for the love of the rigid

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Archana of To Universe, With Love, asked about my Nudie jeans, and well, there's nothing I love more than waxing lyrical about denim, so hope this is useful to anyone considering Nudie denims.

First up, I firmly believe all denim shopping is best done when you can try them on physically, and buying them online is a risk, unless you're shopping on a website with excellent return and exchange policies.

In the case of Nudies, shopping in person is especially advisable in my experience - the "right" size on me varies widely between cuts, or even between different fabrics in the same cut. Till now, I'm not entirely sure if Nudies are even designed with women in mind - when I bought my first pair in Amsterdam years ago (in 2007), they were billed to me as "unisex", but since I was in a store that sold only men's jeans, I think they were, and probably still are, made with men in mind. On their website, all the styles are modelled by men. There are some websites that model them on women, and these are usually the skinniest styles (like the Skinny Lin) in the fabrics that contain stretch.

This makes buying Nudies somewhat tricky where sizing is concerned. I'm usually a 30 in women's sizes, but in my preferred Nudie styles, I'm a 31 if it's raw denim. Maybe it's because I have fuller hips and thighs, and men's styles usually have narrower hips.

My current pair of Nudies are in the Grim Tim style, in dry selvedge denim - zero stretch - with a button fly. It has a mid-rise, sitting about an inch below my belly button. These ones are size 31, with a 32-inch inseam (as labelled) and the rise measures about 10 inches (see pix to see where I measured). They have been prewashed (sanforised) so there was unlikely to be significant shrinkage.

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They are more than two years old (my first pair went missing). On men, they look slim and straight. On me, they sit around my hips, thighs and calves fairly tightly, like skinny jeans, but from the widest part of the calf down, they're straight through the ankle.

Here's a picture of the full length. I'm about 1.79m, and the hem hits just below my ankle bone.

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In my experience, stiff denim like this doesn't break down that quickly unless you wear them every single day, and like, ride a motorcycle or something. If you wear them on average once a week, and the most extreme thing you do is to kneel down to tie your shoe laces, as I do, they're not going to fade that much in the first year.

In my case, the wash has faded evenly and it it still looks pretty dark overall (though a tad darker in these pictures than in real life) because due to an unfortunate food spill situation, I had to wash them about two months after I bought them. When you wash them that quickly after you buy them, the indigo will bleed out more evenly, and the natural whiskering and fading you're hoping for won't happen till much, much later. So if the worn-in effect is what you're after, don't wash them until at least 6 months after you buy them, and wear them daily.

Speaking of bleeding out, raw denim can wreak serious denim transfer havoc, so beware if you're wearing or carrying anything light coloured. If you're wondering whether it has stopped bleeding, take a piece of white paper and rub it against your jeans to find out.

Fit-wise, these do start to mould themselves to your shape within days of wear, but they do not stretch a whole size bigger with time. My jeans have stayed pretty much the same size as when I bought them, and since that first wash, I've washed them about every eight months to a year - when you live in the sweaty, humid tropics, you just can't go too long without washing your jeans as advised by hardcore lovers of dry denim.

I'd always thought that technically, dry or raw denim means they haven't been sanforised, and they might shrink a bit the first time you wash them, but I've also seen terms like "raw sanforised denim" so I'm a bit fuzzy about the term - best to simply ask when you're buying. My jeans, (which are sanforised) felt a bit snug after my first wash, but not to the extent that I couldn't button them all the way up, and they pretty much relaxed as fit and they originally did after 10 minutes of wear.

I've read that shrinkage differs from fabric to fabric, and I've also read about people sitting in a tub while wearing their jeans when they wash them the first time, so that it fits properly after shrinking. I think this is overkill - unless you bought them incredibly tight, it's not going to shrink so much that you can't get them on or wear them comfortably, and the nature of denim is to loosen up over time as you keep wearing and washing them.

My advice when buying dry Nudies is buy the one that fits best in the store, and don't size down for fear of stretching. A close fit may be what you're after, but what's important is that you can sit, squat, and bend over comfortably. It's important to understand that raw, zero-stretch denim will never look or feel like your favourite skinny jeans. If your heart is with skinny jeans, stick to something with a bit of stretch. 100% raw denim is stiff and needs a lot of wearing to soften.

So why buy raw denim at all? Personally, I love non-stretch denim - whether they're raw or pre-distressed, they have wonderfully rugged texture and heft, almost like wood grain. It's what makes denim special as a material.

I have noticed that unstretchy denim is more common in dark washes these days.  I've long preferred lighter, broken-in washes, but then I became aware of the environmental damage from producing pre-distressed jeans, and it seemed safer to seek out dark, less "processed" models. (You can also go vintage, as I recently did, but more about that in a separate post.)

While I do own jeans with some stretch, they're exceptions. Denim that is too stretchy and tight has this way of outlining everything - including the shape of my kneecaps - that I hate, and they also flatten my bum. They also have this weird sheen and smoothness to them, which takes the joy out of denim for me.

Not everyone will love Nudies - the back pocket placement, for one, is more flattering on men, although the upside is that they're properly deep and spacious like REAL pockets, as opposed to the decorative nonsense you usually get on women's jeans. Getting the right fit is also a hassle - my friend is a fan of the Tight Long Johns, as are many women, but they look terrible on me.

