Adventures in Japanese Raw Denim

Mike has been wearing raw denim for years now, yet I was never really intrigued with the whole idea. The concept of not washing your jeans totally turned me off. I don’t understand showering, then putting on a pair with 9 month’s worth of dirt.

But lately, Japanese raw denim styles for women have been so in-my-face that I needed to do some investigating. It started with the white denim ankle pant by Chimala that Madewell is carrying.

Chimala denim for Madewell

Chimala denim for Madewell










The very deceiving thing about this photo, is that it’s taken from the side, so you really can’t tell what the fit is like; I’m imagining it’s a looser/boyfriend fit. The very disappointing thing about these jeans is that they are not available in stores. I understand from a business standpoint not wanting to stock a ton of white Japanese denim—in an effort to avoid over forecasting and being stuck with extra product. But from a buyer’s perspective, how can you possibly expect anyone to pay $386 for a pair of jeans that they can’t try on first? Especially denim for women (we always need to try on).

So, there will be no trying before buying. Must move on.

Next, I head to Nordstrom. As you know, they will bend over backwards to get whatever size and style in which you show an interest. After an unexpected dressing room conversation with an employee about how she eats when bored, she suggested I head to the men’s section to try on their styles as they have more options. Have you ever thought about wearing a man’s pant? I have never. Shirts, sure. But pants just seemed way too big, boxy, for boys only.

Meet (another) Mike. This guy is so into raw denim! I was impressed by how much he knew, not just about what they carried, but about the ‘culture’ in general. Currently in his early 20s, he’s been breaking in his pairs since age 14—really beating them up and earning every mark, fad and rip through aggressive inline [skating].

Mike Nordstrom








I tell him about how I have a feeling raw denim isn’t for women, given the heavy nature of the pant (12-17oz!) and its sturdy appearance. (Do you know any woman that wants to be called sturdy?)

* Quick note: those who love raw denim do so because you personalize the pairs your own. You buy them raw, and the pair conforms to your shape and movement, hence the no washing. Some people put an item in their back pocket, for example, so that over time, the imprint embeds itself into the denim, becoming part of the jean’s design. Others take to methods like beach washing!

He tells me about Nudie Jeans—the the Swedish brand that is unisex. He asks for my size and then replies that he is the same. I laugh, “No way. There is no freakin’ way that these are going to fit me then! I have hips, mister!” “I’m so much skinnier than you!” he responds. It was such an odd thing to say to a woman (that you are selling to), yet he said it in the happiest of tones, that I couldn’t be mad. ha. (And it was true.)

Lena Porter_Adventures in Japanese Raw Denim








This also is a good example of how size doesn’t matter, shape does. I’m wearing the same brand as Mike. His are broken in; I can’t even button mine! Nice.

They are so stiff and I’m feeling overheated in them. I can’t imagine wearing these in the spring/summer.

Mike at Nordstrom orders in a couple other brands and sizes. I return the next week to try those. Still a no go. At this point, I’m thinking:

1. The beauty of raw jeans is that you break them in. I don’t want breaking in. I need fabric with stretch.

2. Button fly fronts remind me of my Bongo jean shorts when I was 10 years old.

3. Pockets that pass your butt look better on guys.

4. If I’m going to wear a pair of slouchy jeans, then they’ll be my super comfortable COH boyfriend jeans, not literally my boyfriend’s jeans (now husband).

button fly front raw denim A.P.C

button fly front raw denim A.P.C










raw denim back pockets








Nudie raw denim








My last effort was to check out Naked & Famous.







They have 5 different fits and most have elastane—which is what I was searching for as it gives stretch and movement when wearing. But then it became, if they aren’t ‘stiff’ how can I mold them and make them my own like my new skater friend?

Caruso Caruso Birmingham, Michigan

Caruso Caruso Birmingham, Michigan








The answer I realized, as I ran my hands over a pair of Mother jeans…is that I don’t want a tough wearing pair of jeans that I have to freeze and work at creating. I like a super soft feel that I can dress up, dress down and sit Indian style in. If you do too, I highly recommend Mother. The material reminds me of a soft pillow case—heavenly! And…the exact opposite of raw denim.

Sorry Mikes—you two keep molding your pairs. I look forward to your photos (as the months and years (!) go by.)

Nudie Jeans break in process of selvage

P.S. For ladies wanting to break in a pair of raw denim, definitely check out Naked & Famous. They have lots to choose from and are much more comfortable than other brands.

Naked & Famous rare and raw Japanese denim


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