Regarding Jeans Care and Wear


There is much to say, and much has already been said, about how to care for and wear denim jeans. Opinions abound and many assert that there is one true path (sound familiar?). Did I just equate denim to religion? Yes. Try to keep this in mind as you read any advice about not only denim, but just aesthetics in general. Anything is valid that works for you and doesn’t totally bum-out everyone else. I just want to write a few words about the subject because many have asked me, and I have found some helpful tips that I haven’t seen written elsewhere. This applies mostly to 100% cotton denim and not to stretch denim, which has its own characteristics that vary greatly with the different stretch fibers available to the mill. I will write a paragraph here an there and maybe add to this article. I may even invite some friends to write something (especially contrary opinions), as this is a topic of debate.


Background Theory (trigger warning:)

Here is a concept I’d like to start with: Most jeans, in spite of the cut, will essentially look the same on you as all other jeans. This is because denim fabric stretches out for comfort and literally takes the shape of the wearer. True, the leg may be fuller, etc., but in my experience, the issues most folks are attempting to solve with “the perfect fit” are really more body issues than a fit issue. Therefore, regardless of cut or fabric, the criticism will be of the same tenor, and one tends to fixate on fallacious rules to jeans wearing or jeans they “cannot wear”. I’m aware that this is not a popular opinion, but I’ve made several thousand jeans with my own hands and done several years of custom-fit jeans making, so just take it for what its worth (see above). Now that’s not to say that jeans can’t be more or less flattering. What I’m saying is that the issues most folks are compelled to improve are things that observers of the wearer rarely have issue with. Conversely the “solutions” that the wearer employs often cause the majority of observers to scratch their heads. You’ve no doubt, wondered about someone in line at the cafe wearing exactly the least possible flattering jeans for them. Trust me, they were just trying to solve a problem, to them. Enough amateur psychoanalysis; I’m simply trying point out some observations. Style is opinion, like this one: I think short people look great in wide leg jeans that are hemmed short or cuffed so they don’t touch the shoe. There’s no rules, its all opinion. We’re all wearing costumes that try to convey something about who we are, so express yourself and don’t worry too much about it. If you’re inexperienced then try something.

Nuts and Bolts

Unsanforised denim is a blanket term for denim which has not been treated to a steam and pressure process called Sanforization. Unsanforized denim can be something like the Levi’s “Shrink-to-Fit”, which is actually a patented process to give the denim their unique look and limit the twist of the legs of the finished jeans after washing. It can also mean that the denim was just rolled up after coming out of the loom, which is called “Loomstate”. There are various levels between and all would be called “Unsansorized”. (Notice the there is no “d” in the term and is unrelated to Fred Sanford.)

The shrinkage should be a predictable rate of about 7/8″ for every 12″ of fabric in the warp direction, and 1/4″ for every 12″ in the weft direction. Said another way, a piece of raw, unsanforized denim 12″ x 12″, thoroughly saturated with warm water and air dried would shrink to 11.75″ x 11.125″. (I have no first-hand knowledge about why the warp is greater, but I have been told it is due to the process of winding up the warp yarns for weaving, which stretches them out and the weft yarns are never subjected to this…) This shrinkage can be manipulated to greater or lesser. Very hot machine washing and drying increase slightly, and cold water and shorter immersion limit shrinkage slightly. A good rule of thumb is that a prewash 36″ seam will usually be 33″ after washing.

Buying unsanforized jeans can be more challenging than buying sanforized jeans, so why would someone want to buy or even sell unsanforized jeans? To answer this, I can only draw from my personal view of things. There are other viewpoints. What I mean is that I’ll just explain why I use unsanforized denim and leave it at that.

My operation is a totally collective effort engaged in by only one person. By this I mean that every aspect of the design, production and sales is given equal importance and consideration as if done by many separate individuals that view each other as peers, so the small decisions that in another company would be executed by a low-payed employee are instead done by an equal to the decider. I point this out because many of the choices I make have to do with making the work more enjoyable, such as using fabrics that feel good in the hand or are stable during the assembly process.

I use loomstate denim for multiple reasons. First is that there are patterning options with high-sinkage denim that don’t exist with sanforized denim. The pattern pieces can be arranged such that with the shrinkage, shapes can be created which are impossible otherwise. Originally, jeans are designed to be made with loomstate denim. The original arrangement and orientation of the pieces was geared to use the shrinkage to create the waist and hip curve while using the more sewing friendly, straight pattern shapes. One of my jeans unadvertised fine points is that they stay up, and this is thanks to exploiting the shrinkage.

Another of unsanforized denim’s characteristics is that it provides so many fit options. If someone wants to wear them and never wash them, they get a look that is vastly different from the machine wash and dry folks. Also a person could just dunk the waist every few weeks to tighten the fit or part of the legs, whatever. Sizing up or down ads a second harmonic to what ever fit you make. Personally, lately, I’m a wear-them-in-the-tub guy. I put them on and sit in the tub then wash them with bar soap like they’re just part of my body. Its fun! Obviously experience comes into play here, and there is only one way to get it. Nice jeans are too expensive and also precious, so I recommend wearing STF 501’s from Sears for about 3 pair in a row to get some practice. Look here at these; you could factually go through 7-8 pair for the same money as one pair from the finer Japanese brands, and the 501 is the basic concept that all the best brands are based on. They aren’t as nice, but that’s the point. (Even for a seasoned vet, they are excellent for experiments.)

I mentioned the manufacturing considerations and this is something too. Sanforized denim can feel a bit “plastic” and stretch wildly during sewing processes because of the stored tension from the sanforization process.¬†Loomstate denim feels nice to the hands and has no stored tension, so its a pleasure to work with for me. It feels simply like woven cotton and as a sewing operator its nice to handle. It even has a familiar smell. I also like how it contracts slightly when I steam press a seam; its got a life to it…


How to measure the waist

If you are in doubt about the waist measurement, please take a look at the Measurements page and the way I measured. A yardstick is very handy for this, but another, unmarked stick which you measure afterward works well too. Floppy tape measures are very unreliable, added to that, measuring jeans can be quite unreliable due to it being a floppy and flexible object. A good practice is to measure 3 times and find the average by division. Correctly measuring your well-fitting jeans is invaluable in selecting the correct size to fit you.


Something else I think it would help to remember when considering a jeans purchase

Jeans are essentially an ill-fitting garment by design and this is what gives them their unique look.

Please feel free to write and ask me a question about jeans.





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