Fall is pants season—but more specifically than that, fall is raw denim season. Like the apples you’ll be picking, raw denim is crisp, fresh, and satisfying. Unlike those apples, the best raw denim will get better as it ages (more on that in a moment). So you’ll want to get started on a pair now, in order to reap the benefits of a perfectly broken-in pair before you ring in the new year.
The Raw Denim Jeans Shopping Guide
There are few things as satisfying as a pair of jeans that have molded to your body to fit perfectly with the unique fades that come with time. Try as they might, even the most meticulously crafted pre-distressed jeans don’t quite measure up to the honest fades that result from raw denim and real-world wear and tear. But before we run the risk of sounding like that one annoyingly dogmatic denimhead you most definitely know, getting those fades doesn’t have to come with the gauntlet of breaking in a pair of cardboard-stiff jeans. Plenty of brands offer jeans with rinsed denim that have taken out the rigidity without compromising your goals of reaching fade glory. You might not pass muster with the raw denim purists, but come springtime, your perfectly faded jeans will convince them otherwise.
Denim PSA: yes, there is a difference between raw denim and selvedge denim. Essentially, raw denim refers to the treatment of the fabric while selvedge denim refers to the type of machines that the denim is woven on. All denim comes out of the looms as raw, unwashed, undistressed fabric before being cut and sewn into jeans. After the jeans are stitched together, they are often taken to a wash house for further treatment and distressing. Selvedge denim can be raw, but not all raw denim is selvedge. So if you’re looking to fade your jeans naturally, make sure the denim you’re getting is raw.
The great news is that every brand is in on raw denim jeans. From the high-end Japanese jawnz to classic old school Levi’s and everything in-between. So before you go galavanting through leaf-strewn sidewalks in a pair of corduroy trousers, try a crispy pair of raw denim jeans and wash them fade before your eyes.
The OG Raw Denim Jeans
The stories of dudes taking bubble baths in their jeans all stem from the blue jeans originator themselves. Before washed jeans were even a thing (hell, even before pre-shrunk jeans), all jeans were raw and most of them would shrink a ton with the first wash, hence the Levi’s “Shrink-to-Fit” denim. You don’t have to jump in the bathtub with these on, but if you want a pair of raw denim jeans that hits closest to the authentic OG experience, the Levi’s 501 Original Shrink-to-Fit jeans are the ones. Oh, and did we mention they’re also the best value?
The ’90s Icon
Helmut Lang was legendary in the 1990s for elevating everyday style to unprecedented levels of chic. Archival pairs of his famed jeans will set you back several hundreds of bucks, but the folks at Uniqlo have collaborated with the design house itself to revive the minimalistic jeans at a more approachable price.
The Mall Surprise
Madewell was originally a true workwear brand before being bought and repackaged for the mall. But they haven’t lost their utilitarian roots entirely. These relaxed fitting jeans feature some of the crispiest selvedge raw denim you’ll find at your local Westfield. And if there’s anything you remember about brands of this ilk it’s that you can bet there’ll be a discount around the corner.
The Somethin’ Different
Taylor Stitch’s denim program is a solid bet whether you opt for a washed pair or not. While most brands in this price point keep their denim to the classic stuff, Taylor Stitch keeps things fresh by rotating interesting fabrics from renowned Japanese mills. Just take this pair which features denim woven by Japan’s storied Kuroki Mill. The indigo is near-midnight dark and comes with a satisfyingly slubby texture that’ll amount to some wild fades down the line.
The Denimhead’s Favorite Denim Brand
Did you know you can get some tasty patina from a pair of black jeans too? 3sixteen might be newer to your radar, they’ve actually been around for a few decades and have honed their denim practice to a razor-sharpness that few can match. You’d be in good hands with their several indigo-flavored jeans, but these deep black jeans have the fading power to rival any blue jean, along with the requisite Japan-milled fabric that denim obsessives demand.
The New-Wave Japanese Raw Denim
Japanese denim carries a lot of weight in the denim world. And though there be plenty of hardcore denim purist brands out there, there are also a handful of modern Japanese brands going at it from a softer angle while keeping the quality high. Auralee’s Hard Twist Jeans feature American cotton that’s twisted to the highest degree resulting in a fabric that’s dense, smooth, but super light and soft thanks to the subtle wash treatment.
The All-American Jeans
Not only are Todd Snyder’s jeans cut and sewn in the US, they’re made with raw selvedge denim that’s woven in Georgia using 100% American cotton—a rare sight that’s only getting rarer.
The True Artisan Raw Denim
Over several decades Glenn Liburd’s cut his teeth at every big denim brand. Coupled with some time under a Savile Row tailor and Liburd’s got a denim pedigree like no other. These jeans combine his unmatched skill with beautiful rinsed selvedge denim and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a pair better.