The best way to tell whether dry, zero-stretch denim is for you is to go to a store and touch and try everything. That's what I did, although when it came down to buying, I bought them online, because it was cheaper. The best prices I've found for Nudie are on Mr Porter, and before I ordered I made sure I noted every detail of the style I wanted when I tried it in the store. Mr Porter also has a decent exchange and return policy that I can vouch for through personal experience, and that's important when you're buying something like jeans.

You can read all about Nudies as a brand here. When I first started buying Nudie jeans, they were all made in Italy, and so is my current pair. More recently, they have outsourced more of their production to India, mainly for other none-denim items in their line like their shirting.

Are there brands other than Nudies to consider? Sadly, most premium denim labels making dry denim are making them for men, and 90% of "raw" styles for women contain stretch, so if you're firmly committed to zero stretch, the options are limited. I've wondered why this is so - the argument is that demand from women is low, but maybe this wouldn't be the case if there were more flattering zero-stretch styles that suit more body types.

Nudie and A.P.C. are the most accessible where raw denim is concerned, because they have a reasonably large number of stockists, and I find Nudie more accessibly priced and more varied in choices. Brands like Imogen + Willie or Tellason carry maybe one style in rigid denim that contains no stretch. But unlike A.P.C. and Nudie, these brands make it a point to tell you precisely which mill and their denim comes from (Cone Mills seem to be the mill of choice).

I like the look of 3sixteen jeans and they carry four styles in a variety of fabrics, which might fit some women. But I'm unlikely to order expensive jeans via pricey international shipping with no certainty on how they fit, and in any case, I have no need for new raws. They also have a collaboration with Self Edge that includes women's styles - with a bit of stretch.

I should stress there is nothing wrong with stretch denim. You will still get nice fades over time - I did with an ancient pair of H&M skinnies. Plus, you can wear them on long plane rides and not want to slit your wrists. But rigid, unstretchy denim has a different attitude altogether, and so long as you don't go out there and buy the tightest pair you can squeeze in, they're perfectly comfortable.

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Comments

Archana said…
Lin,

Thank you so much for this. I love the fit of these on you. I may have a similar body type and it gives me hope to try them in the future.

I had some reservations about ordering unisex and about the pattern in the back. But they look great on you.

I got myself raw denim from R13 and they fit great. But they are sort of heavy weight. And I wasn't prepared for them. When i sit cross legged or have 12 hour days, they annoy me. The first month, I couldn't bike to work without regretting my choice of denim. Its gotten a little better now. I own 2% stretch jeans and they did not have a break in period. Much more biker friendly. I have been wearing denim for a decade and apparently now is the time to experiment.
lin said…
Yes, I think a bit of stretch is definitely more practical when it comes to a fitted style. For me, going a size bigger in raw denim works so that I have more room in my hips, thighs and around my knees - I would rather go to a tailor for a nip and tuck should they stretch up a size, than end up with uncomfortable jeans that I can't wait to rip off at the end of the day.
Jade said…
love me some raw denim, but it's hard to find for the curvy among us. i tried the imogene + willie raw for women, and found that my normal size was too tight and the size up gave me lots of crotch and waist gap--no good! i think that the rise can sometimes be an issue since i'm quite short. i have tried some raw denim that is so stiff that i can't get into it at all. glad you've had better luck! the search continues for me. and i am trying to avoid purchasing online because you're right--trying on in the stores is key.
I took a chance on a pair of RRL (Ralph Lauren) raw denim I found stuffed on a rack in an outlet store. They were soooo tight around my calves but at $50 (retail is usually $300+) I bought them on a whim. I wore them a lot the first month, even slept in them on the couch occasionally lol, and now they fit perfectly. I think RRL is now only men's. I wonder if that's another silly marketing thing - guys are almost expected to own jeans for years while they want women to purchase a new pair every denim cycle... I was at my tailor's the other day and a married couple was arguing, the woman wanted her husband to throw out his Seven jeans, she offered to buy him a few new pairs, but he was insistent on getting them patched a third (!) time. I do find raw denim more flattering but I have lots of stretch jeans which I find more comfortable, especially for travelling.

My only other pair of raw denim I've owned for almost a decade now, I had to move the top button recently but otherwise I still love the way they fit. And they're button fly, more common in men's jeans, which I love.

The whole 'reworking' vintage denim is becoming popular now also. Have you heard of re/done denim? They take old Levi's and do stuff to them then sell hem for hundreds more, lol. Then of course there's Vetements with their $1k jeans.
lin said…
Yes! I was looking at re/done and thinking, how hard can it be to do the same. So I bought some secondhand vintage 501s from the 90s, brought them to tailor, and voila. It helps that I went to an accomplished tailor who's an old hand at working with denim though. The effort cost me less than 100 bucks.

There was a time I would go to the RL store just to fondle their RRL jeans! Not anymore though - their jeans feel like all special effects and no substance now. When distressing works it really brings out the beauty of denim. When it doesn't it looks so tacky - I love my old Diesels but i wouldn't go near the store now.
lin said…
Agree! Most rigid jeans are cut so straight it feels like agony at my hips and thighs. It's so strange because all my old jeans from the early 2000s are non stretch but fit perfectly around my ass without choking me.

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