Jeans used to be tailor-made for each person with beautiful stitching meant to last. When the mass market caught hold of them, the quality suffered. We’re rediscovering the world of jeans by sacrificing deals for quality-made, long-lasting raw denim.
Raw denim means the material is unwashed. You get the glory of earning every single honeycomb and wear mark, breaking them in like a nice pair of leather boots. We’ve put together a list of our current favorite men’s raw denim jeans, plus answered a few questions you might have. Let’s take a look.
Unbranded UB201 Tapered Indigo Selvedge Jean
Unbranded is an excellent entry-level raw denim for those of you looking to get your toes wet but aren’t ready to drop several hundred dollars. They work well for a variety of body sizes, and the pattern isn’t so difficult to fit.
Breaking them in isn’t going to be pretty for the first couple of weeks. If you keep at it, the denim should begin to soften nicely. They use a 14oz. blue-line selvedge denim from Japan, and take their non-branding pretty seriously. There’s no labeling at all.
There are hidden rivets on the back pockets for structure, plus chain stitched hems. They feature a button fly that’s on the short side. The high pockets are particularly difficult to break in, but the construction is durable over time and wears beautifully.
SL-100X Indigo Selvedge Jean
This raw denim pair is a mid-range jean from Kuroki Mill, a very famous Japanese denim manufacturer. They’re unsanforized denim, meaning as they wear and you wash them, they’ll shrink up to half an inch in the inseam.
It’s worth it though because they wear beautifully. The jean is a raw indigo dye with subtle stitching and detailing. There is a chain stitched hem and gunmetal rivets.
It’s a forgiving straight leg style that relaxes around the waist through extended wear. The indigo wears into a soft light blue as you move, but the material is meant to last for years without developing holes or showing signs of fiber wear.
They aren’t cheap, but they are good jeans if you’ve been around a bit with some entry-level raw denim and are good at sizing yourself before you order. Plus, you get the satisfaction of having a pair of jeans that no one else in your friend group has.
WGC Slim Tapered Raw Denim - Hope Street
This pair is the first American made raw denim for Hope Street. It’s a slim fit jean made from 12-ounce raw denim with a zippered fly. It uses the darkest indigo for a better fade as you wear them in.
They have unique details such as a little flag decal on the pocket. It’s a straight fit from the waist to the leg. It has a further flag print on the interior waist material. It has chain stitching and reinforced pocket seams.
The fit is straight, but as they wear, they begin to shrink a bit in the legs while allowing more room in the waist. They won’t shrink as much as other unsanforized jeans but do expect the fit to evolve over the lifetime of your wear.
The lighter weight denim feels a little easier to break in and won’t be as hot during the summer. They’re relatively unbranded, but the interior flag material is a fun little secret. Overall, a lighter, less scratchy version of raw denim without sacrificing wear patterns.
Rogue Territory Stealth SK
These are dark black jeans. They use 15-ounce black denim from traditional Japanese factories, and they have the weighty feel of classic raw denim. There’s minimal branding aside from the front fly button.
They’re pretty intense as far as raw denim goes, requiring a lot of wear before breaking in. It’s worth it though as the inky color fades into some fascinating wear patterns.
They aren’t super expensive for artisanal raw denim either. The hidden pen pocket is a nice touch, as is the hand silk screened pocket bag. The waistband features a single needle stitch for better durability, and it also gives the jeans a chance to conform to your particular body type.
The fit is a skinny leg, which might send some of you off, but it will stretch a bit to conform to your body. The rise is a mid-range and should hit a variety of body types at a flattering angle.
We love the black denim because many raw denim jeans are the traditional indigo. It’s a nice change of pace.
Pure Blue Japan PBE-019 Relaxed Tapered
Pure Blue Japan is a denim-geek staple. They offer some of the best raw denim Japan has to offer in a variety of styles. We’re particularly fond of the all-purpose fit of this pair. They’re a relaxed but tapered fit that flatters a variety of body styles and wears into a unique striated pattern.
They use unsanforized denim, so you should expect the fit to evolve a lot as they shrink and conform to your body. The denim is 17.5-ounce material, and they’ll feel a bit clunky for the first few weeks until they begin to soften.
The fly is a button design (five buttons), and the jeans are mostly unbranded save for a leaf logo on the back pocket. There’s also a lambskin leather back patch.
The company sources fabric made on a very particular weaving machine. The slubs (raised points in the denim) are what produce the unique wear pattern so associated with this company.
Bowery Blue TYPE-S Authentic Straight Fit
This brand is the top of the line for US raw denim. Each pair is handmade by Takayuki Echigoya, who uses traditional methods to make his bespoke jeans.
This particular pair is a straight fit jean meant to suit a variety of body types. You’ll need it because you can expect the fit to evolve pretty extensively as the denim wears. They’re lighter denim that softens more quickly.
He sews each pair on vintage machines to get the look of that traditional denim style. You can expect at least two months before he even gets to your particular order, but the fit won’t be anything like something you’ve taken off the rack.
They have a button fly and come in four different denim colors. The steel buttons are artfully rusted, and there’s minimal branding. The back patch is a naturally tanned cowhide. If you’re looking to invest in a pair of jeans that fit like the cliche glove, this is the way to do it.
So, what makes raw denim so good and so expensive? Denim aficionados say that getting your hands on a pair of jeans before the denim has been altered in any way means you get to decide the wear of the jean, not the manufacturer.
Sanforized Versus Unsanforized
Sanforized means the fabric was preshrunk before being cut and sewn into jeans. While they don’t offer the most customization for fit, they do give you the chance to cut out some of the painful breaking-in processes right in the beginning. You can focus exclusively on wear lines without trying to get the fit right.
Unsanforized denim is true raw denim. You can expect a certain amount of shrinkage but also a certain amount of stretch in specific wear areas. Your jeans take on the shape of your body and become more like a fingerprint.
The heavier the denim, the stiffer the jeans. Weight measurements refer to how much the denim weighs per yard. Raw denim tends to fall in the 12-15-ounce range, providing durability without sacrificing too much comfort.
Heavier types of denim (all the way up to 32 ounces) are the most durable but will require the most work to break in. If you’ve already experimented with entry-level raw denim, heavy denim might be a fun project to take on.
Denim lighter than 12 ounces will feel great, but you’re likely to wear through the jeans before you get much use out of them.
How Do I Get the Right Fit?
Raw denim isn’t like off the rack jeans. You need to accurately measure several parts of your body to find the right fit. There are six measurements you need to get right. It’s best to measure your best fitting jeans:
- rise (length of the top inseam to the top of the fly)
- thigh (from inner seam to outer seam)
- knee (inseam to outseam half way down the jean)
- leg opening (inseam to outseam at the ankle)
Caring for Raw Denim
The longer you go before the first wash, the more pronounced your wear patterns will be. That said, going too long between washes allows grime to build up and weaken the fibers, so you’re more likely to get holes. It’s a balance.
Ideally, you’d hand wash them using an all-natural soap, but it's up to you. Wash your denim carefully and considerately, but the construction of raw denim should still last a long time.
We could see why raw denim might be your next big hobby. It’s impressive to take an untouched piece of clothing and make it your own. Raw denim offers so much customization and beautiful wear patterns; it’s no wonder why someone dips their toes in and soon finds themselves with a bespoke pair of jeans made by a guy using a vintage sewing machine. It’s all in the story.