Denim - Page 5

Denim-related post. Learn things, see things.

Faded jeans natural aging vs. factory manufactured wash
Naturally aged faded jeans vs. Factory manufactured wash

Denim fades explained: Natural vs. Manufactured

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Mastering the rules that go along with owning a pair of raw denim jeans can be a chore to some. This is one reason some opt for pre-washed jeans. However, for raw denim aficionados, the rewards of naturally aging from a pair of raw jeans out weights the alternative.

Know the differences between naturally aged raw denim jeans and factory washed

People new to raw denim and those who love jeans, but only know them in the pre-washed form, often can’t tell the difference between a naturally aged pair of raw denim jeans and one that is purchased pre-washed. However, if you fall into this category don’t feel bad. You may be surprised to learn many of the people earning salaries as designers, editors, and denim buyers at some of the largest department stores, publications, and brands making the decisions on what jeans are sold, seen, and made, don’t know the difference either. I can’t tell you how many times one of the aforementioned asked about a pair of my raw denim jeans (new/unworn) and referred to them as a dark wash.

Below, I placed two jeans side by side to compare naturally aged jean which started as a pair of raw jeans and premium washed jean, which was designed to replicate dark-aged jean and then I detailed the attributes. Both are Williamsburg jeans. Although we take pride in trying to recreate really authentic-looking aged jeans, there is really just no substitute for the real thing. However, if you seek a worn, broken-in jeans and don’t have the time or patience to weather a pair of raw, please opt for washed jeans with authentic-looking attributes and try to avoid washed jeans that were meant to look aged but look more like jeans decorated with harsh white spots and lines drawn on them.

Naturally faded raw jeans (left) manufactured jeans wash (right)

WHISKERS

Named for obvious reasons, whiskers are the most difficult to imitate and can be the defining detail that makes a wash look artificial or authentic. Real whiskers develop texture over time as the jeans tuck and fold in a repeated manner, with the highest point receiving more abrasion, removing more indigo, and the lower less fiction, which stays darker. High stress at the hip area causes the fabric to bend horizontally. In the early years of whisker reproduction, workers used clamps and tacks with resin to harden the texture in place, in an attempt to give jeans a realistic look. The drawback of making textured denim with resin is that it weakens the yarns. Too much resin on jeans may look good, but the fabric becomes brittle and easily tears. In about 2003, as I was seeking to create more authentic-looking whiskers, I created a new way to add texture and naturally shaped wrinkles to jeans, which is now used at factories all over the world. You can read more about that on the Maurice Malone website.

THIGH, KNEE, AND SEAT ABRASION

The second most important parts of a denim wash are the thigh and seat abrasion. In general, these areas usually take the most beating, along with the knees. In hand sanding, the factory worker usually starts out making the whiskers followed by the thigh, then seat sanding. Lower-quality washes often use sandblasting for speed. This is why with many low-priced and mass-market jeans, the aging at the thigh is bright white or looks like big spots. Sandblasting, although faster is harder to control in the manufacturing process. It also lays down an even amount of abrasion which doesn’t look natural. These areas are finished off with potassium to quickly fade sanded areas. Again, in lower price jeans, the chemical is sprayed on, while some higher-priced manufacturing sometimes applies the potassium by brush for a more natural uneven effect.

CHEVRONS

Chevrons are stretch marks on the inner thighs. They are usually more intense higher in the crotch and fade out closer toward the knees.

KNEE STRETCH MARKS

One of the characteristics routinely avoided in premium washes, but always seen on naturally aged jeans is stretch marks created by the stress of bending the knees. These marks usually extend over the outer seams and fade into the wrinkles at the rear side of the knees. 

REAR KNEE LINES

Not pictured, but sometimes added to washed jeans are the honeycomb-like texture that forms at the rear side of the knees from walking and the sitting position. Wash factories tend to overdo effects more often than not and this feature is not so easy to replicate, so most of the time, the rear knees are either avoided or badly done. The worst example of this is the look of lines drawn at the rear sides of the knees, usually with the placement low on the calf.

WAISTBAND ABRASION

Most often, this wearing away is seen on men’s jeans from the friction caused by wearing a belt.

FLY ABRASION

Fly abrasion can take many forms, depending if the jeans have a button or zipper fly. It also depends on how loose or tight the fit of the jeans is. When you see whiskers across the fly, it is affected by the stress from the hips and this usually occurs with button fly.

The early stages of raw denim naturally faded jeans compared

Raw denim jeans fading & natural aging researched

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Which jean looks to be the oldest or most frequently worn jean? Is this a trick question, or do the photos state the obvious?

Since I launched Williamsburg Garment Company, I’ve worn nearly all the men’s styles and like most people, do have my favorites, of which, some jeans get worn more frequently than others. Some time ago, because wash factories often lose my oldest, most beat-up favorite jeans when I use them as samples to create new experimental natural-looking washes, I promised myself to start recording measurements, fading, shrinkage, and the growth of my jeans to share key insights to how each style preforms throughout the years before they disappear. This is part 1 of what will be at a minimum, a 2-part series, where I review the Hope Street standard raw vs. Grand Street stretch selvedge jeans.

