Just because you can do something with a machine doesn’t mean you should. That’s the animating principal behind the growing population of neo-artisans (and, um, bloggers) hellbent on reintroducing the joys of the tactile into the digital age. The sentiment’s as true with denim as it is with handmade leather goods. As the ancients said, “Ad astra per aspera.” Through hardship to the stars.
As the famous denimist Claude Lévi-Strauss said, there are two types of jeans: The Raw and the Washed. Raw jeans are made from stiff, unwashed denim, with the indigo dye distributed evenly to give a uniform appearance. They are rigid and, at least initially, quite uncomfortable. They’re not just pants; they’re a project. And while there’s no shortage of great looking distressed and pre-washed denim out there, you really ought to have at least one pair of jeans that look the way they look because you wore them and not someone else. (Whether you wore them while working on an oil rig or sitting in a cubicle is your business.)
The art of breaking in your raw denim is fairly simple: Buy jeans. Wear them pretty much every day. Wash them as little as possible (read: only when ordered to by your friends or the authorities). This constant wear softens up the fabric and removes the indigo at wear points to create the kind of whiskers it would otherwise takes teams of denim-destroying robots to simulate. Live with your jeans. Let them become your personal palimpsest: A tear on the knee from that time you broke into Yankee Stadium on an off night with a bunch of friends and were chased by cops but got away. That whiskering at the thigh from a nasty fight with balloon swords at your nephew’s 5th birthday. Denim tells a story. That story should be your own.
Michael Williams is the founder of the blog A Continuous Lean.