The Denim You Don’t Know

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This story is brought to you by vapor-distilled Smartwater, who found unique inspiration for their water by looking up to the sky. We hope the change in perspective this piece offers will help inspire you.


Raw denim. Have you heard of it? Before you start thinking it’s just the latest trend-setting fashion choice, we invite you to consider its historical context. Raw denim is as classic and unmatched as style comes, resurrecting the old adage of “form meets function” to maintain a deeper, well-worn path in the fashion industry. Until now, appreciation for raw denim has remained relatively under-the-radar, contained within small circles of denim producers, textile merchants and emerging designers.

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Yet as we shift into an age where more consumers want to know a product’s story before seeing its price tag, we couldn’t help but wonder — why hasn’t raw denim had its time in the spotlight? Though more readily found in menswear than womens, to choose raw denim is to shift perspective on why we wear what we do, circumventing what’s easy or popular for the sake of a truly unique article of clothing.

We visited Los Angeles based denim designer Dena Mooney for a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into making raw denim, how to properly care for it and what kind of girl should make space for a pair in her closet.

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The History

Some of the best things are seeping with history, and that’s exactly where we find raw denim. Originally, all denim was raw. Think of cowboys and ranchers — would they want a fabric that was paper thin and delicate to the touch? Jeans were developed for hard work in a time when people didn’t own 10 or 15 pair, so the clothing they had needed to be sturdy and needed to last.

According to Mooney, original jean-wearers “wouldn’t really wash them, they would just wear them and wear them and wear them until they were basically ready to fall apart. And it becomes that the detail in the jean [is what makes it] so beautiful.” One’s natural body oil, environment and the everyday occurrences from wearing them around alter the fabric, leaving a fingerprint of a life fully lived.

It’s this “fingerprint” or signature that most jean companies seek to mimic with their designs. Faded patches, whiskers around the knee and even the ever-popular rips and holes are all copies of individual stamps that raw denim wearers could leave on a pair. Consumers today can grab stretchier blends, skip the process and go straight to wearing something that resembles raw denim with time; however, wearers who choose to go raw let this design process happen naturally.

Adds Mooney, “ It’s all about, you know, wearing your own jeans … [raw denim] reminds you of things, like, ‘Oh I did that.’”

The Process

Denim begins with indigo dye traditionally made from the dried leaves of a shrub-like flowering plant in the Indigofera genus. However, given that this can be a time consuming (and resource-dependent) process, most jean manufacturers nowadays use a synthetic indigo dye. Raw spools of yarn — whether of classic cotton, linen, polyester or a blend — are then dipped into giant vats of indigo a certain number of times, depending on how dark a wash is desired. Once dyed, the yarn is then weaved into a fabric and the jean pattern is cut. With pure indigo, the vats are kept extremely hot. “It’s like it’s alive,” says Mooney, “kind of like yogurt is alive.”

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The Care

Now comes the trickiest element of owning and wearing raw denim: caring for it. What gives raw denim its value is the mess it encounters along the way, and Mooney agrees that this where most women opt out for another style. “It’s a little bit inconvenient. Most girls, I think, like to have clean clothes and [this] sort of idea — not washing them regularly — is a little bit strange.” Still, here are a few tricks she recommends for keeping raw denim wearable:

Dry CleanMany choose this method, getting their denim professionally cleaned once or twice a year. 

By HandWash inside out with cold water, using Woolite Black or Mrs. Meyers.

Machine – Use the gentle cycle, never put them in the dryer.

Freeze – Place your jeans in a plastic bag (either rolled or unrolled) and stick them in a freezer to kill germs and odors.

Shower – It’s the original “shrink-to-fit” method that mimics fading, though beware: when indigo gets wet, it can bleed and stain, especially indigo that’s been dipped a greater number of times. Avoid wearing them inside out in the shower for this reason — you’ll dye your legs blue.

Air Dry – This is the best method. Turn the jeans inside out (to prevent the sun from fading) and let the breeze dry them. 

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The Style

Who’s wearing raw denim? “It’s definitely someone who’s more forward, because it’s not somebody who’s specifically following trends,” says Mooney. “It would need to be someone who’s more of a trendsetter. Someone more ahead and who wants to try something different, because it’s completely different from everything in the market.”

With a slimmer and straighter shape, raw denim is best complimented, not competed with. We accented our three different styles above with playful, feminine touches, yet ones that weren’t too distracting or over the top. Being that a pair of raw denim will be a bit stiffer at first, tailor your outfit to provide comfort. But that’s not a license to look sloppy: a fitted jacket or elegant blouse strikes an easy balance. Just take note if the wash is especially dark — indigo residue may transfer. As Mooney concludes, “You can really personalize [raw denim], it feels very authentic. You’re using the fabric sort of how it was designed.”

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Look 1 | Pink Blazer, Top, Shoes provided by Daily Look; Jeans provided by Nudie
Look 2 | White Blazer, Top provided by Daily Look; Rings by Zara; Shoes provided by Carlo Pazolini; Jeans by A.P.C (Stylist’s own)
Look 3 | Top, Shoes provided by Daily Look; Jeans provided by Imogene + Willie 

Are you on board with raw denim? If so, how do you style it?

Images via Kathryna Hancock; Styling by Dolly Pratt; Hair by Alfredo Llamas; Makeup by Jenna Kristina; Model, Rima Vaidila

Working behind the screen as a freelance writer and Darling's Director of Digital Content, Ziza lives between Nashville and Los Angeles with her husband and two lovable (yet laughably big) canines. She believes in being an intentional friend, a spontaneous traveler and, most importantly, a passionate pursuer of that which is true and good.

1 COMMENT
  • Meghna December 19, 2016

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