Is there anything more simultaneously exciting and stress-inducing than buying a new pair of raw denim jeans? On one hand, when you get a new pair, you're setting off on an uncharted journey of fades, whiskers, honeycombs, getting that beautiful, unique-to-you patina that makes raw denim such a worthwhile (and addicting!) pursuit. More than any other type of garment, raw denim truly becomes a part of you with repeated use, as the denim fades and stretches as you wear it, live in it and beat it up.
On the other hand, a new pair of raw denim is full of unknowns, especially with a brand, cut, or type of denim you've never worn before. You ask yourself, "If I buy it snug, will it stretch? If I buy it loose, will it shrink when I wash it? What if the rise is too high? What if the thighs balloon out? What if the denim never softens up?" And of course, these unknowns are doubly nerve-wracking if you're purchasing remotely over the Internet. What if the measurements are off? With slim-fitting raw denim, an eighth of an inch can be the difference between perfect and not quite right, and when you're dropping $200+, there's really no margin for error.
With all these ever-present concerns over denim, we want to help you. So we're presenting our first-ever Fit Guide as a way to nail down those intangible differences between each cut of denim that we offer that a simple size chart can't quite get across. The size charts describe each pair of jeans' fit it in numbers – here, we'll do our best to describe them with words. First, though a few notes to get us started.
These days, tag size on denim is essentially arbitrary. This is due both to "vanity sizing" (a.k.a. a lower tag size that induces you to buy it because you'll think you're slimmer and feel good about yourself) and the fact that 99% of men wear their pants closer to their hips, as opposed to much higher up on their true waist. What this ends up meaning is that a pair of jeans tag-sized 32 usually does not actually fit someone with a 32-inch waist, nor does it mean that the circumference of the waistband is necessarily 32 inches around. It's all quite confusing, especially when terms like "true to size" or "vanity sized" get thrown around. These numbers should be seen more as a helpful guide than as a true measurement, and they definitely shouldn't make you feel as though you should be eating any fewer burritos. If you're usually a 32 and suddenly a pair of jeans with a size 35 tag fits you, that literally means nothing. Don't fret. Buy the size that feels right, not what you think you "should" be. However, because raw denim tends to stretch wherever it fits snugly, we suggest that customers seeking a slim fit find a pair of jeans that fits tight but not uncomfortably. If you buy jeans with a snug, but not horribly uncomfortable, fit, over the first couple weeks of wear, the waist, seat and thighs of the jeans will stretch and mold to your body, resulting in a fit that is perfectly suited to your body.
There are probably as many different theories about when to wash your raw denim as there are styles of raw denim out there. It's a veritable minefield, from those who wash them twice a month to those who would never deign to place them in a washing machine, opting only to to wear them into the ocean and let the seawater naturally scrub them clean (believe it or not, people do this). While we at Freeman would never tell you how to live your life, here's what we would suggest to hit that sweet spot between getting beautiful fades on your jeans and not having them stink to high heaven and fall apart.
First six months: wear as frequently as possible and don't wash them. We'd also suggest you hold off on getting your jeans hemmed during this period, as the first wash will shrink them in length. If you need to spot clean a stain, wipe off any excess material, put a bit of soap on a damp cloth, dab (don't wipe) at the stained area, and let it air dry. Other than that, just wear the damn things. If they get a little funky, hang 'em up outside and let fresh air and mother nature rejuvenate them.
First wash: the method is up to you. I've done a standard cold-water, low-agitation machine wash with regular unscented detergent, as well a bathtub soak in warm water with Dr. Bronner's, and I really couldn't tell you whether there was much of a difference. Neither method yielded "sicker" fades or more shrinkage than the other. So basically, either do one of these or find one on the internet that makes the most sense for you, and do it. The main things to do are to wash the jeans by themselves, to avoid indigo bleed onto other garments, and to always, always, always air dry your jeans.
After that: wash your jeans when they're dirty. It's as simple as that. Dirt and grime will slowly break the denim of your jeans down over time, so the best way to combat rips, tears, crotch blowouts, etc. is to wash your jeans with reasonable frequency after that initial wash. This will prolong the life of your jeans and won't mess with the natural fading and patina of your jeans.
