Things I Can’t Live Without: Selvedge Raw Denim Jeans

Raw denim jeans have been a passion of mine for a while now, in fact I don’t think I have bought a pair of “normal” jeans since 2004, which is when I first acquired a pair. I cannot remember the brand, but they were some obscure, “Japanese work wear” style jeans made from selvedge denim (at a bargain price of £40 in the sales :)).

My absolute favourite place to buy raw denim right now is at Liberties – The buyer for the menswear collection never puts a foot wrong.

There were just a handful of pairs left and one happened to be roughly in my size so I went for it. I say “roughly” as you never really know with raw denim what size they are as they are so prone to shrinking. This first pair were washed way too soon and on a too hot a setting which resulted in them to both over-shrink and not get a proper fade. They shrunk so much that I would have to vigorously stretch them out whilst still wet after every wash by standing on the inside of the waist and pulling up at full strength! However, this did not deter me, as I loved them and they had hooked me in to the world of raw denim forever.

During this time, I have watched them trend in and out. Although they have always been available, the number of brands offering them at any one time has varied greatly. For example, since I can remember, Edwin, Nudie and Evisu have always stocked raw denim jeans. Whether they were easy to find was another thing altogether. When I first became aware of raw denim, it was the Evisu brand that stood out. I remember the presenter, Richard Blackwood, wearing a pair on TV and I remember thinking that they looked odd, yet strangely appealing. It was a year or so later that I found out that they were raw denim jeans.


Unlike now, a few years back there were very few websites or forums that had information on raw denim. What was there was limited to a few posts on style forums or manufacturers guides (I think Nudie had one). Now we are blessed with specialist blogs such as which as the name suggests, is all about raw denim products. A recent trip to a few department stores also tells me that raw denim is back in fashion – Liberty’s is currently stocking a larger than usual selection including Natural Selection, Acne and A.P.C. to name just a few brands.

If you are not aware of what raw or dry denim is, then to briefly explain, it is denim that is unwashed or treated and comes straight from the looms. It has a rough waxy feel where, I believe the strands of cotton are covered to assist the manufacturing process. Selvedge denim on the other hand is a product of the traditional shuttle looms. These looms are narrow and create the “self edge” that we see on the fabric hem. Although not all raw denim is selvedge, most brands will use it in their dry denim products. It can be easily identified as the outside leg seam, if turned up, traditionally will have a white edge with red stitching. It is worth noting that some cuts, especially the skinny jean cut, may have the hem removed to get the fit required.

Selvedge Denim Jean Hem

Here Paul Smith add their signature colouring to the hem of selvedge denim:

Paul Smith Red Ear jean hem

Traditionally, all denim was selvedge denim, but as demand grew in the U.S., processes changed and the old shuttle looms were made redundant in favour of larger, more modern and rapid manufacturing processes which meant the “self edge” of the denim was lost, as rolls of denim were mass produced many meters wide. As I understand it, these old U.S. looms were sold on to Japan to assist the rebuilding of their economy after the war. This is why for a while, so much selvedge denim appeared to be from Japanese origin or at least marketed as such. Here is a shuttle loom in action in Japan.

shuttle loom

Raw denim is stiff, rough, and abrasive and often is ill fitting when new and can be unflattering to the wearer. Ideally, it should not be washed for the first half a year of its life. Untreated, heavy raw denim can be likened to wearing cardboard. What’s even worse is that after the first wash, they may not even fit you properly due to shrinkage! So why the fascination you may ask?

Well, snobbery aside, the process of breaking in raw denim is alive and organic. Each pair, no matter how many were produced, becomes unique. The colouring, fades and marks all tell a story – how you wore them, what you had in your pockets and in some cases, where you were when you wore them. Not only is raw denim romantic in that sense, but once you endure the initial breaking in period which can be up to 3 months depending on how dedicated you are, the jeans will soften and start to hang properly. Then, if patient, a month or two after that, the creases, whiskers and fading will begin become more defined and leave you with the softest, most comfortable pair of  jeans with killer fading, unique to your body and the way you wear them. Basically, your body heat, movement and moisture reacts with the denim to dramatically change its appearance.

Washing raw denim too soon is the biggest mistake you can make. Due to my both my lack of knowledge and impatience, I have done this few times. Doing so ruins the look of the jeans. If washed immediately, you are left with a solid indigo colour that never fades properly and looks awful. Or, if you do not have a long enough breaking in period before washing, you are left with a half finished pair of jeans that never really reach that stage of faded perfection.  I believe this is to do with the setting of the die when first washed.

