Iron in the Fire: 500 Days in Iron Heart’s IHSH-33 Denim Shirt

Iron Heart’s Selvedge Western Shirt Deserves Nothing Less Than the Full 500-Day Treatment

Denimhunters is reader-supported. We might earn a small commission when you make a purchase after clicking a link on our site. But don’t worry, it won’t cost you anything. When we show a price, it’s including local VAT, and it’s subject to change.

It didn’t take long. By the time I was on my second pair of raw jeans, I had set my sights on a raw denim western shirt.

I had seen what steady wear could do to a pair of jeans, and, being a lover of double-denim, I desperately wanted to do the same thing to a shirt.

Over the years, I made a few valiant efforts, but I kept getting sidetracked. I would buy a shirt and put a few dings and dents in it, but then something else would catch my eye. I couldn’t remain disciplined. The grail of the faded western seemed to be forever out of reach.

Enter the Redline Rally. Truth be told, I started the shirts and jackets fading competition for selfish reasons. I wanted to fade a selvedge western properly, and I knew that, with hundreds of the world’s best faders nipping at my heels, I would remain disciplined.

Year One of the Rally proved the concept, and, for Year Two, Iron Heart joined as the sole competition partner. I had been eyeing Iron Heart’s legendary 12 oz. IHSH-33-T for a few years, and they generously offered to send me one to wear in the Rally. 

More than 500 days have passed since the shirt landed with a thud on my doorstep. Over the course of 365 days, it evolved beautifully, but it still had more to give (indeed, it still has a ton of gas in the tank).

I had planned to review the shirt at the end of the Rally, but I just kept wearing it, so I decided to hold out until I’d crossed the 500-day mark.

My IHSH-33-T Around the End of the 365 Days of the Rally

In this review, we’ll look at what you can expect when you first try the shirt on, but also, more importantly, what you can expect from the shirt at the end of a long journey together.

The shirt is made with the future front of mind, so what does this future hold? Here’s what you can expect, and why the shirt is worth the investment of both time and money.

The Birth of a Legend: From 02 to 33

Before we look to the future, a few words on where the 33 came from. Iron Heart’s signature selvedge western debuted in 2010. It was not Iron Heart’s first denim shirt, or even their first denim western.

That honour belongs to the IHSH-02, a 14 oz. selvedge western that followed hot on the heels of the IHSH-01 (the brand’s first ultra heavy flannel) in 2006.

The hallmarks that we’ve come to associate with Iron Heart’s selvedge westerns were all there in the IHSH-02:

  • The triple-stitched yokes
  • The pointed chest pockets and flaps
  • The woven label on the heart-side pocket, and, of course
  • The added sleeve and body length for motorcycle riders (a boon for us tall folks)

The IHSH-02 was relatively popular, but Giles Padmore (then the head of Iron Heart UK) thought a lighter version would be a good seller for the brand. He encouraged Iron Heart boss and designer Haraki-san to trim some of the weight off the shirt. The result was the 12 oz. IHSH-27, which debuted in 2009.

A fast favourite among the Iron Heart faithful, the shirt was made from a raw (i.e. unwashed), sanforized selvedge. It didn’t shrink as much as loomstate denims, but it still needed to be soaked before wearing, and special care needed to be taken to dial in the shrinkage. 

The next year, the one-washed 33-IND broke onto the scene. The factory wash took some of the stiffness out of the fabric and made the shirt’s sizing extremely predictable.

Far more consumer-friendly, it could be worn right off the rack, and, whenever it needed that first wash, shrinkage would be minimal.

My experience with the shirt confirms this. The first soak saw the shirt snug up a bit through the chest and sleeves, and I lost a touch of length in body and the sleeves, but there were no dramatic measurement changes.

Measurement Chart

Iron Heart 33-T Size XXLDay One MeasurementsDay 500 Measurements
Shoulders19.9 inches19.6 inches
Length (Centre Back)31.0 inches30.4 inches
Chest (P2P)24.3 inches22.7 inches
Sleeve27.4 inches26.4 inches
Opening23.622.5 inches

With its muscular design, trim, flattering fit, and rich indigo tones, the 33 quickly became the selvedge western against which all others were measured. It has been one of the brand’s most popular shirts since 2010, and most serious denimheads either have one or want one in their collections. 

The shirt is available in a number of different versions. The 33-OD, which has been overdyed black, the 33-BLK, the classic black version, and the original 33-IND with contrasting gold stitching.

