Rediscovering Raw Denim
A nostalgic moment in fashion is having a comeback, plus a quick chat with 3sixteen's Andrew Chen on getting into raw denim in 2023!
When I first discovered the world of fashion, one of the first things I got to explore was raw denim—most of my teenage years were spent on online forums, which ended up being a huge influence on what trends I leaned toward as I began exploring my personal style. Using the internet to learn about fashion while connecting with like-minded people at the same time was a new experience for many teenagers during the early 2000s. It was an exciting moment that would ultimately become the foundation of the start of fashion and the internet coexisting in the same space.
The WDYWT thread from Hypebeast forums was one of the first times I saw anyone care enough about their outfits to post their fit online for everyone to judge. At the time, Supreme, Visvim FTB, and raw denim were a commonality within peoples fit pics, which ended up influencing me more than I would realize. People would often partake in various raw denim discussions filled with jargon, terms like whiskers vs honeycombs, selvedge, sanforized vs unsanforized were being thrown around different threads quite often. Even though it wasn’t something I was really familiar with, it was enough to get me excited about exploring this side of fashion for the first time—I thought jeans were just jeans, but once you get sucked into this world, there’s no way out.
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A new era of social media platforms started popping up and slowly this caused the forum culture and the beloved WDYWT threads to be left in the dust—Although the discussion and fit pics took on new forms through new mediums, the vibe was just never the same. With fresh trends rising to the top, it felt like raw denim started to take a backseat for those who were into streetwear, and don’t get me wrong, the current denim community is alive and well, but the hype of raw denim slowly fizzled down from what it was at its peak within streetwear.
However, a light in the distance shines as it tries to signal to us that the raw denim comeback is near—and of course, TikTok has something to do with it. Trends come and go, fashion is a circle, which means that everything that was cool before will be cool again in. Fashion TikTok is doing plenty of damage by having trends accelerate to particle speeds which then get thrown right back into the algorithm for all of us to consume. Yes, the latest trend to fall victim to the algorithm is raw denim—it was only a matter of time, let’s be real. The younger generation is getting their hands on raws and it’s exciting, and I’m kind of into it! While it may seem annoying because the trend life expectancy on TikTok is about a week, it does feel like a perfect time to talk about raw denim again.
I haven’t touched a pair of raws in over 10 years, and since that time I’ve learned a lot about myself when it comes to my style choices—could this be a perfect opportunity to use all the style experience I’ve gathered to go back to where I began? Diving feet first into the raw denim journey might be difficult because of my current preferences, which involve lighter fabrics that drape around the waist in a baggy fit, and raw denim is the complete opposite of that—I’m baggy pant pilled. What I liked 10 years ago in denim is not what I like today, I have a lot of questions, so I decided to turn towards my friend Andrew from 3sixteen to talk about getting back into raw denim in 2023:
Co-founder of 3sixteen, Andrew has been in the fashion business for over 20 years, with the brands first raw denim pair having come out in 2008—Andrew and the crew over at 3sixteen have an insane range of experience when it comes to the world of denim, so it was a no brainer to connect for a quick chat.
SNL: I’ve been out of the game since 2010, and thinking about returning to it now makes me feel like I’m starting completely from scratch. How has raw denim changed in the last 10 years?
Andrew: I think the biggest changes that we’ve seen in the raw denim market are in regards to fit. There are always new and crazy weave techniques, cottons, and dye treatments that will come out - that is a given. But 10 years ago, we were seeing Japanese brands dive into slim, tapered fits when they were previously focused pretty heavily on wider leg cuts that were based off vintage and heritage styles. You have to remember that most Japanese denim brands started out reproducing their favorite vintage American jeans at a very high level - most times exceeding the fabric quality and construction of their references. What changed was American retailers like Self Edge seeing a need for slimmer cuts, as they were trending over here (think Dior 19cm’s). From there, brands heeded the call and shifted heavily towards slim tapered cuts, arguably going too far in that direction as customers started getting obsessed with high contrast fades, which are more easily achieved with slim cuts. In the past year or two, customers are starting to gravitate back towards wider cuts - both in the niche raw denim community as well as in the greater fashion scene as a whole.
I love baggy pants right now, is there a pair of raw denim that’s right for me?
For baggy jeans, I’d look at the Tannaro by Studio Nicholson; they have a few raw denim jeans that are baggy but most don’t have the traditional 5-pocket design - this one does, sort of. Brighton-based Dawson Denim makes a Wide Fit that I really like but it looks like they’re sold out for now. And I just bought a pair of Sugar Cane 1947’s from Self Edge, which are the widest raw jeans that I currently own.
For those who are thinking about venturing into raws for the first time, what’s a gimmick they should avoid?
