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Raw vs. Washed Denim: What Sets Them Apart?

Raw vs. Washed Denim: What Sets Them Apart?

In the realm of Western attire, denim stands as a foundational component, deeply ingrained in the iconic styles of cowboys and cowgirls.

The world of denim presents two distinct options: raw and washed denim. Each has its unique characteristics and uses, making them crucial components of the Western lifestyle.

In this article, we’ll dive deep into the differences between raw and washed denim, exploring what they are, when and where to use them, and how to care for them.

Explanation of specialized terms:

In the world of denim, the term “washes” refers to a specific treatment process that denim fabric undergoes after it’s been dyed. This process is essential for altering the appearance, texture, and overall feel of the denim.

Washes are responsible for the wide variety of denim finishes you see in stores, from the deep indigo of raw denim to the faded, distressed look of well-worn jeans.

Each type of wash imparts a specific character to the denim, allowing individuals to choose the style that suits their preferences and the occasion.

Understanding these washes helps you appreciate the differences between raw and washed denim, which we’ll explore in greater detail in the article.

Raw Denim: The Rugged Pioneer

raw denim

Raw denim, often referred to as “dry denim,” embodies the spirit of the American frontier. It’s the purest form of denim, untouched by any washes or treatments after being dyed. Here are some key characteristics of raw denim:

  1. Stiffness and Rigidity: Raw denim is known for its stiff and rigid feel. When you first put on a pair of raw denim jeans, they might feel somewhat uncomfortable, but that’s because they haven’t been softened by washing.
  2. Deep Indigo Color: Raw denim jeans typically feature a deep, dark indigo color. This intense hue is a result of the dyeing process and remains vivid over time.
  3. Fades and Whiskers: One of the most appealing aspects of raw denim is how it fades uniquely to your body’s movements and lifestyle. Over time, it develops distinctive fades, whiskers, and creases that tell the story of your adventures.

When and Where to Use Raw Denim:

Raw denim is perfect for those who value authenticity and durability in their Western attire. Here’s when and where to use it:

  1. Daily Wear: Raw denim jeans are an excellent choice for everyday wear. They become more comfortable with time as they conform to your body.
  2. Workwear: Cowboys and cowgirls who require rugged workwear can rely on raw denim for its durability and strength.
  3. Special Occasions: Raw denim can be dressed up for special Western events, like rodeos or country-themed parties. Pair them with a crisp shirt and cowboy boots for a classic look.

Man wear fade jeans with cowboy boots stand on the fence

Caring for Raw Denim:

Raw denim requires a specific care regimen to maintain its unique characteristics and allow those coveted fading patterns to develop naturally:

  1. Rare Washing: The hallmark of raw denim care is infrequent washing. Avoid the temptation to launder your raw denim jeans after every wear. Instead, opt for washing only when absolutely necessary. This helps preserve the rich indigo color and enhances the fading process.
  2. Spot Cleaning: For minor stains or spills, use a damp cloth or a soft brush to gently spot clean the affected area. This prevents the need for a full wash and minimizes color loss.
  3. Cold Water Wash: When it’s time to give your raw denim a thorough cleaning, use cold water. Cold water helps retain the deep indigo color while minimizing shrinkage and fabric distress.
  4. Inside-Out Washing: Turn your raw denim jeans inside out before washing. This protects the outer fabric from excessive friction and color loss, allowing the fades to develop more evenly.
  5. Air Drying: Avoid using a dryer at all costs. Instead, hang your raw denim jeans to air dry. This prevents unnecessary wear and helps maintain the shape and fit.


  • Unique Fading: Raw denim develops distinctive fading patterns over time, creating a personalized and unique look that tells the story of your adventures.
  • Durable: Raw denim is often thicker and more durable than washed denim, making it an excellent choice for rugged wear and tear.
  • Deep Color: It retains a deep, dark indigo color that remains vibrant over time, adding to its classic appeal.
  • Customization: You have the freedom to shape the fades and creases to your body and lifestyle, giving it a personal touch.
  • Longevity: With proper care, raw denim can last for many years, making it a sustainable choice.


  • Initial Stiffness: Raw denim can be quite stiff and uncomfortable when first worn, requiring a break-in period.
  • Less Comfort: It may take time for raw denim to become as comfortable as washed denim due to its rigidity.
  • Limited Style Options: Raw denim typically comes in a standard deep indigo color, offering fewer style choices compared to washed denim.

Washed Denim: The Broken-In Comfort

washes denim

Washed denim, in contrast, offers a softer and more comfortable wearing experience right from the start. Here’s what you need to know about washed denim:

  1. Softness: Washed denim has been through a washing process that softens the fabric, making it comfortable to wear immediately.
  2. Variety of Washes: Washed denim comes in various washes, from light to distressed, providing a range of style options.
  3. Fading: Unlike raw denim, washed denim doesn’t develop as distinctive fading patterns. Instead, it retains a more uniform appearance.

When and Where to Use Washed Denim:

Washed denim is versatile and suits a wide range of situations:

  1. Casual Wear: It’s ideal for everyday casual outfits, offering comfort and style simultaneously.
  2. Laid-Back Western Vibes: If you’re going for a more relaxed Western look, opt for washed denim paired with a Western-style shirt.
  3. Travel Companions: When you’re exploring the world, washed denim’s comfort makes it a great choice for long journeys.

