When the temperatures drop, the denim heads rejoice. That’s because it’s time to break out the thick, raw denim — the fabric that turns your legs into tropical rainforests when the thermostat reads anything above 80 degrees Fahrenheit. But unless you’ve already been working on a pair of good selvage jeans for a while, you’re staring down the barrel leg of cardboard-stiff pants that take more than a little elbow grease to make comfortable.
There are plenty of sworn-by denim-conditioning techniques, depending on who you ask. Some guys bury ’em in the ground, supposedly because the earth’s enzymes will help break down the starch. Other guys freeze ’em. Still others say there’s no better method than hopping in the ocean with your new raws on. But if you don’t have access to a shovel, freezer, or ocean, there’s one method we recommend, thanks to New York denim-whisperer Shawn Joswick: Butter ’em up.
“I use shea butter,” Joswick says. “It absorbs into the jeans and you get great vintage-looking fades. I’ll rub that onto the backs of the knees, or the thighs. It’s a little sheeny at first, but then it softens up. Plus, it’s not going to seep through the denim; you won’t feel it on your legs. Throughout the day I’ll massage it into the jeans. Like when I’m sitting around, I’ll just rub my hand against where I’m trying to get the fade.”
Like anything else that usually takes a little time, you need to provide the right conditions for perfect wear. First, Joswick says, buy jeans that are just a little tight when you get them, so they’ll stretch to fit your body perfectly. Then wear the hell out of them for about a month before your first wash. “You get a deeper contrast in the fade the longer you wait, but if you never wash your jeans, the oil’s just going to keep breaking them down,” he says. “That’s why so many jeans fall apart. If you wait a month, you’ll have a head start on those worn-in areas.”
Using shea butter, a fat you can get at pretty much any drug store, is an easy method for cutting some wait time off of your wear-in, giving your new, off-the-rack jeans a cool, vintage look that doesn’t take months of Tin Man-esque walking to achieve.
Still, Joswick says, you can’t get those fades without moving around, letting your sweat play its part in breaking up some stubborn threads. So throw your new jeans on while it’s still warm out, butter them up, and take a walk long enough to make you a little sweaty. Trust us: It won’t take long.