Privilege Blog

Raw Denim For Old Ladies And Other Newbies

Do you ever find yourself possessed by what we might call, if we felt silly, a Sartorial Dybbuk?

Denim, raw

Otherwise known as an Outfit Vision? Do you ever then struggle with Outfit Reality?

Materfamilias’ post, here, got me thinking about straight loose leg dark wash Levis 501-style jeans. I pictured them with neon soled oxfords,  an Ann Mashburn shirt, and Eliza B. belt. I’d probably keep my pearls on. Katherine Hepburn reborn as a butch hipster. Once I’m thus seized, imaginatively, I have to explore.

I went to the San Francisco Levis store and snapped up a pair of dark wash Levis 501s. On to Nordstrom’s for Cole Haan Alisa Oxfords in blue and violet. They call the colors Blazer Blue and Cobalt, but we’ll hold back our guffaws because that’s what polite people do.

The oxfords are divinely comfortable, and I remind myself only tolerably of a clown. But those Levis 501 failed, failed, failed. The denim is lightweight and, to add insult to injury, scratchy. They are mine but they are not my friends.

Back I went to Mater’s post for a refresher. Aha! Japanese denim, in this case by Denham. Heavy, smooth, improves with age. What could be better?

The dybbuk laughed, “Not so fast, old lady.” I dare you all to Google raw denim. Or selvedge, right now. You are immediately drawn into the maelstrom of an obsessed sub-culture. In my world, denim is just cloth. But what do I know?

I withdrew from my research, disheveled, after 20 minutes. I thought to myself, “What now? Aha! Perhaps the Privilege[d] can help? Perhaps one or more of them have been down this path, and returned with advice for new and the old?

So, how many of you own raw or selvedge denim? Perhaps I should back up. How many of you have even heard of it? Know what it is? And finally, can anyone recommend a few more brands for women?

Thank you in advance. My obsession thanks you too, having taken on a life of its own.

69 Responses

  1. I think raw and selvedge denim both have the “characteristic” of fading, in a natural way (not pre-washed) and also selvedge doesn’t unravel. Also, no stretch. I have tried them on, and find them very itchy/scratchy as well. Not a great fit for me either. I have a new style of J Brand jeans which I love – 814’s, which are called “cigarette leg”, but are really very much straight leg and not skinnies at all. Enough stretch to give it a bit of lift in the rear as well.

  2. I hit submit to fast. I have a friend on Martha’s Vineyard, who has great style. She always wears Levi 501’s and they look amazing on her. But she’s about 6′ tall and very thin. The Levi’s hang on her hipbone and just look so cool. Yes, I’ve tried it on me – scary.

  3. From what I understand, raw denim should not be washed! No matter its appeal, that’s a deal breaker for me.

  4. Thanks for the nod my way, Lisa — stats out of control as your visitors come knocking! ;-)
    It occurs to me that I should write a post about my experience with the raw denim, the wearing of which was an accidental (serendipitous) discovery for me. Cheri’s correct that purists don’t was theirs, but I do — just not every wear, or not even after two or three wears. My lifestyle is not a particularly grimy one; I do wear underwear; and the jeans hold their shape so well that a wash isn’t needed to restore it — a very environmentally wasteful habit of all my jeans that involve more give. . .

  5. Hanging on to my vintage 501s from the 60s, 70s & 80s even if I can no longer squeeze my old lady body into the tiny sizes. After years of wearing and washing they are as soft, comfortable and comforting. (I can fit into one of the larger sizes but they are too big to actually wear.) Growing up in SoCal, 501s were the pant of choice. My dad wore them to work, my brother wore them with loafers or chukka boots & I wore them any time I wasn’t at school, at the beach or in shorts. I have a pix of me about 3ish – wearing 501s and top-siders!! It’s sad but true, the “new” denim is not the same. Sigh…

  6. Try Uniqlo for raw denim, they are remarkably good and very reasonably priced for your first dabble into raw denim. Don’t bother with selvedge unless you plan on cuffing your jeans. Do not wash your raw denim – the appeal of raw denim is that you age them and make them your own. If they get really gross you can put them in the freezer, or hang them on a line. Buy them tight, they stretch. A lot. They are uncomfortable for a while because they are really crunchy, but you have to wear them often and then you will befriend them. If you want to splurge, Naked and Famous do great raw denim, but wait to see if you really want to commit. Raw denim is a commitment!

