When I was London last weekend I bought another pair of raw denim jeans to break in. Because it was time. I got them from Uniqlo, where I’ve been a few times for clothes that fit me at a price that also fits me. I was pleased with the purchase, especially the stiffness that was there when I put them on. And I realised I didn’t love them for what they were; I loved them for what they would become, and the project that lay ahead of us.

A clothing project

I got my first pair of raw denims back when I was copywriting for Levi’s, around 2008 or so. Buying raw jeans and wearing them so they ended up fitting your body and movement patterns seemed like a fun project, and it was. Of course, at that time, it also qualified as actual “work” – or at least research, as during the process I learned about selvedge, weft and warp, finishes, weight and so forth.

Of course, I didn’t wash them for many months, as purists swear that’s really important. I just liked that there was a philosophy behind not washing my clothes. But they didn’t need washing, so much as they needed work, so work I did. In fact, I put a lot of work into that first pair, including wearing them in a cold bath and letting them dry on me as I wandered around town.

During this period of wearing stiff wet jeans around town, I kept wooden blocks and cylinders (left over from my toddler nephew’s visit), in the pockets (mimicking the shape of my phone, wallet, keys, and lighter). This gave me a shortcut to jeans that conformed to the shape I needed them to be.

uniqlo denim

The perspective afforded

Since then I’ve undergone the ‘breaking in’ process a few times, with a few different brands, and a few different fits. I’ve realised what it is I like about these jeans: there’s a real project involved in them. I know that it probably sounds silly to someone who isn’t into denim (and a lot of people aren’t; but you’d be surprised how many people are). But it’s unmistakeable: using your body as a workshop, you are at work honing something. For someone like me, who gets an incredible sense of accomplishment from putting together IKEA furniture, wearing in jeans actually feels like a step up, in terms of projects.

Unlike other clothes, which generally deteriorate as you wear them, raw denim acquires character, improves in fit, and generally become more of a reflection of you, over time. Of course, denim itself isn’t just a material: it has a well-documented history and identity, and inescapable associations with a certain rugged way of life.

Of course that denim identity has faded and evolved, as jeans have all kinds of different cuts and fits and colours. But I even like that: that fade and evolution reflect the process that raw denim go through on their way to being the perfect fit.