Forever in blue jeans

Updated: Jan 27 2008, 05:29am hrs
Do not wash these jeans for six months. Um. Say that again Do not wash these jeans for six months.

These were the peculiar maintenance suggestions for my newly purchased pair of bluejeans, made with raw denim and sold unwashed and untreated so they can form to your body and your daily routine. Through twice-a-week wears, trips to the dog park, sitting on the ground, sloshing through rain puddles and using them as a napkin-in-need, these jeans were not to be washed for at least six months. Which left me asking a very important question: How do the jeans know How do the jeans know when six months have passed

There is another important question, one most people ask when I tell them Im up to this challenge: In six months, will there be a discernible difference between a pair of raw jeans that were washed immediately and a pair of raw jeans that were not

Denimheads say absolutely that coveted indigo will chip away when washed, essentially dulling the colour contrast that adds character to each pair. Itll just look like a navy, boring, dad-kind-of-a-jean, said Tammy Wong, North American brand manager for the Swedish designer Nudie.

Nobody wants that.

The women at the Atlanta alteration shop where I took the jeans to be hemmed were, however, less than impressed by my fancy new purchase. We embarked on an epic standoff when the manager told me I needed to wash the jeans before she could shorten them because they would shrink. I told her I couldnt wash them until I wore them and couldnt wear them until she hemmed them.

The manager looked me over. She looked at the jeans. Spoke briefly in Korean and then conveyed the oh-so-universal sign of holding her nose with one hand and waving the other in front of her face. Which translates to stinky. Its funny how some people are so grossed out about not washing their jeans, said DressCodes co-owner Karen Mascavage in an e-mail. Mascavage sold me the jeans at her Decatur boutique. I have received some of the most hilarious looks from people when I tell them not to wash the raw jeans for six months.

Mascavage said raw denim which typically starts at about $150 is a bigger hit with men, mostly because theyre willing to trade initial discomfort for the long-term payoff. With women, its a hard sell, she said. They want to put it on and look like a million bucks right away. They dont want to work for it.

With raw, Mascavage added, they wear you for the first two weeks. Some favour the authenticity. The thing I like about raw jeans is they sort of represent how jeans were originally meant to be, said Philip Teske, 49, of Midtown.

Even folks who dont live and breathe denim understand the satisfaction of a perfect fitting, worn-in pair of jeans. We treat jeans differently and with a little more love than, say, slacks. Jeans are personal, in the same family as a beloved T-shirt or a perfectly moulded ball cap items that tend to look better with age.

Washing instructions have always varied, from turning jeans inside out to soaking in a tub. One of designer brand suggestions: Take your dirty unwashed jeans to the ocean, where you should alternate between swimming and rubbing dry sand on the denim. hen, rinse with fresh water and dry in the sun.

Teske, who works in finance, is new to raw and said hes probably a little more into jeans than the average person. Hes washed some pairs after four months and waited eight months to clean others. I cant say they really smell, he said, but when they need freshening, he puts his jeans in the freezer. At the end of the day, theyre just jeans, he said. Theyre a simple product, and I sort of like simple things.

By not washing the jeans for months, raw jeans enthusiasts say youre not just helping them take the form of your body, youre forming them to your habits. The basic idea is the denim serves as a blank canvas and the wearer plays an active role in the way the jeans eventually look.

This is probably the point where those who are not raw jeans enthusiasts roll their eyes. Perhaps even you, right now.

Lets hear them out.

Earnest Sewn president and founder Scott Morrison, who describes himself as a never-wash-his-jeans-type-of-guy, said in six months of aggressive wearing... youll see interesting marks starting to form. This can be from wallets, keys, tobacco tins, stains or smudges. Mascavage knew someone who purposefully customised a pair of jeans by putting a calculator in the pocket so the keypads subtle indentations would be visible.

And then theres this from Nudies small hardcover book The Naked Truth About Denim: Jeans are all about passion and deep relationship Your everyday life gives the denim its unique character, formed by you into a second skin personal and naked.

Im not sure I want to be in a relationship with my blue jeans, and I am sure I dont want to call them my second skin. But its not often that Im challenged by a piece of clothing, and Ive found the idea of molding blue jeans fascinating. For me, owning this pair of jeans is a cross between raising a puppy and owning a pet rock. Call it a project. Ive thought about taking them along when I do cool things and go cool places so that they will somehow reflect an awesome life Im living. Ive thought about what Im putting in my pockets and how this will shape these dirty, dirty jeans six months down the road. Ive thought about that day in May when I will throw these suckers into the wash for the very first time.

And Ive thought probably way too much about a pair of blue jeans.

NY Times / Mike Benzie