One of the dumbest pieces of advice we’ve ever seen recently came from Levi’s CEO, who suggested that people should never wash their jeans. This was less in response to the resulting shrinkage problem, and more to do with conserving resources, i.e. water. Not to be outdone, the Vice-President of the company suggested freezing them to get rid of bacteria (not that that would even work according to scientists). Yes, people like this run big companies these days.
If you’re not a water conservation fanatic, but are concerned about shrinkage here are some ways around it. If you don’t wash and rewash cheap jeans like Levis they will remain as stiff as a board. Shrinkage only happens if you wash them in hot water and then use a hot dryer to dry them. If that is your practice then just buy them a size larger to compensate. Just sponging off blemishes, as they suggest, will do nothing about accumulate bacteria or odors.
It is easy to avoid shrinkage and clean your jeans by using cold water. Ideally hand-washing in cold water with something like Woolite will work, as it does with more delicate fabrics. Then let them dry flat or drip dry. If you must use machinery do the wash in cold water, and run the dryer on the coolest setting, even if it takes a few passes.
What these executives fail to realize is that many people wash their jeans less for dirt than to soften them up and have some wear, but that takes a lot of cycles. The alternative is to buy a more expensive pair of jeans. Generally the higher the price, the softer the fabric and the more worn they feel. But this only makes sense for dress jeans of the kind you’d wear on an evening out or on a business casual occasion. If you’re working in construction, repairing cars, farming, or do any other kind of dirty work then you wear jeans like Levis. Given such use they are far more likely to get dirty and therefore need to be washed, which makes the advice cited above all the more silly.
Better fabrics cost more, and all you need to do is feel how soft a pair of high-end jeans are compared to lower-priced brands. With jeans it is mostly a case of getting what you pay for, but no designer label is worth anything if the fabric doesn’t feel any different than cheaper jeans. The very best are made in Italy, as with so much other clothing. However, even with these you have to be careful because some big design firms have multiple lines, often attached to the word “jeans.” But this is the cheaper stuff and inferior to the jeans they sell under their “collection,” “coutoure,” or other prime label, which often have a limited run. This is not a problem with the overall best in this category, Brioni, which only makes fine products. But with such costly jeans you have to treat them more like a good pair of pants, and avoid doing things in them you would never do in your dress pants. Dress jeans should also be tailored like any other pair of good pants, so that they end at your shoes rather than bunching up at the bottom.