Here is a pair of my Natural Selection, made in England with Italian selvedge denim jeans that were washed too soon – after just 2/3 months of light wear:

Natural Selection Jeans FrontNatural Selection Jeans Back

Although they look OK, they never reached that state of perfection. The fades never grow and the jeans just slowly lighten with each wash and never gain much more in character. However, the minimum fading and neat slim cut makes them suitable for a casual work look when worn with brown shoes.

For a while, some of my favourite jeans were found in the Red Ear range by Paul Smith. Although I am not really a fan of the standard PS Jeans, Red Ear was a range of Japanese work wear denim which were made mostly raw. They were extremely well constructed, used a heavy, long lasting denim and while the attention to detail was amazing, they were never over styled and always retained the simplicity that I love. The Red Ear range started with the bunny rabbit ears on the back pocket, which you don’t see any more. You do sometimes see a red dot. The Red Ear brand of late seems to be more toned down and blended into the PS Jean range as far as logos, etc..

Just as testament to the quality of these jeans, I have pairs that are over 6 years old, that have been worn heavily and still look great, and although now I may have outgrown some of them (sigh) my partner now wears them as her “boyfriend jeans”:

fluffleberry red ear denim 039

Here, if you zoom in, you can still see the old “bunny ears” stitching on the back pocket. Red Ear had a phase of using an “unpicked” embroidery effect so only the base of the ears could be seen.

fluffleberry red ear denim 008


I have not bought a pair of Red Ear Jeans for a few years now but I am always on the lookout for some more. Here are a pair of 4 year old Red Ear jeans. These were worn for 6 months before washing. I pretty much lived in these for 2 years.

Paul Smith Red Ear Jeans BackPaul Smith Red Ear Jeans InsidePaul Smith Red Ear Jeans Front

There are many ways in which people get their perfect faded look. I have read of people wearing them in the sea and rubbing them with sand, the classic wearing in the bath for the preshrink effect when completely raw and then some who dry clean only.  Some never ever wash them. For me I stick with the simple tactic of wear them for six months before their first machine wash. This works for me and my lifestyle. I have heard of people placing them in the freezer if they start to smell, which I have never done but apparently works. Once a pair did start to get a bit fresh, so I just turned them inside out and placed them in the hot sun for a day. The sun’s natural bleaching action “neutralised” them making them fit for public outings again.

Here are another pair of Red Ear jeans that are over 5 years old:

Paul Smith Red Ear jean back

Paul Smith Red Ear jean pocket

Amazingly, they started life out like this:

Red Ear new

When sizing raw denim, you have to be a little careful. First you must understand that there are two types of raw or dry denim, saniforized and unsaniforized. The first being denim that has undergone a pre-shrinkage process and the latter being completely untreated. Unsaniforized denim will shrink around 10%, although its not an exact science. Depending how the manufacturer sizes them, you should either size up or allow a looser fit to compensate for shrinkage. Saniforized denim will still shrink, just not as much. Some say only 1% but I have had saniforized denim that has shrunk around 5% after first wash. Jeans will stretch naturally around the waist and leg area with wear, so allow for this also.

I like a fairly straight, narrow cut , for the jeans to hang off me a little around the waist and bum and have a bit of space around the leg. So when choosing a pair, I first find out whether they have been saniforized or not, then size either according to fit, or size up depending. I know skinny is in right now, so people go for a fit that is very tight right of the bat as they know the jeans will stretch with wear, or at least until they are first washed. To be honest sizing and style is something that each person will have their own preferences. If you are a raw denim beginner then there is an element of trial and error, which should all part of the fun. The beautiful thing about it is that if you break the jeans in properly, they should mould (literally!) to your body anyway regardless of any minor sizing issues.

Lay your hands on a fresh new pair of raw denim jeans at Liberties

Are you into raw denim, if so what are your favourite brands? Have you had any shrinkage disasters?! I’d be interested to find out, so let me know below. Also, if you are thinking about buying your first pair of raw denim jeans let me know your thoughts or how you get on. Happy fading guys!


  1. Faisal Ghaffar says

    It was a wonderful article by you about raw jeans; quite interesting. I have a plan to buy Edwin Ed71 for my first pair of raw jeans. Lets see. I will follow your simple rules.