  7. Yeah, all I know is that you can’t wash (or dryclean them) and people are fanatical about them.

  8. Stronghold Jeans in Venice, California. They were the first company to make denim in LA, and they’re still made here on the original looms, etc. They use selvedge denim and the fit is good. Even better (but costly) is that they’ll custom make you a pair. They also carry other very cool brands, that fit into a specific category, pre WW11, still made here, etc.
    My husband wears there jeans, but not the custom ones. Still rather costly.
    Very cool website – take a look.

    1. Got it. Another piece of the puzzle falls into place. It appears that we have a good denim place here in SF.

  9. I don’t know how old you are, but I remember getting in the tub with my 501’s on and letting them dry so they would shape to my body. In those days all denim was unwashed and it was 14oz or better in weight which is very heavy unlike most denim today or really for a long time. I was in the jeans business in ancient times and the denim was made in America. I don’t think there are any mills left in this country and I doubt the Chinese denim in it’s raw state is the same. The corduroy mills here made beautiful goods, but that moved to China too. The corduroy isn’t at all the same.

  10. Being a Woman Of Curve, I very much prefer some stretch in my jeans. But I’ll be interested to see what you turn up and ultimately, some modeling pics.

  11. I love Raleigh; they have raw denim, and each pair of jeans is made by a person—no automated sewing machines. The jeans (raw or not) have the name of the person who made them on the inside kind of like a Hermes bag.

  12. I would rather wear a velour track suit than dirty pants. I just don’t see the appeal. I take public transportation and sit on public benches .

  13. Wait a second. I may not be cool enough but I’ve never been able to look good in those 501’s etc. Levi’s just don’t look good on me. But, Not Your Daughter’s Blue Jeans in a very strait leg and a very small size look fab! You’ve got great legs and body. Why the shlubby look for you? What about black really slim line with a jean top? I had a pair from last year that are now shredded on the bottom. Does that work?

    1. I look terrible in skinny jeans. I just do. Has nothing to do with weight, only shape. Narrow hips mean even medium-sized upper thighs are highlighted.

  14. I remember…way back… that we bought very tight jeans, got in the bathtub with them, and let them dry on the body. For cleaning they were dry cleaned, not washed when needing cleaning.

  15. Love that jacket!!! Love raw denim. Always have. Used to wear 501’s in the seventies when bell bottoms were in. With red high top converse sneakers. I was ahead of my time. All this wouldn’t come in til the 80’s. I mainly wore them so my pants leg woudn’t get caught in my bicycle chain. Had a great boatnecked navy and white striped shirt that i wore with them. Still wearing variations of the same look. I would pair all this finery with the Oak glasses from your August 9 blog, “Where the cool kids shop’ and a pair of hoop earrings and ditch the pearls completely. Maybe a really cool lightweight long scarf to peek from beneath the jacket. I think you would look very, very cool.

  16. I may be too old, but why would anyone want to wear clothes than cannot be washed or drycleaned? I spill things, sit in the dirt, deal with small sticky fingers, etc. and can’t imagine not throwing the jeans in the wash every few wears. Why can’t raw denim be washed?

  17. I grew up in the Bay Area in the 60s and 70s and everyone wore Levis. I never heard of Lees or Wranglers until I went to college. Kids from the sticks wore those.

    I don’t want to wear jeans that can’t be washed.

  18. Denim purists may freak out but I recently discovered the world of “soft” jeans that contain tencel in varying percentages. Even brands like Calvin Klein are doing these blends. they look exactly like the best denim – faded or not – and feel like a second skin. My favorite recipe is 15% tencel. 83% cotton, 2% lycra. Example: check out Joe’s Jeans – many different blends and styles.

  19. I can’t figure out the special meaning of ‘raw’ and ‘selvage’ in the context of these jeans. I have to assume raw means all cotton fabric? Obviously the fabric must be made of processed cotton, spun into thread and woven. If it’s woven, there are two selvage edges on either side. Any pair of jeans can be thrown into the washing machine, the fabric might soften or perhaps shrink but so what if you want clean clothes?

    Back in the day I always bought my jeans just a little loose, expecting them to shrink. Don’t even remember what the brands were. Wore one pair pretty much until they got holes, then replaced them. Wouldn’t think of wearing them into an office! Times have changed.

  20. I have never heard of raw or selvedge denims.

    I am an “older woman” and wearing jeans that can never be washed just would not work for me. I’m not too sure why they need to be frozen either…do tell as it sounds like raw denim is way too complicated!
    I’ll stick with the line French Dressing and perhaps a cheap pair of GV jeans.