The black and overdyed denims will fade differently than the 33-T and the 33-IND, but those who opt for the darker selvedge can expect a similar experience to the one I’ve described below.

While each of the versions have their charms, for my money, the 33-T is the best of the bunch. The introduction of the dark blue thread (a 2016 innovation) marked what I feel is the pinnacle of the shirt’s evolution. 

When it is fresh off the rack, the only touch of contrast on the shirt is the gold text on the woven label on the pocket. It’s a perfect showcase of Iron Heart’s beautiful selvedge, which, as we’ll see, deserves to hog the spotlight.

What to Expect on Day One

Like other raw denim shirts in this weight class, the 33 feels as stiff as cardboard when you first slide it over your shoulders. The shirt is made from a very tightly woven right-hand twill.

If you’re used to lightweight or factory-faded denim shirts, the 33 will be like stepping into an entirely different world.

If this is familiar territory for you, though, the 33 might surprise you with how wearable it feels right out of the gate. It feels hefty, but it’s not trying to throw its weight around. It’s in the goldilocks zone—much heavier than standard for western shirts but not so heavy that it becomes difficult to imagine wearing it daily.

The selvedge denim has a smooth face and hand feel. There’s very little visual or tactile texture, and that’s exactly as it should be for a shirt like this. The classic denim western (Wrangler’s 27MW and Levi’s Barstow are clear precursors to the 33) are similarly straightforward. The selvedge Iron Heart has used here is perfect: subtle, stylish, and sophisticated.

The IHSH-33-T

This is not to say that the 33 is a subtle piece (far from it). It clears its throat with its angled yokes and pockets, with its neat rows of heavy-duty snaps, and with the heavy selvedge, which drapes like only heavy denim can. It makes a statement, and this statement rises in volume as the shirt begins to fade.

The black YKK Permex snaps that come standard are more than up to the job of holding the shirt together, fastening with a very satisfying click. Snap upgrades are available in brass, copper, pearl, or Good Art silver.

If your job or lifestyle makes heavy-duty snaps a necessity, the upgrade will be worthwhile, but I’ve never regretted sticking with the standard option.

Pimped Good Art Snap next to the standard black Permex snaps

All of the major seams are chain-stitched and flat-felled, including the arm holes and the sleeves (details that a lot of brands miss). You’ll find chain-stitch run-off just below the selvedge gusset at each hip. These can be trimmed off, but most of us prefer to leave them as is. They’ll fade and fray beautifully as the shirt ages.

I sized up to a XXL to get the sleeve and body length I needed. With other brands (especially Japanese ones), a long body and sleeves usually means I end up swimming in the body of the shirt. This is one of the reasons I have so few Japanese button-up shirts hanging in my closet.

Iron Heart: Designed By and For Motorcycle Enthusiasts

Iron Heart’s motorcycle-centric design adds sleeve and body length so riders can stretch for the handlebars without exposing their lower backs or forearms. If you’ve ever struggled to find Japanese shirts that are long and lean, Iron Heart has got your number. It might be a touch long for you if you are short and stout, but there are plenty of Iron Heart fans who fall into this category. As always, check the measurements carefully. 

The Long Journey: Bringing the Best out of Your IHSH-33

When I say “the perfect faded selvedge western,” I might mean something very different than what you’re imagining. If you’re looking for beautiful washed out blues and very little in the way of contrast fades, this shirt can absolutely provide that. Just wear it daily or near-daily and wash it frequently. Be patient. It’ll get there for you.

A nicely washed-down 33-IND owned by forum regular Fadez

If, however, you’re looking for more striking contrast fades, this shirt is right in the sweet spot, just heavy enough to produce the kind of high-contrast fades that will make the shirt a real show-stopper.

I’ve followed a simple strategy to bring the best out of my shirt. Here are the four pillars of my approach. If you want to produce something similar to what you see here, here’s what you’ll need to do: 

#1: Nail the Fit

This piece of advice might seem obvious, but it’s surprising how many folks out there settle for anything less than a perfect fit. To give the 33 its due, you’ll need to wear it hundreds of times. If the shirt doesn’t fit you perfectly, you’ll likely revert to better-fitting shirts in your collection.

A few fitting tips: The shirt should be easy to fasten across the chest, allowing you to move your arms freely without straining too much. You should also be able to fasten it comfortably around your throat (even if you don’t ever button it all the way up, this is an important thing to check when trying the shirt on).