I once received an email from the U.K. and the customer asked, “how long should it take for my jeans to fade?” He explained, that he wore his jeans very often for several months and they seemed to experience no fading, so he wanted to know if that was normal in our jeans. I replied no, saying the jeans should be showing signs of fading. I asked all the usual questions to make sure he was not doing something wrong and that he did indeed have one of our jeans. Nothing seems wrong and I thought it was one of those random odd emails and forgot about it. Then one day after thinking about how dark my Hope Street jeans were, even after more than a year of routinely performing heavy warehouse work in them, it bought me back to that email.

My standard raw Hope Street jeans still looked as dark as they did when they were new. Except for the stretch marks and crease lines that developed. I recalled that I had other jeans that were worn for less time that was more faded, which drove me to write this article.

Hope Street dark faded 18 dip indigo naturally aging raw denim jeans made in the USA by Williamsburg Garment Co.

Right away, I compared them to the stretch selvedge Grand Street jeans, which I treated similarly, often wearing because of the high level of comfort. Between the two, there was an obvious extreme difference in the pace of fading. The stretch selvedge jeans are one of my recently developed styles, so they are not very old, yet they look older than the Hope jeans and others in my regular rotation of denim.

The stretch selvedge jeans in this photo have been washed once, while the Hope raw jeans have not. That’s because once a jean starts developing whiskers (the stretch marks at the hips) and showing signs of aging, I get anxious to accelerate the process with washing. That’s just me. However, the selvedge jeans are a lot younger with far less wear than the raw denim jeans.

14-dip stretch indigo naturally aged raw denim American-made jeans by Williamsburg Garment Company

My findings. I now recommend our Hope Street standard raw to people looking for men’s slim-fit jeans that will remain dark for a long time. I recommend either the Grand Street stretch raw jeans or South 4th Street stretch raw jeans in selvedge stretch denim to those seeking comfort and like the idea of raw jeans that doesn’t have to be punished that much to age.

Guide showing raw denim jeans shrinkage and stretching measurements
Raw denim jeans shrinkage & stretching measurements

Raw Denim Evaluation of Stretching & Shrinkage

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Hope Street questions answered: How much does raw denim shrink and stretch?

American-made Hope Street raw denim fading and aging reviewed
New unworn raw denim compared to worn and later washed jeans

Starting with a fresh new pair of men’s raw denim Hope Street jeans, I recorded measurements of my size 35 jeans. The jeans were worn on average about two days per week for about a year.

One thing I noticed about my Hope Street jeans is they remained very dark even after a year plus of wearing causally and beating them up pretty well in the warehouse. I asked Blake, my sales rep from Cone Denim about this and he told me the denim used in the Hope Street jeans was their darkest pure indigo shade. He went on to say, “it’s 40% pure. That shade is engineered to give the best possible range of shade.” This means that once you do manage to wear the denim down, the multitude of aging tones in the indigo will be beautiful.

Working from the Williamsburg denim store every day, I found myself educating people on things like, “what are selvedge jeans?” Washed vs. raw jeans and how much does raw denim shrink and stretch. The expansion experienced while wearing raw denim jeans and the shrinkage that occurs after washing has been the most challenging conversations. To aid and give visuals to the discussion, I made it my goal to personally begin testing every style of Williamsburg jeans for denim shrinkage and growth. Starting with measurements taken from jeans while new and raw, to the point where they grow after months of wear and ending with recording after-wash measurements, followed by after-wash/after-wear measurements.

Below, are the measurements from Hope Street, non-stretch, standard raw denim jeans before wear. Followed by the measurements of the jeans after washing and then wearing them for 2 days – stretching and growing the jeans to a size that ends up being slightly smaller jeans than they were in the beginning. 

New: Size 35

Waist Band: 39”

Seat: 43 ¾”

Front Rise: 10 ¾”

Rear Rise: 15”

Thigh: 26”

Knee: 17 ¼”

Hem: 14 ½”

Inseam: 35

Washed & Worn: Size 35

Waist Band: 38 ½”

Seat: 43 ½”

Front Rise: 10 ½”

Rear Rise: 16”

Thigh: 26”

Knee: 17”

Hem: 14 ¼”

Inseam: 32 7/8”

In high-stress areas like the waistband, seat, and knees, the denim shrunk a good amount after the first wash. However, after a short time of wear, the fabric expanded relatively with ease. At the rise and thigh, the areas that stretch the most, the changes canceled each other out, growing a great deal while raw, then shrinking and enlarging again shortly after wash and wear. The inseam which sees very little growth during the break-in process is only really affected by shrinkage and loses about 2 inches.

Guide shows how much raw denim jeans stretch and grow.
Raw denim guide answers the question, "How much does raw denim stretch?"

How much does raw denim stretch?

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We decided to create this quick guide to answer a common question about breaking in raw denim jeans. One of the most common questions for those looking to buy a pair of raw jeans for the first time is “ How much does raw denim stretch?

We took measurements from a customer’s jeans after he had worn them for about 2 months and then compared them to the original measurements of the jeans. Here is what we found.

