilla denim after 1 week full wear: One-wash doesn't have to mean low contrast fading or poor creasing
Japan Blue Godzilla denim after 1 week full wear: One-wash doesn’t have to mean low contrast fading or poor creasing.

So, what’s a good middle ground? Somewhere between machine wash and no wash?

Newbies might like to give this shrink-to-fit method a try:

  1. Turn jeans inside out
  2. Hot soak in water around 40 degrees Celsius *
  3. Agitate jeans in water, remove air bubbles and ensure water penetration
  4. Replace water after 30 minutes, removing starch
  5. Soak for a further 30 minutes
  6. Dry in shade
  7. Feed leather patch when dry
  8. Optional: Starch area at back of knee (honeycomb)

* Why 40 degrees Celsius? Don’t worry, your denim won’t be damaged by higher water temperatures, but your leather patch might: Leather is a tough material, but vegetable tanned leathers really don’t react well to water or high temperatures, so keep that in mind when choosing your water temperature!