There are so many gimmicks to avoid. Quick ones to steer clear of off the top of my head are ocean soaks/washes, freezing jeans, or waiting as long as possible before washing. All of these result in smelly jeans that will break down faster because of all the dirt that’s stuck in the cotton fibers. It’s pretty simple, really - wear your jeans often, wash them every few months or whenever they feel dirty. We put together a video guide on how to wash your jeans, so for anyone out there who needs some guidance, here you go:
What about your personal raw denim journey? Is there a pair of denim that you’ve worn that you’d like to re-explore again? (Do you have any photos of before and after pictures of your latest denim)
Right now I’ve been wearing in a pair of our CS-100xk jeans - they are hitting the 2 year mark. In the past, I would wear one pair of jeans all year long but nowadays I rotate them with fatigues and drawstring pants throughout the week - so my jeans probably get worn twice a week or so which has contributed to their longevity, as they haven’t had one repair yet. They’re looking pretty good if I do say so myself.
Are you strictly wearing one pair or do you have a few that you rotate?
I have plenty of jeans that are retired, but at any given time I’ll have two in rotation: one faded, comfortable worn-in pair and a raw pair that I am breaking in.
What are your thoughts on fashion TikTok discovering raw denim?
Raw denim is our business, so I think it’s great that a newer generation is sort of “discovering” raw denim for the first time. Alongside these younger customers, though, are Millenials who wore raw denim before, stopped for any number of reasons, and are now interested in getting back into it. The information on TikTok that many creators are sharing is pretty bad; people read a Wikipedia page or watch a YouTube video and then rehash it as though they’re experts without fact checking. Being a company that’s made and sold raw denim for a long time now, we see this as a unique opportunity to educate a new community on some of these bad talking points that never seem to go away - and to have some fun while doing it.
Big ups to Andrew for taking the time to share his thoughts on the current denim game!
So what does this mean for my own raw denim trajectory? The excitement levels are at an all-time high, I can’t lie, but there’s still a lot of research to be done to find the perfect pair for me. Figuring out what fit to go with, lightweight or heavyweight, and ultimately what brand I want to go with will be something I am going to have to research before making the plunge. A part of me is excited to grab a fresh pair and get to work trying to get those honeycombs. Having a pair of good quality denim that has its own fit and look that’s unique to each individual is something that everyone should consider. It’s not going to be easy, and it takes time to get the results that may have gotten you excited about raw denim in the first place, but that’s the fun of it all.
Wearing, ripping, repairing, fading, and storytelling is raw denim, and after writing this piece I’m thrilled to start the journey myself. Before I go, I wanted to put together a small list of some stores and styles to get you started—
3sixteen has a variety of styles to choose from, if you live in New York or LA then stopping by their shop is going to be a must. Getting to experience denim in person is part of the fun, and learning about it in person will help you make the right decision in what denim fits your needs. The shop is ran by a bunch of great guys that will make the experience of getting a pair of your first true denim a moment to remember.
This year will also be their 20th anniversary of being in the denim business, and to celebrate 3sixteen has a bunch of cool stuff planned for its fans. First up is a pair of denim that is made of cotton yams that have a deep indigo that should yield some beautiful fades—the turquoise hem is so fun.
Momotaro’s cult following is no joke. Once you go Momo, there’s really no way out. When I was first getting into raws, these were a grail I wish I could have owned, but couldn’t because of my lack of funds during my teenage years. Their selection is filled with something for everyone, and their fit chart that’s located on their website will be a great place to start when looking for a specific fit.
Self Edge is your one-stop shop for everything denim. They carry a variety of top denim brands with an array of styles to choose from. Feeling and seeing the denim will always be the best option, and luckily Self Edge has several locations that you can visit to experience their selection firsthand.
Recently I’ve been exploring military reproduction pieces in general, and The Real McCoy's is one the best when it comes to just that. Their denim range is pretty interesting—they even have raw jorts if you’re feeling adventurous. Creating their styles using influence from the 50s and even going as far as creating fabrics from scratch to recreate the vision from the past. This is going to be a special pair of jeans, no matter the style you end up choosing.
Without a doubt going to need to invest in a pair myself real soon!
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the issue I got with raw denim is I don’t really see it feasible to spend £300 on a pair of jeans that I’m going to have to ‘retire’ in 3 years
I've also recently gotten into raw denim. Last summer, I picked up a pair of Evisu Lot.2001's while visiting family in Japan. Really wanted to go with a Japanese brand because of my familial roots to it, and kind of fell for the nostalgia of early 2000's streetwear and Evisu. Still working on the fades and really looking forward to getting honeycombs on them.