The Right Way to Break In Your Raw Denim

Those fades aren't gonna develop themselves.

So you did it. You pulled the trigger on that pair of inky blue, ready-to-break-in raw denim jeans you’ve been eyeing. You didn’t listen to your friend Kyle who doesn't understand why anyone would buy jeans that aren't supposed to be washed.

Of course you didn’t listen to Kyle. Kyle plays on easy. He wants you to wear training wheels. But you chose to throw caution to the wind and speed down Broadway, on a fixed gear with no brakes.

But getting your new pair is just step one of a long process to a beautifully faded, uniquely personal set of jeans. Those three-dimensional, high contrast whiskers, honeycombs, and spots of wallet wear that separate the die-hards from the rest of the denim-clad population take a whole lot of patience – and a little bit of strategy. Follow these points for your own perfectly comfortable, worn-in, beat-up badge of honor.

Make Them Your Uniform

This may not be news, but what’s ultimately going to produce wear on fading is lots and lots of constant wear. So you should be wearing them as much as physically possible – especially in the few months before their first official wash.

A good place to start is thinking of the multitude of ways you can wear 'em, from casual to dressed-up. If your wardrobe is lacking and you need some new threads, keep your jeans in mind when shopping to make sure that any new purchases will play nicely. Basically, you want to think of these as your day in, day out pair of pants that you'll wear in almost any situation.

Day at the office? Raw denim. Weekend hike? Raw denim. Late night bar hopping? Raw denim. You get the idea. They'll obviously take well to just about any casual look for your normal day-to-day, and you can dress them up with a blazer and some lace-ups when you've got an occasion to look a little more put-together. Basically, you want to ensure they spend as much time on your legs as they can.

Don’t Pamper Them

You'll probably be wrought with anxiety about staining, tearing, or just generally gunking up your jeans – which leads to an instinct to protect your new purchase as much as possible.

Resist that urge. Gentle strolls in the park are not what’s going to fade your denim quickly – hard, consistent activity is. So don’t be afraid to work, go bar hopping, tag in for a buddy at a pick-up soccer game, or re-shingle your roof while wearing them. It’s okay to be a little reckless – this is a tough fabric.

Since you’re not washing them, you might be (understandably) concerned about the fabric starting to smell. To combat that, invest in a nice sturdy wall hook to hang them on at home. That'll expose your jeans to a little bit of air circulation while also turning your prized denim into a piece of wall art.

Try New Things (With Your Fades in Mind)

This may not be an option if your schedule is packed, but if you have a bit of extra time on your hands, new denim pairs well with a new hobby. Don’t be afraid to slip on your jeans and learn how to rock climb, or build furniture, or anything else that involves some physicality. An especially good option is cycling – it's one of the best methods to cause whiskering behind the knees and on the calf stacks, while also stretching open the seat and waistband.

If you live somewhere where it’s usually cooler out, raw denim is also great to take on short hiking trips. No, it's not the most comfortable – and probably isn't appropriate for lengthy expeditions – but it will do great things for breaking in the fabric.

If you're in an especially sunny locale, give longboarding a shot. You’ll learn a new skill that’s useful for getting to the beach or downtown – and if you accidentally take a tumble and skid on your knees for a few feet, your jeans will have earned a new battle scar.

Watch for Tears

A small tear here or worn-through patch there is no big deal – they're inevitable in the long run, assuming you're really wearing the hell out of your jeans, and lend a unique rugged vibe. But you should be extra wary of the fatal crotch blowout, when the denim in the upper thighs wears down too much and rips apart.

It can happen for all kinds of reasons, like:

  • Wearing jeans that are too tight. causing too much tension in the area)

  • Excessive wear, especially from up-and-down leg movements like hiking or cycling. Those activities are great for creating fades, but unfortunately, also wear down the crotch area.

  • Not washing often enough. While keeping your jeans away from the washing machine is kind of the whole point of raw denim, the longer you go without a wash, the greater your risk for a tear. Abrasive dirt particles can get trapped in between the cotton fibers, and if they're not washed away, they'll hasten the wear and lead to rips.

If you do start to notice the crotch area is thinning out or developing small holes, do yourself a favor and take your jeans to a reputable tailor. They can perform a repair called darning, which is a simple process that fills in holes with new similarly-colored threads.

And Finally, Forget All About Them

This bears repeating: what’ll really affect how quickly your jeans fade is constant, hard wear. So by the end of your first month, waking up, snagging them off of your hook, and slipping them on at the start of the day should be basic instinct that you don't even have to think about.

As you wear them, don’t constantly check up on the wear areas for fade progress – a watched pot never boils, as it were. Completely forgetting that you’re even trying to create denim fades is the best way to create them.

At the end of the day, all you really need to do to a good pair of jeans is wear them – and wear them well. And now that you know the finer points, you've just got to pull on your pair of raws and get on out there.

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