The Best Entry Level Raw Denim Jeans
After sifting through dozens and dozens of options and considering a variety of fits, fabrics, and manufacturers, we’re pleased to report that if you’re looking for a first pair to try raw selvedge denim you should get the Unbranded 201. They’re made of Japanese selvedge denim, fit well on most body types, fade beautifully, and at $88 are cheap enough that almost anyone can take the plunge.
Who’s This For?
You’ve worn Levi’s or Gap jeans for years and have heard about the buzz surrounding raw and selvedge denim. Maybe you have that one friend who waxes on about the beauty of Japanese shuttle looms (I’m that friend), but you’re not ready to drop $250+ on jeans that have a reputation as being uncomfortable, hard to wash, and even harder to size.
You want an option that will let you test the waters for what raw denim has to offer but without risking a week’s pay on pants.
How did we choose our winner?
The further up you go on the raw denim food chain, which jean is right for you becomes much more subjective. On the lower end of scale, however, it’s easier to determine the best bang for your buck. We evaluated a variety of jeans based on their fabric, construction quality, fit, and availability.
The biggest factor in any pair of raw jeans is the denim, a good fabric can make or break the entire feel and lifespan of a garment. We looked for a mid-weight four-season denim that broke in quickly and had great fading potential. We also wanted a jean that didn’t stretch much and was sanforized, so new denim fans wouldn’t have to worry about stretch or shrinkage and could stay pretty much true to size. Selvedge was a plus, as was any denim sourced from a reputable mill.
For construction quality, we looked for details and manufacturing methods that would ensure a long lasting pair of jeans. This included touches like high quality rivets and hardware, uniform and even stitching, as well as first world manufacturing. We also wanted to find a jean with subtle branding and design.
On fit, we wanted to find a jean that would work well on just about anyone and used a pattern that scaled well across a full range of sizes.
And finally availability. For better and for worse, many raw denim companies are very small operations that can sell out of their seasonal stock quickly. We wanted to recommend a jean that was easy to find in most places at all times of the year with an entry level price of around $100.
Why did the Unbranded 201 win?
Unbranded is basically the perfect combination of all the above criteria. It uses a sanforized 14oz. blue-line selvedge denim from Japan that takes a bit of time to break in but isn’t awful. The first couple weeks are going to suck, there’s no way around that, but after a few months the denim softens up well.
That longevity is due to their construction. Despite the low price tag, the jeans have many of the same high quality construction details you’d find on mid to end-level denim like hidden rivets on the back pockets, a flat-felled inseam, and chainstitched hems.
The jeans are produced in Macau–supposedly at the same factory A.P.C. uses for their denim line–which isn’t as synonymous with quality as Japan or United States manufacturing but you can be confident they weren’t produced in sweatshop conditions.
The branding on the jeans is also non-existent, they really take their name to heart and give you a tabula rasa pair of pants. No back pocket stitching, no labeling on the rivets or buttons, even the back patch is completely blank.
The 201 has a tapered fit based off of Naked & Famous’s Weird Guy cut. It has a wider top block that slims down to a smaller leg opening, which allows it to look good on a variety of body types depending on how you size it. The size range runs from tagged 27 to 38, all of which have a 34.5″ inseam.
Also important to note is the fact that Unbranded vanity sizes two inches on their jeans, so be sure measure the waist of a pair that currently fits you well before ordering.
There are a few minor issues with the fit, including a rather short fly and a high crotch and the front pockets are quite difficult to break in but the good outweighs the bad. Unbranded also offers the same jean in a Skinny 101 and Straight 301 cut for those looking for a tighter or looser fit, respectively.
Price and availability wise, the jeans cost $82, only twenty bucks more than your standard pair of Levi’s. They’re about as prevalent as well, available year-round from a variety of retailers. Buy the Unbranded 201.
Levi’s 501 STF
The original 501 jean may not be the made-in-USA icon of twenty years ago, but it’s still a well made pair of pants at a reasonable price of 48 bucks. You also can’t walk into a mall without practically tripping over a pair of them. Keep in mind these jeans are unsanforized “shrink-to-fits” so be sure to size up especially in the inseam before you buy and soak. See our full guide to the 501 STF.
United Stock Dry Goods Narrow
If you’re looking to spend a little more and care about American manufacturing, you may want to consider United Stock Dry Goods Narrow Fit jean. The Narrow is made in USA out of a 12.5oz. redline Japanese selvedge denim and is also fairly basic and no-frills. It has a slimmer fit and breaks in easier than the Unbranded but also has a higher price of $135 and is often sold out. Read our full review here.
Gap 1969 Japanese Selvedge Slim Fit
Another mall stalwart, this jean from The Gap may not look like much but it packs quite a punch. Japanese denim and classic five pocket construction add up for a solid pair of pants that will fade well and most importantly, you can size right in almost any store in America.