  • A. The waistband grew 1/2″ (total circumference)
  • B. The hips grew 1 1/4″ (total circumference)
  • C. The front rise grew 1/4″
  • D. The thigh grew 1/2″ (total circumference)
  • E. The knee grew 1/4″ (total circumference)
  • F. The leg opening grew 1/8″ (total circumference)
  • G. The inseam grew 1/4″

To answer wash and shrinkage questions, earlier experiments of the raw denim jeans in these styles show the shrink rate at 3.5% in width and 2.5% in length.

Williamsburg American-made selvedge raw denim jeans with flag pocket bags
Grand Street selvedge American-made jeans produced in Cone White Oak denim made in USA

Angry voters, cheap products, free-trade & trickle-down policies

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Angry voters addicted to cheaper products have finally woken up and realized free-trade and trickle-down policies haven’t really worked out well for them.

Denim manufacturing factory inside China in 2006. Jeans are hand-sanded for aging effects before washing.
Hand sanding area inside Chinese denim factory in 2006

In this super-heated political season, the one good thing politicians are finally talking about is bad U.S. trade policies (we accept goods from some countries with less restrains than they give us to export to them). Many angry voters addicted to cheaper products have finally woken up and realized Free Trade and Trickle Down policies haven’t worked out well for them. It feels like there are now more closed factories than good-paying factory jobs and both Democrats and Republican voters are angry with their Party Establishment whose main interest seems to be supporting Big Businesses and Contributors to their campaigns, which has aided in eroding the U.S. manufacturing base in exchange from greater profits for investors. Over the past few decades, the rich have gotten richer and the middle class has shrunk as the U.S. economy transformed into an Entertainment, Service, and Tech-based economy.

In a manufacturing-based economy, there is usually an economic community that flourishes around manufacturing. Factories require suppliers, part manufacturers, restaurants, travel, and other community businesses that usually thrive around them. When American businesses moved to manufacture overseas to increase profit margins, basically good-paying factory jobs were traded for retail jobs. Great, if you are a teenager but not so great if have a family to support. With few American businesses placing manufacturing orders within the U.S., factories closed and the supplier chains died along with the communities that depended on them.

For years I’ve been saying that Americans have purchased the country’s economic health and manufacturing base away. Big business, politicians, and consumer purchasing decisions have aided the collapse of our manufacturing base and erosion of our infrastructure while contributing to the sudden growth in low-labor countries now manufacturing our products.

Let me tell you a story

When I first traveled to China in the mid-1990s we drove to the factory on dirt roads. Along the roadside were old wooden homes that you would swear no one could possibly be living in. Within 15 years those dirt roads were replaced by paved highways with exits that spun off into other new highways in construction. Not far in the distance were massive new factories, apartment buildings, and whole new communities in construction. Now, juxtapose that to what has happened in the U.S. over the same period.

Hope Street American-made jeans

During the downturn in the economy, a small percentage of Americans started paying attention to where the products they bought were made. This small change in the buying habits of some has helped contribute to slowing the tremendous growth in China and other countries while the U.S. economy rebounded. During my last trips to China, I noticed business was no longer booming and many construction projects were stalled.

Many factors go into changes in economies and I know this to be true: How you spend your money makes a difference along the chain of who you decide to spend it with as much as it affects you. I can go on, but I’m not trying to be a political pundit or running for office so I’ll leave it at that.

Close-up of naturally faded vintage Levi's jeans with whiskers at hips and extending from crotch
A pair of old naturally faded Levi's jeans with whiskers, also known as mustaches or hige.

What are whiskers on jeans? How are they made naturally and commercially?

Denim enthusiasts know the best whiskers are made by starting with a pair of dark raw denim jeans and just wearing the hell out of them. An example can be seen in the image below of a 1-year-old 15-oz pair of Williamsburg jeans. On the other hand, the average consumer may be asking, “what are whiskers on jeans?” Because they only know the jeans they buy in stores come with a worn-in look and can’t tell what looks natural and what looks manufactured.

If you don’t have the patience to break-in a pair of raw jeans or can’t deal with the rules of wearing them – choosing rather buy pre-washed ones. You should at minimum be educated on what looks real or good in terms of washes. This is the first article in a new series where we break down many of the effects seen in naturally aged denim jeans. We will explain how the effects are created to make prefabricated washes look naturally aged.

What are jean whiskers?

Whiskers, also called mustaches, hige, crease lines, etc., can be seen on the jeans below, which formed naturally from the state of raw denim jeans. Lines from repeated stretching and pulling motion develop at the front hip area. Crease lines extend out from the crotch and across the out-seams of the hips. As raw jeans age. Abrasion on the high points of the surface fades and becomes brighter than the surrounding areas as indigo or dye rubs off.

How to put whiskers on jeans

On pre-washed or commercially processed jeans, fabricating whiskers is one of the most copied and difficult effects to achieve. They are artificially created by hand sanding the jeans before they are washed and still in “raw denim” form. On lower-priced jeans, the effect usually looks fake, like drawn white lines. On jeans that garner higher price tags, sometimes known as premium denim, more time and effort is spent to make the whiskers look as real as possible by fading them in and out, mimicking high to low points.

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