The sleeves should terminate at the ends of your wrists, and you should be able to extend your arms in front of you without the shirt riding up your forearms. The lowest snap should sit either on or close to the top button on your jeans, and the tails of the shirt should spread slightly over your hips.

Remember that the shirt will shrink a little bit the first time you introduce it to water. I’ve included a measurements chart above with before and after measurements. You can expect to lose around an inch in all the measurements, give or take. Take this into account when picking your size and trying the shirt on.

If you’ve ordered online and the shirt doesn’t fit exactly as it should, Iron Heart has a generous return policy. They’re used to exacting customers, so don’t hesitate to send it back and ask for a different size or order it in two sizes and return the one that doesn’t fit.

#2: Don’t Rotate

There is a reason that beautifully faded denim shirts are so rarely spotted in the wild. It’s relatively easy to slide into the same pair of jeans day in and day out, but shirts are an entirely different animal. Even the most dedicated faders like to rotate through tops, and that’s the rub.

The IHSH-33 won’t fade on the hanger. You need to move the shirt to the very centre of your wardrobe and keep it there for at least a year–perhaps longer if you lead a low-impact lifestyle.

If you can remain disciplined, I promise you, the fades are within reach. They won’t come fast or easy, but they’re worth the wait and worth the effort. The shirt becomes easier to wear day in and day out the more that it fades. Stack up hundreds of wear days and the shirt transforms into a powerful statement about your style and lifestyle.

If you need a little incentive to stop rotating, join the Redline Rally, the shirts and jackets fading arm of the Indigo Invitational. Most of those who enter and take the competition seriously are able to produce their best-ever fades inside of a year. You can learn more about the competition here.

#3: Don’t Baby It

I am a writer by trade. I spend most days seated at my desk, moving a cursor across a blank page. If you work in a garage or on a worksite, you’ve got a leg up on me. Simply wear your 33 to work and you’ll be able to fade it beautifully inside of six months.

If the majority of your working hours are spent sitting at a desk, the fades will come slower and with more difficulty. To nudge it along, you’ll need to seek out opportunities to get the shirt dirty. Iron Heart denims are notoriously stubborn, and they need some rough treatment to bring out their best.

Find a project that includes some dirty work. In the last 500 days, I’ve assisted in the renovation of my home (including a ton of demolition), and I’ve jumped at every opportunity to spend time in the woodshed, either chopping or stacking firewood, usually ending the day sweaty and covered in wood chips or sawdust.

If possible, leave the blood on the blade. Rather than washing the shirt reflexively after dirty work, shake it out, hang it in the sun, and then brush it off. Jump back in it the next day and, if possible, repeat the process. A bit of dust and dirt deep in the fibres of the denim will accelerate the fades considerably. 

#4: Keep it Dry by Layering

The recipe for high-contrast fades isn’t complicated. Wear it daily and wash it as rarely as possible. This is easier with jeans as most of us wear underwear, which keeps our odour-producing areas slightly removed from the denim.

If you want to put a hundred or more wears into your 33 between washes, you should approach it similarly. Wearing it on its own means the denim will be pressed into your armpits. Airing the shirt out and exposing it to UV light will help, but the shirt will start to smell sour in as little as a week or two if you don’t introduce some kind of intervening layer between your pits and the denim.

Always wear something underneath the denim shirt. I’ve added an even thicker layer of protection by layering my IHSH-33 over an Iron Heart IHSH-208 Kersey Western (in a smaller size). The two shirts have become inseparable, and it was thanks to this approach that I was able to go around 200 days in between the first wash and the one at the end of the competition.

I usually wore the two shirts over either a tee or henley, often worn unbuttoned to allow air to move freely through the layers. When I did finally have to wash the shirt, it wasn’t because it smelled sour. It was just covered in mud that I couldn’t remove without the washing machine’s help. 

Shortly after the shirt’s second bath at the end of the Rally

500 Days Later

I’ll let the pictures tell the remainder of the story. The shirt has become the kind of selvedge denim western I’ve always coveted. It remains at the core of my collection, not just because I’m still working on it, but because it fits better, feels better, and looks better than anything else I own.

I’m excited to start a new shirt for the next Redline Rally, but I know that I’m far from done with this shirt. It’s become a signature piece for me, a co-journeying companion that showcases not just what I choose to wear but why I choose to wear it. If I were to come to the end of my road tomorrow, I’d be buried in it.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top