Distressed about denim.
March 11, 2009 3:36 AM   Subscribe

How can I break in a new pair of selvage jeans to achieve the proper distressed look?

At the beginning of January, I bought a pair of 21 ounce Naked and Famous raw selvage jeans. I've followed the advice on various sites on breaking in the jeans, which suggest that they be worn continuously for six months without washing. However, three months have elapsed and the jeans look brand new, apart from several barely visible creases in the pocket area.

Assuming that I wash the jeans three months from now, will they emerge from the washing machine with worn and faded areas, "whiskers," and the other earmarks of naturally distressed denim? Is the natural distressing process occurring, even though there are no visible signs? Or do I need to roughen up the jeans by wearing them more aggressively, perhaps during hiking trips?

If more roughing up is required, what's the easiest and least time intensive way to do this?
posted by Gordion Knott to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (4 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The point isn't that you've worn them for three months and they look new, the point is that for the three months you've been wearing them - fuck this album is good, Oceanic by Isis - you have been creating creases in the fabric which have, for want of a better word, "loosened" the dye. That means that when you put them in the wash, the "loose" dye will come away better than normal.

Wear them everywhere, for anything. Crawl around under your house with them. Got something on your hands? Wipe them on your jeans. Wear them without shoes, to maximize cuff scuffing. Are the bottoms of jeans called cuffs? I don't know, but that's what you need to do.

When you take them off, don't hang them up. Crumple them in a corner. Put bricks on them if you must.

Jeans get that "worn" look by being worn. Constantly, habitually, in all conditions. Stick with the plan my man and in six months time, peel those skanky motherfuckers off your legs, turn them inside-out, give them a cold wash with the minimum of detergent, and hang them to dry.
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:53 AM on March 11, 2009 [3 favorites]

Generally what you see is what you get w/r/t distressing. Washing them is going to highlight whiskers, back of the knee creases, stacking at the bottom of the leg, cellphone/wallet fade (if you've got that going on) and make them lighter/brighter blue overall, but if you really can't see fades right now, they won't magically appear after a wash.

21 oz. denim is REALLY heavy and is going to take longer to wear in than stuff like A.P.C. or Nudies or 501s (all generally raw denim that people first start with--good on you for going straight to the high quality Japanese denim first, by the way). The "six month" rule is generally for these (thinner) jeans.

The good news is that you really don't have to wait six months to wash them if you don't want to. If you want to preserve the indigo as much as possible, just soak them in a bathtub of cold water, maybe with a little detergent (something gentle like Woolite or Dr. Bronners) and minimal agitation if you want. There are no hard and fast rules about how to wash your jeans or how often--there have been some really amazing results obtained by people who wash their jeans all the time, check out this thread on Superfuture (which I assume you must already know about, but if you don't--best resource on raw denim on the internet).

To break them in, just wear them. Enjoy what they look like now and generally try not to worry about what they might look like in the future. The process is the best part--don't think of it as reaching some end goal. They absolutely will break in if you wear them--one day you're going to look down and realize how incredibly different they look than when you first got them (I have two pairs of A.P.C. New Cures, one about two years old and the other about a month old--and they could not look more different. NONE of my friends believe that they're the same jean.)

Don't fake the distressing by doing something you wouldn't ordinarily do in your jeans. The whole point is that the wear is a reflection of you and your life and what you put the jeans through. (Otherwise, why buy them raw to begin with?) If you hike, go hiking with them. Wear them all the time. Do what you do in them. They're just jeans. They'll fade. Don't worry about them so much (hard to do with your first pair of raw denim, I know).

(And contrary to turgid dahlia's advice, absolutely hang them up when you take them off. You won't get fades by crumpling them in a corner, and you're going to need to air those suckers out, trust me.)
posted by cosmic osmo at 5:16 AM on March 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

I came in here to say what the above people said, but more simply: Wear them frequently. Period. A nice distressed look comes only from wearing. A fake distressed look (like you see on some jeans in the store, which I hate) will be obviously fake, so anything you do to fake/accelerate it will be noticeable.
posted by Simon Barclay at 6:27 AM on March 11, 2009

Oh, I do so love raw selvage. Personally I like to try to keep them new looking, but I've heard that one of the classic ways to break in jeans (as done in the 50s - 70s before commercial stone wash was available) was to wear them to the beach and wade around in the water in them. You may need to give them a rinse in the tub to get the salt out (unless you like them extra crunchy), but the sand, salt and H20 will weather them like the grand canyon.

Basically I'm nthing the advice to live in them, love them and wear them on wild adventures. And hey, it's an excuse to go to the beach.
posted by abirae at 7:53 AM on March 11, 2009

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