As men, we have a tendency to ride the same pair of jeans until the fabric is one lunge away from being interwoven with the very atoms of our being. You share scent, shape, stains, rips, falls, dashes to the bus, spilt beers and everything else a decade can throw at your legs. But to most denim aficionados, that’s exactly the point.
It’s a romantic concept: a well-worn piece of denim is unique to you; an extension of your personality, battered into shape by your gait; a deftly stitched indigo tapestry of your activities. Even if those rips and markings are in fact due to your maladroit bumbling through life’s desk corners, grazed knees and chewing gum mishaps, it still looks pretty cool, right? You’re wearing your soul on the outside. You’re a sartorial rebel. You’re James Dean.
You’re not James Dean. Like all materials, denim will after time smell like what it’s frequently exposed to. Sweat is sweat and grease is grease. While character is of course desirable and no one wants a Mr Porter postage packet-fresh Levi’s jacket glistening pristinely on their shoulders, it’s still important that you stay on the socially acceptable side of rugged.
So let’s toss that romanticism aside like an old towel and be practical here: you need to care for your denim. The aim is to do that without making it look like you’ve cared for your denim, of course. That way you keep the rock star veneer without the unsightly side effects.
To that end, FashionBeans buttoned up its Texan tuxedo and sat down with the leading experts in all things jeans, jackets and shirts to bring you this alternative guide to denim care. It starts with knowing your raw from your waxed and your skinny from your roll-ups. After that, jean therapy is child’s play.
Keeping It Raw
When it comes to raw denim, treat it like a handshake from your favourite celebrity and avoid washing for as long as possible. “It’s all about breaking it in from its raw state and once you wash it, it will fade and lose stiffness,” says denim expert Lorna Burford of thejeansblog.com.
While bagging the item up and bunging it in the freezer is a solid bacteria-killing option, it’s not – as denim snobs would you have believe – the only method. “Wait longer with darker shades, but it doesn’t matter too much with lighter garments,” says Burford.
With your classic indigos, if Febreze won’t cut it, you can still give it a wash: “Turn it inside out and submerge it in a bath of warm water,” says Mike Pendlebury, denim repair expert and tailor (thedenimdoctor.co.uk). “Use Woolite Black to clean them, which is kinder on the dye than standard household washing powders.”
As for storage, it pays to elevate raw denim above other lowly garments. “To ensure the creases stay intact, I either hang raw denim over the back of a chair or hang it up,” says Burford. “Raw denim is extremely durable, and living in raw jeans is half the point, so if you’re wearing them all the time, storage doesn’t matter so much.”
It wasn’t long ago that stretched denim was a stretch too far for most men. “It used to only be produced for women’s garments,” says Pendlebury. “Now men’s skinny jeans and jackets can have some stretch in them.”
It’s basic physics that when you repeatedly pull something’s limits, it might break under the pressure. The same is true of stretch denim. “The trade-off you make with this type of denim is that it wears out quickly in high wear areas, particularly the crotch, inner thigh and knees; I’m forever repairing these points for people,” says Pendlebury.
“Brands such as J Brand, Seven For All Mankind, Hudson and the new Diesel Joggjeans are of a similar stretch denim fabric construction. They feel great but can wear out in as little as one year, so it’s best to wear them less frequently than you would a thick Levi’s 501, for example.”
The upshot is they store easily and wash without any real problems, though stretch can slack after too many tumbles in the machine. In short: they can look great and almost tailored, but aren’t ideal for day-to-day wear.
Wax On, Wax Off
“I don’t work too frequently with waxed denim,” says Pendlebury. Maybe that’s because it’s less popular; perhaps it’s because the wax is protective enough to put denim doctors out of business. “I would advise you dry clean waxed items, though; a hot wash could remove the coating.”
Indeed, Burford agrees: “The best way to clean waxed items is with the freezer method mentioned above, or to dry clean them. But make sure the dry cleaners do it on a low heat; anything high temperature will melt the wax.” And wax off is not the look you’re going for here.
Much like a kid in a playground, waxed denim is prone to scratches and bruises, so be suitably paternal when looking after these jackets and jeans. Try to protect them from the environment around you by removing jackets before sitting against metal chairs, unless you want something a little more biker than off-duty city banker, in which case throw caution to the wind and see if you can’t nail that James Dean look after all.
Troubleshooting, Tailoring & Baby Wipes
No matter the denim type, there are some extra tricks you can employ to prolong the aesthetic you desire. The key, as ever, is to be fastidious with your wardrobe.
A mark on any denim item isn’t a sign that it finally needs to be washed. “I often use baby wipes to delicately remove what might otherwise become a stain,” says Pendlebury. Speaking of stains, it’s worth remembering that proper raw denim is suitably untamed and can leave its dye on other items: “Be particularly careful with indigo jeans when you’re wearing white trainers,” says Pendlebury. Try pinrolling them, if that’s your kind of thing.
But of course, rocking the rolled look brings its own pitfalls. “With raw denim in particular it can leave a big crease along the bottom,” says Burford. “If they’re too long, get them hemmed; a tailor works the same on denim as they would on anything else. If you really love that rolled look, ensure you unroll them when you get home.”
As a final rule, know when to seek professional help. “After twelve months, it’s good to inspect denim for signs of wear,” says Pendlebury. “Little nicks can lead to what we call ‘denim blowout’, essentially when fibres give in and tear completely.” So wear with care and don’t hang around if a doctor is what your denim really needs.
The key to denim care is knowing your type and treating each appropriately based on its fabrication. Skinny stretch equals quicker wear. Wax warrants careful handling. Washing should be done sparingly. Flares should be returned to the store. But, worn and cared for properly, denim becomes personal to you. “It’s your life story on a blank denim canvas,” says Burford.
What does yours say about you? And do you have any fail-safe denim care hacks to dish out?
Comment below to share.