A woman wears jeans with cowboy boots in the city

Caring for Washed Denim:

Maintaining washed denim is relatively simple:

  1. Regular Washing: Washed denim can be washed more frequently than raw denim. Follow the care instructions on the label for best results, usually using mild detergent.
  2. Temperature Variability: While raw denim prefers cold water, washed denim can be washed in warmer water settings, depending on the specific wash and color. Always check the care label.
  3. Drying Options: You have the flexibility to air dry or use a dryer when caring for washed denim. Opt for the method that suits your preferences and lifestyle.
  4. Fold and Store: When not in use, fold your washed denim items and store them in a cool, dry place. There’s no need to be overly cautious about hanging by the belt loops.


  • Immediate Comfort: Washed denim is soft and comfortable from the start, requiring little to no break-in time.
  • Versatile Styles: It comes in a wide range of washes, from light to distressed, allowing for various style options to suit different occasions.
  • Fading Maintenance: Fades and color changes are minimal, giving washed denim a consistent appearance throughout its life.
  • Ease of Care: Washed denim can be washed more frequently and with less special care compared to raw denim.


  • Limited Fading: If you prefer distinct and personalized fading patterns, washed denim may not provide the same level of uniqueness.
  • Color Variability: The color of washed denim may fade or change more quickly over time, potentially losing its initial vibrancy.
  • Less Durability: Washed denim may not be as durable as raw denim, making it less suitable for heavy-duty workwear.
  • Less Classic: Some denim enthusiasts may argue that washed denim lacks the timeless appeal of raw denim due to its pre-treated nature.

Raw Denim vs. Washed Denim: Key Differences

AspectRaw DenimWashed Denim
Treatment ProcessUntreated and unwashed after dyeingUndergoes various washing processes
Initial Feel & ComfortStiff, requires a break-in periodSoft and comfortable from the start
Fading & DistressingDevelops personalized, unique fadesPre-faded and distressed styles available
DurabilityThicker and more durableMay be less durable, better for casual wear
Style VarietyLimited color and finish optionsWide range of washes and finishes
CustomizationAllows for personal customizationLess customization due to pre-treatment
Care TipsRare washing, spot cleaning, cold waterRegular washing, variable temperatures, air or machine drying

1. Treatment Process

  • Raw denim is untreated and unwashed after the dyeing process, retaining its deep indigo color and rigidity.
  • Washed denim undergoes various washing processes, such as stone washing or acid washing, to achieve a softer feel and unique appearance.

2. Initial Feel and Comfort

  • Raw denim can feel stiff and uncomfortable when first worn and requires a break-in period to become more comfortable.
  • Washed denim is soft and comfortable right from the start, making it a more immediate choice for comfort-conscious individuals.

3. Fading and Distressing

  • Raw denim develops personalized fading patterns, whiskers, and creases over time, creating a unique look.
  • Washed denim comes in various pre-faded and distressed styles, but the fading patterns are typically less distinct and personal.

4. Durability:

  • Raw denim is often thicker and more durable, making it suitable for rugged use and lasting longer with proper care.
  • Washed denim may be less durable due to the treatment processes it undergoes, making it better suited for everyday wear rather than heavy-duty work.

5. Style Variety

  • Raw denim typically comes in a deep indigo color, offering fewer style choices in terms of color and finish.
  • Washed denim offers a wide range of washes and finishes, allowing for greater style versatility.

6. Customization

  • Raw denim allows wearers to customize the fading and distressing patterns to their body and lifestyle.
  • Washed denim comes with pre-determined fading and distressing, offering less customization.

7. Care

  • Raw denim care focuses on preserving the unique fading patterns and deep indigo color through rare washing, spot cleaning, and meticulous attention to detail.
  • In contrast, washed denim care is more relaxed, with regular washing and a wider range of temperature and drying options.
Man wears Tecovas denim trucker jacket

Men’s Denim Trucker Jacket | Click image for more info | Image copyright Tecovas Boot Company | #CommissionEarned

Which Type of Denim is Better? Raw or Washed Denim?

The choice between raw and washed denim ultimately depends on personal preferences, style, and intended use:

  • Raw Denim is better if you value authenticity, durability, and the opportunity to develop unique fading patterns over time. It’s an excellent choice for those who enjoy the break-in process and want a classic denim look.
  • Washed Denim is better if you prioritize immediate comfort, style versatility, and a softer feel. It’s ideal for individuals who prefer a more relaxed fit and don’t want to invest time in breaking in their denim.

In conclusion, the choice between raw and washed denim is akin to selecting the brushstroke that paints your fashion canvas.

Raw denim celebrates authenticity, durability, and the journey of fading as a personal story. On the other hand, washed denim embraces immediate comfort, style versatility, and the ease of everyday wear.

A man is stacking jeans with cowboy boots

Your choice ultimately depends on whether you want to craft your denim tale or let it envelop you in comfort and style, all while staying true to the Western spirit that defines your lifestyle.

The “better” choice depends on your personal style, comfort preferences, and how you intend to use your denim. Both raw and washed denim have their unique qualities that cater to different tastes and lifestyles.

A woman wears jeans with cowboy boots