Whether you throw on jeans without a second thought or see yourself as a die-hard Denim Head, chances are you’ve heard of selvedge denim. Identified by the clean, colored lines that run along the inseam, selvedge denim is simple, stylish, and sophisticated—and it’s coming back in a big way.
Selvedge denim is made with a self-finished edge (selvedge literally means self-edge). While most denim is produced in big sheets with frayed edges, selvedge fabric is sealed at the ends, comes in much more narrow rolls, and has more tightly woven threads.
Photo: Toyoda Shuttle Loom at Rest by Adam Marelli
The reason for this difference is how it’s made. Selvedge denim is only woven on old-fashioned shuttle looms. While they can’t produce fabric nearly as quickly as more modern projectile looms, there’s a definite difference in quality. Selvedge denim tends to be more tightly woven and more durable. It also has more variation in the fabric – and while this was once seen as a flaw, it’s now viewed as giving the material more character.
Until the 1950’s, the shuttle loom dominated textile mills worldwide. All denim was selvedge denim. From the riveted Levi Strauss workpants in the 1800’s to the jeans worn by American G.I.s returned from WWII, selvedge denim was the dominant American style, complete with that characteristic clean stitch up the inseam of their jeans.
However, when demand for American jeans went through the roof, companies looked for a way to make them faster and cheaper. Their solution was the projectile loom – it could weave six times as fast as old shuttle looms and make bolts of fabric over twice as large. The fact that it lost that self-finished edge wasn’t seen as much of a problem.
Photo: Kentucky Mill Works (kentuckyexplorer.com)
While non-selvedge denim began to dominate the market in America, Japan fell in love with the classic style of selvedge denim. Japanese companies started buying up old shuttle looms from American companies and producing their own selvedge denim. They haven’t stopped since. Today, Japanese selvedge is the gold standard, and while all our jeans at RPMWEST are constructed here in America, they’re made from top quality Japanese selvedge denim.
Another word you often hear with selvedge is “raw”. This means that the denim’s never been washed. It has a bit stiffer feel, but it also gives the denim the ability to break in and conform to the wearer’s body in unique ways. More and more people are opting for raw denim because it allows your jeans to tell your story – over time, it’ll gain creases and honeycomb fades that won’t be present on any other pair of pants. Softening the fabric and getting those subtle unique fades takes a little patience, but it’s well worth the wait.
Hardcore raw denim fans will tell you never to wash your jeans. As soon as you do, the indigo gets burned into the fabric, and they won't gain character quite as quickly. If the thought of not washing your jeans disgusts you, you can check out our WIUEP Denim Mist and Washing Solution for a quick and easy way to clean your jeans without ruining the denim. After all, every great denim deserves a great fade and personal treatment.