This article is a three-step-guide on how to transform a pair of rigid dark blue “dry” jeans into something that will make heads turn. The best-looking jeans are without a doubt those you break in yourself. The process is challenging and time consuming, and success or failure basically comes down to what you do before you wash your jeans, how you wash them, and what you do after the first wash.
Throughout this post, the process is exemplified by three very different 505 1967 jeans, which is one of the most popular fits from the Levi’s Vintage Clothing collection and an excellent option for enthusiastic first-timers looking for high quality dry selvage denim. 505 was originally introduced as a slim fit in the late 60s, but today it’s more likely to be thought of as a regular fit. You can wear them high or low on your hips, depending on style, and compared to other Levi’s Vintage Clothing models (like the 1947 501) the leg opening is not too wide for today’s fashion.
The Starting Point
First of all, to achieve a great worn-in look we recommend that you choose a pair of jeans made of high quality denim, which (generally) will break in more beautifully. However, figuring out whether your jeans are made of a quality fabric is not that easy. One place to initiate the examination is to fold up your jeans at the bottom and take a look at the outer seem of the leg. If it has selvage edges (see picture below), the quality is normally high.
The relatively light 14 oz. Kaihara fabric of the 505 is easy to wear in and you will get great fadings quickly. The fabric is sanforised, which is indicated by the wash code ‘0217’ before the lot number on the patch, opposed to ‘0117’, which you will find on some 501 shrink-to-fit models. In addition, the 505 is characterized by its Talon zipper, flat arcuate, large slanted back pockets and clean look with only two thread colours.
Selvage (or selfedge) denims are woven on narrow shuttle looms, which gives a tight weave and a durable fabric that ages well. The weaving process is very time consuming, and modern wide projectile weaves (non-selvage, which creates frayed edges of the fabric that are cut off before the fabric is sewn into a pair of jeans) are up to ten times faster. Consequently, the finalised product is considerably cheaper and most jeans today are made of non-selvage denim. Today, selvage is considered a quality stamp of the fabric, but up to the beginning of the 1980s, it was an industry standard on jeans such as Levi’s 501.
In addition to the quality of the fabric, the final result will highly depend on how much, and especially how, you use and wash your jeans, which brings us to the nitty gritty of it; the three-step-guide:
1) Pre-First Wash
This is what a brand new pair of 505 jeans look like.
The general guideline is to wear your jeans as long as possible – preferably for several months – before you wash them the first time in the washing machine. The more you use your jeans, the more distinct wear patterns you will achieve.
Unwashed denim is often stiff as a cardboard and several months of intense wear may damage and rip the fabric, especially in areas with much friction, for example, by turn-ups, the crotch, knees and pockets. Remember that the holes can be repaired, which (in our opinion) only gives your jeans a personal and unique look. Simultaneously, holes and rips does not necessarily mean that the jeans are of poor quality.
We therefore recommend you to give your jeans a quick rinse in the sink before you start wearing them.
This makes the fabric softer and even though some argue that rinsed jeans won’t wear in as well as dry ones, the rinse will make your jeans last longer. Always remember to turn them inside out, and let them hang dry, possibly in your shower – never in the dryer – and put them on while they are still damp and let them dry and mould on the body.
Also, although you should be careful, ironing might help soften the fabric. Just remember to iron your jeans inside-out.
2) The First Wash
Once your jeans start looking like this, it’s okay to wash. These have been used for eight months straight, and have only been dry cleaned once.
However, if you still want to postpone the first wash you can try airing your jeans before you wash. But when you start getting comments about the smell, it’s time to wash them. Again, the procedure depends on what results you are aiming for. Some use dry cleaning before or instead of machine washing, but that’s only for the really hardcore denim nerds.
If you want to keep your jeans as dark as possible, we recommend hand wash – the procedure is the same as for the first rinse. If desired, add a couple of cups of salt and half a cup of vinegar, it presumably keeps the indigo colour in the denim.
If you are impatient and want to see some results you can throw your jeans in the washing machine; prewashing is not necessary and a low spin cycle reduces the risk of white vertical lines down the legs. Dry as mentioned above.
3) Post-First Wash
The 505 jeans above have been worn every day for four months straight, and washed about 7-8 times in the machine during this period. After the first wash, your jeans will be less dirt repellent, and to go for months between each wash might be unrealistic. Nonetheless, you should wear your jeans as much as possible between washes.
Contrarily, if you are looking for a more even wear pattern with less contrasts, you don’t need to wait months before the first wash, and you can generally wash them more often. Nevertheless, you can still consult point 2) and 3) above for guidance on washing.