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Not fade away

Proper care of your denim will help you get the most wear out of it. Proper care of your denim will help you get the most wear out of it.
By Rachel Zarrell
Globe Correspondent / March 5, 2009
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They've stuck with you through the years, been there through your weakest moments. They've even seen you naked. No, not your best friends -- we're talking about your favorite pair of jeans. But like an old friend, jeans can fade with time. They can also tear, stretch out, and be a pain to repair -- not to mention costly to replace. But whether they're $29 Old Navy jeans or your adored $262 True Religions, denim requires special treatment if you want it to last. Here's how to wash, mend, and lengthen the life of any pair.

In the wash
First, try to wear jeans for as long as possible before washing them. Unless they're stained, jeans can really be worn for days or even weeks at a time before they need to be washed, especially if they're a higher-end brand.

Riccardo Dallai, owner of the Newbury Street store Riccardi, recommends washing jeans inside out in cold water to prevent fading and stretching. "[They] will obviously fade over time but it will prolong that process," he said. Hot water is especially dangerous for stretch jeans since it can wear out the elastane, the ingredient that gives many pairs their stretchiness.

Jeans should be cleaned with pairs that have a similar wash and with a delicate soap. Make sure the zippers are zipped and buttons buttoned, so they don't rub against the fabric while in the spin cycle, and keep the load small to further lessen abrasion. Jeans really should only be machine dried for a few minutes (if at all), since overdrying them shortens a pair's life. Keeping jeans in the machine until they're bone-dry damages the fibers.

Instead, take them out when they're still damp and let them hang dry. This is especially important for the initial wash of new jeans, since drying an unwashed pair can make them shrink up to three quarters of an inch, Dallai said, adding, "There's no real shrinking in denim unless you cook it in the dryer."

Great lengths
Jeans with legs that are too long can get stomped on and fray at the bottoms. Usually, the perfect length of a pair of jeans is when they skim the ground in bare feet, but can differ depending on the height of your shoe heels.

Take jeans to a tailor for any alterations or hemming. Why should you? Trying to sew denims on a regular sewing machine can break the needle, if not the plate on the machine itself, according to Anthony Rivas, owner of Newbury Tailoring, where stores like Diesel, Banana Republic, and Riccardi all send their customers to get new jeans tailored. Rivas said women should designate a purpose for each pair of jeans (going out, casual wear) and bring either flats or high heels to the tailor with them, as the difference between shoes can alter the hem up to six inches.

"Sometimes I go out in the street when I go on my lunch break or I go to the bank," Rivas said. "I see people in the street . . . and I tell them, 'You should shorten your jeans. They would look better if you did that.' "

Wear and repair
It might seem obvious, but the key to lengthening the life of a pair of jeans is to avoid overwearing them. Wearing the same pair every time you leave the house, romping around in a pair while playing sports, and especially taking a nice pair on a bike ride, can all be the quickest route to tattering the denim. Francine Rabinovich, founder of denim refurbishing website Denim Therapy, said between all of the washes and stresses that jeans endure, denim can easily get thinned out.

"You have to take care of it as a delicate fabric as opposed to a very durable one," she said. If there's a weak spot your jeans always rip at, try patching the thin spots on the inside before any holes even start.

Denim Therapy, where jeans can be reconstructed for around $7 an inch, can also be a denim lover's best friend. Although the site doesn't offer any guarantees, every pair is individually worked on and rewoven (not just patched), and every customer gets a three-month warranty in case the hole opens up again. Denim Therapy also promises to fix jeans or denim jackets that need new zippers, pockets, or belt loops. And with about a two-week turnaround per pair, the wait time is only a week or so longer than trekking to a tailor.

They've stuck with you through the years, been there through your weakest moments. They've even seen you naked. No, not your best friends - we're talking about your favorite pair of jeans. But like an old friend, jeans can fade with time. They can also tear, stretch out, and be a pain to repair - not to mention costly to replace. But whether they're $29 Old Navy jeans or your adored $262 True Religions, denim requires special treatment if you want it to last. Here's how to wash, mend, and lengthen the life of any pair. RACHEL ZARRELL

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