Raw Jeans

Hem of American-made raw denim selvedge jeans with orange chain stitch hemming shows what is aw denim, selvedge on jeans and chain stitching.

What’s the difference between raw denim and selvedge denim?

Here is everything you need to know without going into great detail about raw denim’s history or production. Raw denim fabric must first be understood in order to understand what raw jeans are.

Raw denim is simply denim fabric that has not been washed, dyed, soaked, or otherwise exposed to water.

Raw denim is simply denim that has not been washed, colored, soaked, or otherwise exposed to water after the weaving process. What makes denim “raw” has nothing to do with its color, weight, maker, dye, or the fact that it is selvedge or not.

Raw denim is also called dry or hard denim, but it shouldn’t be confused with selvedge denim, which it often is. In the image below, you can see examples of the two different types of raw denim fabric used to make denim clothing. The most common type of denim among denim enthusiasts is selvedge, which refers to the weaving process of the fabric. It has clean-self finished edges or “self-edge” which are used in finished garments by cutting selected pattern parts to the edge of the fabric. Wide goods or non-selvedge denim (pictured in the foreground) is woven with frayed edges which are discarded after cutting.

A close-up of selvedge and ordinary raw denim fabric to highlight the difference.
A close-up of selvedge (redline edge) and ordinary raw denim fabric to highlight the difference.

Is selvedge better quality denim?

Don’t be fooled by the name selvedge into believing it’s better denim. Quality standards, like other items, will vary depending on the provider. Both selvedge and non-selvedge denims are manufactured in varying grades. Frequently, mass producers of low-cost jeans use suppliers who are not known for producing high-quality denim. Do your homework since some mass-market brands will leverage the cache of mills recognized for creating premium denim to make cheap denim that looks the part.

Why is selvedge denim more expensive?

For fabric mills, weaving selvedge denim is more expensive. For brands, the cost of manufacturing garments produced with selvedge denim is higher. As a result, selvedge denim products typically sell at higher costs within a brand’s style assortment.

Rolls of selvedge denim and non-selvedge regular raw denim are side by side to compare raw denim vs selvedge.

Within a brand’s style range, selvedge denim jeans are more likely to be more expensive than non-selvedge models: To begin, unlike non-selvedge denim, which can range from 57″ to 64″ wide, selvedge denim is narrower, ranging from 28″ to 34″ in width. This means that a pair of selvedge jeans may require roughly double the amount of fabric as a regular pair of jeans. The pricing of the fabric is the second factor to consider. Selvedge costs a few dollars extra per yard (depending on the supplier) because it is typically woven on older, slower looms that create fabric with a high rate of flaws, whereas modern looms make wider (non-selvedge) denim with fewer faults at faster speeds.

The images below show “Markers” for jeans. Markers are patterns for each size range that are printed on paper and used by the cutter to trace the cut on the fabric. The pattern pieces on the Markers are arranged to minimize fabric waste. Selvedge Markers are shown in the top image, and non-selvedge Markers are shown in the bottom image. This example shows two pairs of jeans cut on the narrower selvedge denim would require nearly 6 yards of fabric, while two of the same sizes cut on the wider non-selvedge would use about 2 1/2 yards of fabric.

A Mini Marker for cutting two sizes of selvedge jeans on narrow selvedge denim fabric
A Mini Marker for cutting two sizes of selvedge jeans
A Mini Marker for cutting two sizes of non-selvedge regular denim jeans on wide goods denim fabric.
A Mini Marker for cutting two sizes of non-selvedge regular denim jeans

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

Raw Denim Evaluation of Stretching & Shrinkage

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?

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.

Chart shows how raw denim stretches and shrinks

Raw Denim Growth

I recorded the changes in my selvedge Grand Street jeans as they went through the process of wearing and washing. I did this because lots of our customers often ask the same set of questions when it comes to raw denim jeans.

  • How much do raw denim jeans shrink? 
  • How much do raw denim jeans stretch or grow?
  • Should I buy a size larger and then soak the jeans?
  • Do I buy a size down, and then wear them until the jeans stretch & grow?

Above you’ll find on the left an image of a new pair of raw jeans combined with jeans on the right worn 9 months without a wash. The best thing about aging your jeans as opposed to purchasing a jean pre-washed, is you get authentic wear effects unique to your own body and wearing experience.

Combined photos of new raw jeans vs. aged unwashed raw denim jeans on the right side show shrinkage and stretching growth
Unworn new raw jeans vs. 9 months worn unwashed on right side

Below, you will find the whole process detailing how I ended up at the measurements above. Again, the new pair of raw jeans on the left combined with jeans after wearing 9 months without a wash, merged on the right.

The chart explains the measurements in detail of raw jeans before wearing and stretching growth after. It also shows shrinkage due to washing and how much the jeans expand again after being worn.

For a guy like me, with a large seat and athletic legs, the outcome was growth in the highly stressed areas of the seat and waist from bending, even after washing. There is also a lot of friction in the crotch area, which causes fraying at the seams and holes to develop in the denim, which is typical for guys that wear their jeans lower on the hips. Those who wear jeans higher near the waistline may not get as much friction and wear in the crotch area.

On another note, the white in the base color becomes slightly dark from oils absorbed from the skin. After I did the first wash of the jeans, the blue was still pretty dark, but the white yarns were brighter. You can see this in the animated images from my earlier post or in the slide show on Heddles.com.

Raw denim jeans fading over time-laped

Fading raw denim jeans time-lapsed

Back in the summer of 2015, I wore my new selvedge raw denim Grand Street jeans working inside our warehouse about 4 days per week to beat them up and to create and record these time-lapsed photos to show how raw jeans fade over time. After 9 months of wearing the jeans without washing, I gave them a machine wash to quickly get rid of the loose dye, oils, and dirt. I then wore them another month before giving them another machine wash for more abrasion, speed fading, and to create streaks. At this point, I lost another shade and the jeans were a perfect medium blue with some fraying.

How do raw jeans fade explained in time-lapsed photos feature Williamsburg Garment Co. American-made selvedge raw denim worn over a 9-month period.
Unworn raw denim jeans, morph to worn-unwashed, to finally worn and washed.