    • Admin says

      Hi Faisal, thanks for your comment. Funnily enough I bought a pair of the Edwin 71’s about 2 months ago. I have meaning to put a quick post together but I will say now that they are the best pair of jeans I have bought in ages that you should pull the trigger on them asap! Happy shopping. Nick

  2. says

    Very very interesting article /post! I share the same passion for raw denim and I am (both) a compulsive denim hoarder and collector. I am surprised that denim aficionado always talk about denim trousers – never denim shirts though! My favourite raw jeans brands are Atelier La Durance, Momotaro and Hiut and if you ever come across some Eric Munro denim shirts, they are awesome and were Made in England.

  3. Nathan H says

    Hi there denim lovers. Does anyone know where I can buy Red Ear jeans in the UK, if not worldwide? Many thanks

    • says

      Red Ear are a Paul Smith brand. They stock the range at their store on Floral street, covent garden. Or at selfridges. The range is pretty limited these days. I always keep an eye out but have not seen anything in ages that I like the look of. Hopefully you’ll have better luck.

  4. Nathan H says

    Hi denim lovers. Does anyone know where I can buy Red Ear jeans in the UK, if not worldwide? Many thanks

  5. Wolfie says

    Hi – one thing that may be worth mentioning is that the indigo colour tends to bleed out of raw denim jeans for the first month or so that you wear them – on your fingers (which isn’t so bad), but also on your shoes, underpants, sofa, car seat etc.
    I have two pairs of light tan ankle boots that have blue marks on them – which, luckily enough, I rather like. The blue edges on the leather sofa cushions look very interesting too.

    • Admin says

      Hi Wolfe,

      Yes, you are dead right, some raw denim bleeds badly to begin with, like the Edwins. Rinsing them helps get the worst out, otherwise you just have to sacrifice the clothes to the cause…

      Like you, I like the marks when on the appropriate items.

      Thanks for stopping by.


  6. Christian says


    First of, thanks for a great post, nice of you to share your knowledge of, experience with, and thoughts on the uncertain science of creating the optimal fitting and best looking pair of denim through breaking in some raws! Also kudos on sharing your fails,for as you say, that is also a part of it…

    I am kinda new to the whole deal, and had not even heard of raw denim just 3 years ago. But when I did I really took to the idea and went out and bought my first pair of fails..

    I wore a pair of jeans for 8 months straight as my only pair, before washing them due to an overwhelming odor of among other things, beer, piss and kebabs. I literally had a knot in my stomach as I threw the pants in the washing machine, not knowing if it was time yet, but the sheen of grease on them just made it a must. I was so excited for the result and I could not wait to hang them up and expect the result as they dried up afterwards, only to experience one of the biggest let downs of recent times. I had, due to my lack of knowledge, and over reliance on the cute but utterly clueless girl behind the counter at the local shop, bough a pair of Diesel Darren in a dark denim shade, but alas, not raw, they just looked the part.. So, the wear was minimal, especially considering the effort.

    I actually ended up putting the pair in the back of my wardrobe before I went online in search of some knowledge. That lead me to the Nudie brand, and what turned out to become my second fail, but that is another story. Lets just say I now know to size up in length..

    At the moment I am struggling with breaking in a pair of Jacob Japan Selvage in proper cardboard 15,5 Oz Japanese raw denim, as well as a pair of lovely soft, at least in comparison, limited edition Ronald Blue Selvage in naturally indigo dyed 13 Oz Japanese raw denim, both by the norwegian manufacturer Livid Jeans. If you haven’t heard of the brand I suggest you check out their site. It is on the pricy side, but considering the craftsmanship and quality it is a matter of priority.

    They even give you an option of a tailored fit if you visit them in Norway, now how is that for creating a truly unique denim? 😉

  7. Asif says

    Great article / post on raw-denim! I have always been attracted to raw denim and their rough look. I have recently found online a pair of Mastercraft Union Jeans and a pair of Natural Selection Jeans. Both use heavy weight Japanese selvedge denim but I’m quite confused about the shrinkage and their fitting. Do you have any comments on Mastercraft Union jeans? Have you had any experiences with their denim? What about Natural selection denim? I mean do they all shrink or is it just a specific line of products they make that shrink? Thanks in advance.


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