  21. I’m wearing a pair of Levi’s cropped “boyfriend” selvedge jeans right now. I shouldn’t love them, but I do! Weirdly large in the hips (I’m straight through the hips, but curvy in the rear) and skinny in the legs, but comfy. I’m not sure what the value-add of the selvedge is, other than a cool red line on the seams. These are super-soft and thin, and I would think they have nothing in common with raw denim. I’m curious why you put the two together — or is that a question only denim dilettante would ask? I don’t even care if Levi’s are cool or not. I’m in love (bought four pair recently, in cuts appropriate for Sturdy and Artsy and even Grand Dame, if she’s wearing skinny jeans this season with her pearls and Chanel tweed jacket).

  22. Wow. You’ve got way more patience than I do. Periodically, I stalk Nordstrom’s Rack for Not Your Daughter’s Jeans at decent prices and call it a day. Oh, and I feel compelled to wash them now and again as a public service. ; )

  23. You can wsh raw denim. Just soak in bath tub or in delicate cycle in cold water in washing machine. It takes out starch ad helps set color. Be sure aand turn jeans inside out to retain color. Wash in woolite for dark colrs gently. Actually, you should do this for all your dark jeans. Not washing is for crazy young people. Not us cool older chicks.

  24. That don’t type well and forget to check spelling and typos before they hit the send button.

  25. I am fascinated by this discussion as I’ve just recently had several v. disappointing experiences buying skinny jeans that turned out to be made of overly stretchy — and not spring-back-y — denim. To me, 501s are the ur-jean, and I have longed all my life to wear them well, but the only time they have flattered me is the nano-second in my 30s when I endured a bad divorce and two family deaths within 6 months. (My life was almost unendurable, but my cheekbones and clavicle were fashionably prominent.) I asked my Facebook network for jeans recommendations and got something like 40 comments. None, unfortunately for this discussion, were selvage or raw…

  26. I went and looked at information about raw denim and selvedge denim, and I must say it sounds like a lot of hoo-ha for an unwashed fabric with selvedge edges that are used for the outseams. And as for not washing one’s clothes, no, just no.

    1. Thank you Sewing Libarian, I agree that it’s a bunch of marketing hoo-ha for jeans that haven’t been stonewashed, whiskered, ripped and torn or whatever latest fad du jour happens to be.

      So you leave them alone, add the label ‘Raw’ and charge more! Genius! Although it does sound like the good ones are heavier denim which would add to the cost.

  27. It is amazing, how difficult it is to find the ” perfect ” jeans for oneself.
    Especially so, when there are so many brands out there. Incredible.
    I have not really been on a serious search yet, but the ones I have tried on – a fiasco every time.
    All I wish is the right shade of denim, slim, tight ( not skinny, not boot-cuts ), mid-rise, a model which won´t stretch.
    No luck so far, I have to stick to my oldies.
    The ” sevens ” are not working for me, as they are sliding down.

  28. Tried a pair on at the Gap recently-loved them but they weren’t on sale so I passed and stuck to my guns to only buy on sale. Not a week later, I have them coming to me at 35% off (always wait for a sale at the Gap!) They should be here any day-in fact, maybe today! Selvedge to me is like Levi’s when I was a kid. Totally raw, crunchy and stiff-had to break them in and often even bought softeners so you could bend your legs-haha! I noticed it isn’t quite that bad this go-around but definitely not as soft as most of the treated denim sold today.
    BTW, I love the brogues. Been lusting after them all pre-fall. The men have a great version with a pink sole–such fun!

    1. I like those jeans! We’re more or less the same shape, although I have a very flat behind. I have worn them a few times and haven’t yet had to wash them. I think I’m going to experiment to see whether they actually age the way my 18YO denim-fiend son says they will.

    1. I’m on it. I will have to ask my brother, who is totally Artsy and way cooler than me, to go along:).

    2. I’m also very interested in learning about raw denim, so am glad to see so many opinions here!
      If you do go to Self Edge, please let me know! I live just a few blocks from there & would feel less intimidated entering hipster territory with you.

  29. that is pretty much my style – so I had to check that raw denim out! My favorite denim shop here certainly offers the style: but I have found only male styles up to now. Prices are average. Referring to the wash or not wash problem they suggest to not wash them for the first 6 months to obtain the “look”. After that period washing should be o.k. As I wouldn`t wear them very often, probably I really would have to never wash them – a irritating idea.
    Saludos C.

