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 being. 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 activities. 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? You’re wearing your soul on the outside. You’re a sartorial rebel. You’re James Dean.
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.
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, naturally. That way you keep the rockstar 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 ultimate 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.
(Related: This year’s biggest men’s denim trends)
The key to denim care is knowing your material and treating each appropriately based on its fabrication. For example, raw denim should be washed sparingly; stretchy types equal quicker wear; wax warrants careful handling; and flares… well, flares should be returned to the store.
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. Once you wash it, it will fade and lose stiffness,” says denim expert Lorna Burford of The Jeans Blog.
While bagging the item up and bunging it in the freezer is an excellent (if not slightly odd) bacteria-killing option, it’s not, as denim snobs would have you believe, the only method. “Wait longer with darker shades of denim, but it doesn’t matter too much with lighter garments,” says Burford.
With classic indigos, if garment refresh sprays won’t cut it, you can still give it a wash: “Turn the denim inside out and submerge it in a bath of warm water,” says denim repair expert and tailor Mike Pendlebury. “Use [a denim-friendly detergent like Woolite Black or Mr. Black’s Denim Wash] to clean them, which is kinder on the dye than standard household washing powders.”
It wasn’t long ago that stretch denim – usually woven with elastane or spandex – was a, well, 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, too.”
It’s basic physics that when you repeatedly pull something to its limits, at some point it’s going to 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, particularly in areas such as the crotch, inner thigh and knees,” says Pendlebury.
“Brands like J Brand, Seven For All Mankind, Hudson and Diesel 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 thick Levi’s 501s, for example.”
“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.”
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 so on a low heat; anything high temperature will melt the wax.”
Much like a kid in a playground, waxed denim is prone to collecting 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 banker, in which case throw caution to the wind and see if you can’t nail that James Dean look after all.
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 Pendlebury. One way to avoid this is by pinrolling your jeans, a technique long favoured by sneakerheads.
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 if leg day doesn’t appeal and nip in the waist (within reason) for the perfect fit. However, much like the shoulders on a jacket, when shopping keep in mind that areas like the rise (where the waistband sits on your body) and crotch are much harder to fix.
When it comes to storing denim, it pays to elevate jeans and jackets above other lowly garments. But while a dedicated spot on the floordrobe doesn’t cut the mustard, you needn’t be precious about it.
“To ensure the right creases stay intact, store 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.”
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.
Battered and bruised denim has been a key trend of recent seasons, but when things go a ‘b’ too far and you end up with something that’s just plain blown out, it’s aren’t necessarily destined for the bin.
“After 12 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.”
If this does happen, 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 or menswear independents that specialise in denim and have access to the right tools in house.
Worn and cared for properly, denim becomes personal to you. “It’s your life story on a blank denim canvas,” says Burford. But despite all good intentions, caring for your denim the wrong way is almost as bad as not bothering at all.
The key, as ever, is to be fastidious with your wardrobe. Find the label inside the garment and read it thoroughly before even stepping foot near a machine. This will usually advise on topics such as temperature and whether or not the denim should be ironed.
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.
Most denim snobs prefer to hand wash in tepid water, submerging the garment for anything up to 45 minutes. If you are going to risk the machine, as a general rule of thumb, all denim should be turned inside-out and washed on the slowest spin cycle and temperature to cut down on friction and reduce fade. You should also limit the number of denim pieces in the machine to three or four pairs for the same reason.
Once out of the washer, turn the jeans the right side out and allow them to dry fully either on a washing line or flat away from direct sunlight before storing. Never put them into a tumble dryer and remember that indigo may drip onto the floor, so don’t hang them over a new carpet.
If there are creases you want rid of, set your iron to a high temperature setting but use steam and preferably a cloth between the denim and the iron to prevent shine.
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