Men have a tendency to ride in the same pair of jeans until the fabric is one lunge away from being interwoven with the very atoms of our bodies. You share scent, shape, stains, rips, falls, dashes to the bus, spilt beers and everything else a decade can throw at your legs. And 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 every move; a deftly stitched indigo tapestry of your life. Even if those rips and markings are in fact due to your awkward bumbling through life’s desk corners, grazed knees and chewing gum mishaps, it still looks pretty cool, right?
But like all materials, even your beautiful selvedge 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, it’s still important that you stay on the socially acceptable side of rugged.
That means taking care of your denim. Well-maintained jeans reward the man wearing them with years of versatile wear and uniquely aged fades.
Looking after your jeans takes more than just chucking them in a 60-degree spin. In fact, for denim aficionados, that’s as barbaric as throwing a puppy in a river. Every denim lover will have their own rules and regs for keeping their jeans collection tip-top, from keeping them in the freezer to following the guide of Levi’s CEO Chip Bergh and never washing them, ever.
Here’s our own handbook for dealing with your beloved indigo, including how to wash them (sorry Chip), dry them, repair and recycle them.
Rivet & Hide
How Often Should You Wash Your Jeans?
Never, if you agree with denim’s most fervent disciples. Bergh admitted he didn’t wash his favourite 501s in more than a decade because he didn’t want the material to deteriorate. While denim is the toughest material in your wardrobe, originally designed for hard labour, it’s a lot hardier on the street than it is in the washing machine, where warm water and strong detergents can change its shape and colour.
It does depend what kind of jeans you have, though. Cheaper jeans are usually pre-washed before you buy them to soften the fabric and prevent the dye from rubbing and the material from shrinking. They won’t last as long as other types but they are simple to look after. You can throw them in the washing machine and not have to worry about the consequences.
The alternative, and the jeans all denim aficionados will prescribe is raw denim, says Danny Hodgson, owner and founder of denim store Rivet & Hide. “Raw denim does not go through any industrial washing or artificial ageing process. It has a dark indigo hue and will fade naturally where the crease areas settle in. Raw denim will always fit better.”
This is the stuff you don’t want in the washing machine very often, says Sean Gormley, creative director of denim brand Wrangler. “A raw jean will start to break down after about 120 days of wearing. The seams and knees and pocket areas will start to pale and turn lighter. Now you’re entering the ‘beauty phase’. All the marks and lines that evolve will be the lasting effects that remain after you wash the jeans. Try to hold off the first wash until 180 days of wearing though.
“The jeans will look and feel very different after the first wash. The new faded colour is less efficient at disguising stains and marks. I tend to wash every time the white parts start to look yellow or dirty.”
Whatever kind of jeans you have, find the label inside the garment and read it thoroughly before even stepping foot near a washing machine. This will usually advise on topics such as temperature and whether or not the denim should be ironed.
How To Wash Jeans
Remember you don’t need a full wash every time there’s a light stain. Something like a baby wipe will delicately remove the odd spill or grass mark. When your denim is in desperate need of refreshing, Chris Morton, a seamstress at clothes repair service Clothes Doctor, recommends you turn the jeans inside out and wash them at as low a temperature as possible – usually 20 degrees on your standard washing machine.
“If your denim is dark in colour, or you are worried about colour loss, wash it separately or with other similarly coloured denim. Be sure to use a gentle detergent and add plenty of softener to prevent colour loss, the fabric from stiffening, and white streaks.” Also limit the number of denim pieces in the machine to three or four pairs to cut down on friction and reduce fade.
Purists prefer to wash their jeans by hand. To do this, place your jeans at the bottom of your bath-tub, before filling the tub with lukewarm water and pouring in a dash of laundry liquid. Leave the jeans soaking in the water for half an hour before draining the tub of water.
Once fully drained, fill the tub up again with lukewarm water to rinse the jeans out before draining again. Press the jeans against the bottom of the empty tub to release any excess water and hang up to dry.