  30. I can’t wear raw denim. As a kid I used to throw hissy hits about jeans every time my mom tried to get me into them because they were just so scratchy, stiff and uncomfortable (my brother was the same way, so we’ll call it a family sensitivity instead of me being a brat). It’s only now that denim has stretch and give that I’m physically comfortable in it.

    I’d love to try to get my hands on a vintage pair though, that’s been washed to softness and see how that stands up to my pickiness.

  31. I don’t know what selvedge and/or raw denim is. But it’s funny — just the other day I started wearing my son’s old Diesel jeans and it was a revelation: first, I love the stiff, crunchy, 100% fabric on these, and they’ve been washed many times. They could probably stand up by themselves.

    Second, I realized/remembered that men’s jeans fit me much better. I used to wear boys’ jeans when I was a teenager/college student, but had forgotten all about that.

  32. I’m not familiar with raw denim. Don’t think I would like hard to break in jeans. However I love my soft slim leg tight jeans from Chicos and have them in almost every color including autumn orange.

  33. As usual, off to the dictionary. At least one search per post, this time no exception. And glad I did: an evil-obsessed disembodied human spirit that inhabits a not old lady insisting upon possibly-expensive Japanese-only trend denim.

    Get those Naked & Famous ones you’ve shown above. If not those, then get those Denhams you spoke of. Do it! We don’t have time to waste, disembodied spirits have their own agenda, we can’t spare you for too long, tomorrow is Saturday when we expectantly start looking for you early in the morning.


  34. Oh, sigh: Mr. C has been wearing Japanese selvedge denim for a few years now. I endure the research and the finer points discussed with the staff at Blue in Green in Soho.

  35. Raw denim and selvedge denim is just an expensive way of saying plain old denim before all the various washes were invented. Don’t get the no-washing part, though.

  36. A few things I have learned in my brief affair with raw denim jeans:

    – You CAN wash them. Some people choose not to, but a few chats with very nice sales people at the Self Edge here in NYC confirm that no laws will be broken by giving the things a good wash now and again. They did recommend washing them less often than you might find usual for a pair of jeans. But on the whole it appears this is a “to each their own” situation rather than a hard and fast rule.

    – If you are a curvy lady of over a size 10, you should probably give up on getting a women’s cut raw denim jean off the rack. There are not many women’s brands and those are rarely in the plus-size arena. Lisa, you will probably not have this issue. I still don’t own raw denim jeans, because I do want a women’s cut and I haven’t found a brand that makes my size.

    – Quality makes an enormous difference. Yes, The Gap makes raw denim. No, it’s not any good. (By my experience.) That means that a pair on the higher end wil cost $200+.

    – They cannot be bought online. You must go in and try them in person, because they are designed to fit VERY tight and then loosen and adjust to your body over time. The first time my boyfriend put on his first pair, they were so stiff he could barely move around in them. He’s been wearing them regularly for a few months and they are now his favorite pants. The denim really does soften up and become wonderful, but if you were to mail order them and try them on at home you’d probably think you got the wrong size.

    – Their advantages are that they are usually incredibly well made, will last for ages, are (eventually) very comfortable, and capture a great fitted/slouchy look that denim with stretch doesn’t really accomplish. They are also often dyed in very dark colors, which I personally like in my jeans.

    – Talking to a knowledgable salesperson was the best thing I did when trying to figure out raw denim, and it will probably be the most helpful thing you can do as well. I saw in a comment above that there is a Self Edge branch in the Mission. Go there! If they are anything like the branch here in NYC, they wil be immensely helpful.

    1. Well I’ve got a plan then! If one can wash them, good. If salespeople are required, OK. And I can’t wear men’s sizes, as they only go down to 28 usually. But I see the women’s jeans go a little smaller, so I’m going to continue the expedition a little further. Thank you everyone!

  37. Can’t help you on the denim; I think it is ore the cut, especially the waistband, than the material- but the shoes are electrically, fatally wonderful.

  38. oh lisa, i’m so late to this post. i do indeed own two pair of raw denim. thanks to son #2 who works in the denim industry. i’m gonna blow your mind (i think)b/c neither pair of mine have ever been washed! that’s the deal with this stuff. weird but it is what makes the fit and feel so great. i don’t wear them any longer but they cost a fortune so they are still hanging around.

  39. If you are a fashion blogger you need to learn that it’s NORDSTROM … only rubes call it NORDSTROM’S

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