Sanforized vs. Unsanforized
Sanforization is a water- and steam-based pre-shrinking process applied to denim and other cotton fabrics that minimizes shrinkage upon its initial wash. All of the denim at Freeman is sanforized. You know those cardboard-esque shrink-to-fit Levi's that you can still find at western-wear stores? They are unsanforized, which means that you have to buy them bigger and (you guessed it) shrink them down to the proper fit by pre-soaking them before ever wearing them. It's the same deal with a lot of the high-end Japanese denim you see at incredible stores like Self Edge and Blue in Green, which specialize in unsanforized denim. The appeal (unsanforized denim is often beautifully textured and can result in spectacular fades) must be weighed against the potential drawbacks – you essentially have to make an educated about guess what size you'll need, since the jeans must be soaked and shrunk before you wear them. If you guess wrong on a pair of $400 jeans, you will be bummed. While there are pros and cons to both sanforized and unsanforized denim, we stick with the sanforized kind and leave the unsanforized stuff to the denim geniuses at the above-mentioned stores.
Denim at Freeman
Here are the various brands and fits of denim we offer at Freeman. We've done our best here to describe their fits, styles, etc., and we're happy to answer any further questions you may have (call us at (206) 327-9932 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org). However, the best way to get the right fit will always be to try them on. Having said that, here's what we have:
One of our favorites, the Ladbroke Grove, is a mid-low rise, slim-tapered fit that features the lowest rise of the three Tellason cuts we currently offer. However, compared to other truly low-rise men's denim cuts (for instance, the APC Petit New Standard, of which I have a pair), the rise on the Ladbroke Grove is much more comfortable. The thigh is the second-slimmest that we offer, after the Left Field Chelsea Jean, and the taper is moderate but still certainly noticeable. The result is a really nice, slim-not-skinny, very contemporary silhouette that fits a wide variety of body types. As for the denim, it's a 14.75 oz. sanforized selvedge denim from Cone Mills' White Oak denim plant in North Carolina, the oldest operating denim mill in the United States. This particular weight actually starts quite soft and unstarched, and only improves from there. After a year and a half of nearly everyday wear and probably a half-dozen washes, I have some really nice fades on mine. While "true to size" is rather meaningless regarding denim, as discussed above, our customers generally buy their usual size in the Ladbroke Grove and seem to find the desired fit.
Scott wearing the Tellason Ladbroke Grove. He's 5'10", 155 lbs. and wears a size 31.
The Elgins are Tellason's response to those who are fans of their Ladbroke Grove slim-taper fit, but wanted a slightly higher rise. Tellason responded with the Elgin, and it's a game-changer. Perfect for those with higher waists, or who are perhaps a bit more active in their day-to-day life and do a bit more kneeling and bending, the Elgin fits exactly like the Ladbroke except with a 1.5" higher rise. It still has the same slim thigh and moderate yet noticeable taper from the knee to the leg opening. The Elgins that we offer are even made from the exact same Cone Mills 14.75 oz. redline selvedge denim as the Ladbrokes. A great option for those who like the leg of the Ladbrokes but just need a slightly higher rise for their more up-and-about lifestyle.
Scott wearing the Tellason Elgin, size 31
Railcar Fine Goods makes all of its apparel in Monrovia, Calif., by hand on vintage sewing machines. The Spikes, their flagship cut, features a mid-low rise, slim-straight fit and moderate taper from the knee down. As a matter of fact, I'm wearing them as I type this, and I'm really excited about getting a chance to break 'em in. Compared to my Ladbrokes (which I'd been wearing pretty much every day for a year and a half until I got these), they have a higher front and back rise, a slightly roomier thigh, a less pronounced taper from the knee down, and a very slightly wider (one-quarter inch) leg opening. They serve as somewhat of a halfway point between the Ladbroke Grove and the Elgin, as far as the rise goes, with a moderately less slim leg silhouette. Overall, they nicely walk the line between classic and more contemporary fits. We offer the Spikes in two styles of denim. The first (pictured below) is a mid-weight 13.5 Cone Mills redline selvedge denim. I'm only three days into wearing them, so I can't really report on how they'll fade, but as with our other Cone Mills denim, it should be quite nice. The other is a slightly slubbier, 13 oz. Japanese redline selvedge denim with a soft, textured hand that will undoubtedly break in beautifully. Size-wise, they fit fairly similarly to the other styles of denim we stock. One thing to note, though, is that the Spikes feature a two-piece, double-thick waistband that was created to limit stretching at the waist. So if you usually size down to account for that, you may not need to with the Spikes.