“The key to prolonging the life of denim is in the drying,” says Morton. “We recommend air drying denim flat to help retain the shape and avoid crease marks. It’s best to avoid tumble drying denim if possible.”
If you want to keep your jeans fresh without risking the tub or machine, you can also buy a dry wash spray that will remove odours and soften the denim with just an all-over spritz. It won’t freshen them like a full wash but it will prolong the need to face the machine.
The Best Denim Care Products
How To Get White Streaks Out Of Your Jeans
One of the greatest arrows to the heart of any jeans lover is pulling out your prized beauties from the washing machine only to find ghastly white streaks have materialised all over them.
“White streaks are caused by harsh chemicals used in the washing process, undissolved detergent, hard water mineral deposits, or from friction on the fabric which can cause colour loss,” notes Morton. “Using a powder-based laundry detergent for denim will prevent white streaks caused by undissolved detergent, as the powder dissolves much better than any pod. If you suspect the white streaks are caused by colour fading, you can re-dye the denim to restore the colour, which can be done at home or by a specialist.”
Getting Jeans Repaired
Distressed jeans have been a key trend of recent seasons, but when things go too far and you end up with something that’s just plain blown out, it’s not necessarily destined for the bin.
When you buy raw denim you might think it impossible to tear. But over time the stiff twill will soften. “Denim makes a remarkable transformation from a hard-wearing twill when new into a buttery soft fabric that is shaped to your body after it’s been worn and loved for long enough,” says Gormley. “Some of my favourite denim pieces are paper-thin in areas now, so easy to rip and tear, because the fabric has been worn away so much.”
Holes in the knees, crotch and around the pocket are the most common. If this happens, seek out professional help. Plenty of premium brands like Levi’s, Nudie and A.P.C. offer a repair service (or discounted replacements in extreme cases). Otherwise, turn to services such as The Denim Doctor and Clothes Doctor or independents like Blackhorse Road Ateliers in London that specialise in denim and have access to the right tools in house.
Ripped jeans is a strong look, but if you want to avoid the Sid Vicious vibes you’ll have to patch it up. This involves buying a denim patch which you have matched up with your pre-existing denim and sewing into the fabric from the inside.
The Best Way To Store Your Jeans
When it comes to storing denim, it pays to elevate jeans and jackets above other garments. “To ensure the right creases stay intact, store denim over the back of a chair or hang it up,” says denim expert Lorna Burford of The Jeans Blog. “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.”
When storing your jeans in the wardrobe, avoid hangers with metal clips. These usually have sharp teeth that clamp down on the denim and can leave lasting impressions. Instead, invest in S hooks, which can be attached to the two outer belt loops with the zip folded inwards. This not only helps reduce unwanted creases and wrinkles but also makes your denim rotation look damn cool.
Getting Your Denim Tailored
It’s worth remembering that it isn’t just suits that can be tailored – having your denim altered to fit better is a jean-ius way to upgrade your style.
True 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 denim repair expert and tailor Mike Pendlebury. One way to avoid this is by pinrolling your jeans, 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 well as length, a tailor can also slim the width and nip in the waist, however, much like the shoulders on a jacket, keep in mind that areas like the rise (where the waistband sits on your body) and crotch are much harder to fix.
How To Recycle Your Jeans
“The great thing about denim is that it can really stand the test of time,” says Morton. “But it’s only natural that jeans will eventually start showing signs of wear and tear. This doesn’t mean that it’s time to send them to landfill.”
You can take jeans along with your other clothes to your local clothes bank or textile recycling centre (just type your post code into Recycle Now to find the closest). If they’re still wearable, they’ll be redistributed abroad and if they’re not, the cotton will be reclaimed for industrial use.
Elsewhere, jeans rental service Mud Jeans offer a pay-by-month, one year lease on any of their jeans which you can send back when you want to be recycled into a new pair. The Blue Jeans Go Green recycling initiative has a scheme where you can send your old jeans to them and they’ll turn it into insulation for charity housing projects. And finally, you could always re-purpose them yourself at home by turning them into a pair of shorts or a bag, so you never have to say goodbye to your beloved indigo.