Denimology: Buying Raw and Selvage Denim

Now that we’ve broken down what makes raw denim and selvage denim unique, it’s important to know what to look for and what to expect when searching for the right pair of jeans for you. Much like investing in other things like a new car or new furniture, certain jeans can seem great on the rack, but for one reason or another they just aren’t right for you and your lifestyle.

You may dream of owning that red sports car, but if you have three kids, it probably isn’t going to perform the ways you need it to. You may fall in love with a new white set of living room furniture, but if you have a few furry ones running around the house, it won’t be white for long!

I always tell people to look for clothing the same way — there is always something out there with the right mix of exciting details (fit, style, color) and practicality (durability, versatility) for you and your lifestyle.

Buying Raw Denim

The decision to invest in either a raw or washed pair of jeans, unlike any other detail, can really make or break how you feel about them in the end. Raw denim, as we discussed earlier, will be dark and uniform in color and will likely be pretty stiff, or rigid, out of the gate. The key here is understanding how they will evolve and change over the course of their lifetime.

Raw denim will slowly break in over time as you work out the starch and dye that is left in the denim. With every wear, these jeans will become softer and develop creases at your joints (behind your knees, in your lap and potentially where they stack up on your shoe). These creases and spots that receive lots of contact (around your wallet in your back pocket, your knees) will fade in color more quickly than other parts of the jeans, revealing a wear pattern that is unique to you.

Raw Lee jeans that have faded over years of wear. Credit:

Raw Lee jeans that have faded over years of wear. Credit:

If you are buying raw denim because you want a dark pair of jeans to dress up, then you might consider giving them a soak in cold water before you begin wearing them. This will help to preserve as much as possible that dark blue color you originally fell in love with. If you want them to fade into a classic broken-in look, refrain from washing them as long and as little as possible!


Buying Selvage Denim

While buying raw or washed denim is a matter of aesthetic preference, the decision to buy selvage denim is one of quality. Because selvage denim has been a hot item for a few years now, buying this particular type of fabric doesn’t necessarily guarantee you a high-quality product. Lots of companies have jumped on the bandwagon and are now producing their own version of selvage fabrics that may or may not possess the traits that make traditional selvage denim so special. At Lee our selvage jeans are made in the USA just like they used to be, on the same machines and with the same attention to detail and quality. Selvage denim can come washed or in raw form, but it will always be just about the best fabric you can get for your money. Denim was designed to be tough and long lasting, and these fabrics are the crème of the crop. If you are so fortunate to be wearing denim every day, or at least most of the time, then you may consider investing a bit more money and trying out the Lee 101 series. You’ll love the way these jeans break in to your body and retain their shape wear after wear.

Selvage denim can last a lifetime, and it will break in and keep its fit longer than a cheaper fabric. Credit:


Buying the Right Size

If you are buying raw or selvage denim, it’s important to understand what size and fit you’ll want. For example, if you plan to wear your jeans most days and won’t launder them until you need to, you may consider buying them a little more snug and planning for them to stretch out. Raw and and selvage fabrics are mostly cotton, and while they may still shrink a bit, they will likely stretch out a lot over time.

If you think you will launder them regularly or ever put them in the dryer, you may want to give yourself a little extra room in case they shrink.

Finally, one of the biggest mistakes guys make is buying a jeans style or fit that may only be appropriate for certain occasions. With slimmer fits becoming more acceptable at the casual office, just make sure if you’re buying a nice pair of jeans that you’ll want to wear with as much of your wardrobe as possible.

Understanding how to size and care for your jeans will keep them looking good and feeling great for years to come. Credit:


There certainly is plenty to consider if you are planning to venture into new denim territories — but if you are willing to consider these things before you purchase, you’ll be much more likely to end up with that elusive “perfect pair.”

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