Selvedge /Selvage Jeans – What Makes Them So Special?

Selvedge /Selvage Jeans – What Makes Them So Special?


If you are an unwavering denimhead and wouldn’t even consider any other denim than selvedge the “real” thing, then you will probably already know what’s coming up here!

But for all of you “newbies”, you have very likely been wondering lately what all this talk about dark wash and selvedge denim is about. Well, we have already explained about raw denim in our previous feature. You can read it all here. Now, let’s talk about what most of denim lovers refer to as the noblest of all denims, the selvedge or selvage denim fabric.

What is the history of selvedge denim?

Selvedge denim has its roots in the early 1900s when Levis was making hard-wearing pants for workers in California. It continued to explode in popularity through the 1950s when film stars and celebrities like James Dean and Marlon Brando helped bring denim clothes into mainstream culture. To feed the growing demand, manufacturers had to abandon the lengthy process of selvedge denim production and create jeans more quickly.

The allure of vintage denim lies in its uniqueness, as subtle variations in fabric are representative of the multifaceted production process – spinning, dyeing, weaving, and sewing – and the era in which the denim was made.

American selvedge denim

The history of American selvedge denim can be summed up in two words: Cone Mills. Cone Mills White Oak plan in Greensboro, North Carolina first started producing denim in 1905. Just five short years later it was making a full third of the world’s denim. In 1915 Cone Mills partnered with Levis, in a famous business partnership named “The Golden Handshake”. Over its 112 years in operation the White Oak plant was at the forefront of denim production, being responsible for new advances in denim like sanforization (a process that reduces shrinkage), rope dying, stretch denim and many more. Unfortunately the plant closed in 2017 leaving a massive hole in the American-made denim market. Some new mills have popped up to pickup where White Oak left off. Most noteably Vidalia Mills out of Louisiana purchased many of the original Draper X3 looms from the shuttered White Oak plant.

Japanese selvedge denim

Japanese selvedge in particular stands out in the denim world due to its high-quality craftsmanship, attention to detail, and unique manufacturing techniques.

One of the most prominent mills in Japan known for its selvedge denim production is Kaihara. The Kaihara Mill has been in operation since 1893 and has incorporated traditional Japanese textile-making methods and indigo dying expertise into its denim production process.

In Japan, the manufacturing technique for selvedge denim involves meticulous attention to detail, as well as a commitment to preserving the art of traditional indigo dying and weaving processes. Some key features of Japanese selvedge denim include:

Indigo dye: The deep, rich color of Japanese denim is achieved through natural indigo dying, which adds character to the fabric and allows it to age gracefully over time.

Shuttle looms: Selvedge denim is produced on traditional shuttle looms, which give the fabric its distinct edge and high-density weave.

Craftsmanship: Japanese denim artisans are known for their high level of skill, dedication, and attention to detail.

The Japanese selvedge denim market has preserved many of the traditional methods of denim production and indigo dying, ensuring that the final product stands out among others in the industry. With its rich history, expert craftsmanship, and unique production techniques, Japanese selvedge denim remains a benchmark for high-quality denim garments. This history of Japanese denim will help you understand how Japan has become a leading force in denim production.

Raw Indigo Selvedge Jeans

Distressed Selvedge Jeans

Another myth is that selvedge denim has to be made of 100% cotton. In the past few decades, stretch has been very successfully added to a lot of selvedge denim fabrics. A factor that incentivizes many denim lovers to go for selvedge which they previously had considered too uncomfortable, too stiff, to wear for a longer period of time.

Stretch Denim Selvedge Jeans

Denim addicts, or denimheads – as we love to call them – usually prefer to buy their jeans in the darkest indigo. The reason why is so that you, yourself, can “make them your own”. Wear them in, wear them as often as you can without washing them so the jeans can adjust to the shape of your body. An endeavor that may take years to achieve the wished-for wash.

About selvedge denim according to Todd Shelton:

“The words selvedge denim relate to self-edge or self-finished fabric edges. Selvedge denim jeans use the actual self-edge in the jean construction – specifically along the outer seam.”

“Selvedge denim is an old-fashioned way of weaving denim, generally on older machines. People who care about selvedge denim appreciate its historical authenticity.”

And last, but not least, the question that most people always ask:

How is selvedge denim made?

Weaving Process

Selvedge denim is produced using a unique weaving process that differs from traditional denim fabric. The primary difference lies in the type of loom used for the weaving, which significantly affects the fabric’s appearance and quality. Most commonly, selvedge is produced using shuttle looms.

Shuttle Looms

Shuttle looms are traditional textile weaving machines that were most widely in use pre-1950s. These looms create selvedge denim by utilizing a mechanism called a shuttle, which passes the yarns between both sides of the loom, turning back on itself when it reaches the end. This produces a tightly woven, self-edged fabric that is more durable and less prone to fraying than denim made on modern, faster looms.

Though shuttle looms fell out of favor in the mid-20th century due to their sluggish production speed, they have experienced a resurgence in recent years as more discerning and demanding consumers seek high-quality, durable denim products.

Projectile Loom

Projectile looms are an alternative method for weaving selvedge denim, although they are not as commonly used as shuttle looms. These looms utilize a projectile mechanism to pass the yarns across the loom. While projectile looms typically weave much faster and allow for wider fabric production than shuttle looms, they may not produce denim with the same level of quality and durability.

Selvedge denim production, with its emphasis on quality and tradition, continues to appeal to those who value the craft and durability of the fabric. The weaving process and the use of various looms, including both shuttle and projectile looms, play an essential role in creating the defining characteristics that set selvedge denim apart from other denim products.

Why is selvedge denim expensive?

Selvedge denim is generally more expensive because the shuttle looms used to produce it are slower and made a more narrow fabric than modern high-speed air jet weaving machines. Additionally, many of the materials commonly used in selvedge denim – such as natural indigo from plants, long-staple pima cotton, and more – are much more expensive than their generic counterparts used in denim that you would find from a larger brand.

What is raw denim?

Raw or “dry” denim is another term you may come across, which refers to denim that is unwashed and straight off the roll. Every piece of denim, whether destined to become a pair of selvedge jeans or not starts its life raw, though selvedge denim is often associated with raw denim due to their shared origins in traditional manufacturing techniques. You can find selvedge jeans in both raw and washed varieties, depending on your preferences. Denim that has been subjected to conditioning processes may have a more comfortable feel right away, but at the cost of character, durability and reward over time.

Raw denim is initially quite stiff but transforms significantly over time as it adapts to the wearer’s body, work, and activities. As a result, raw denim jeans typically create unique creases and fading patterns. These fades can occur in several areas, such as the whiskering around the front pockets, honeycombs behind the knees, and stacking at the bottom hem. You’re also likely to be able to tell which pocket a raw denim-head keeps their phone or wallet in!

Wearing raw denim is a project that rewards powering through the initial discomfort and sticking to it. Raw denim enthusiasts employ all sorts of methods to try and achieve sharper contrast and more spectacular looking fades. However your jeans fade, they will be a reflection of your life and experiences in them.

One more thing–when it comes to raw denim jeans, you should be aware of the shrinkage factor. Unlike sanforized or pre-shrunk denim, raw denim can shrink up to 10% after the first wash. This is crucial when selecting the appropriate size for a pair of raw denim jeans, as the initial fit may not be the final fit after washing.

curated by ozzie small


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