The Essentials of Raw Denim: Selvedge Denim
In the first instalment of our guide to the essentials of raw denim, we learned exactly what raw denim fabric is. We touched briefly on topic of the self-edge or selvedge and in this post we will really dive into the subject and discover what it means for your jeans, including the upsides and the pitfalls.
A Simple Definition of Selvedge Denim
We should begin with clearing up a common misconception. Many people assume that raw denim and selvedge denim are one and the same. They are not. Raw denim, as we discussed previously, is denim in its pure state. No treatment, or “washing” has been done to simulate fades or wear.
Selvedge denim refers to the method in which the denim was created.
The Technical Definition of Selvedge Denim
Selvedge denim (also spelled ‘selvage denim’ in the US) is the technical term for the narrow, tightly woven self-finished edges. These edges are a product of the denim being woven on old-school shuttle looms. These create natural ends on each side of fabric preventing it from fraying or unraveling.
Selvedge fabrics are woven on narrow 28-30-inch shuttle looms. Throughout the 70s and 80s these looms were replaced by more efficient, wider 58-60-inch projectile looms. These modern looms cut the weft (the horizontal thread) at each end. This creates frayed ends that are cut before the fabric is sewn into a pair of jeans. This process generally results in a far lower quality of denim.
On old shuttle looms, the selvedge is created by shooting a shuttle loaded with the weft thread, back and forth during weaving without cutting the thread. This creates a tightly woven and durable edge, which without additional processing may be included in the finished product.
The Iconic Redline Selvedge ID
In denim, the selvedge is usually white and it often has a coloured thread in the middle, which was originally added to help manufacturers recognize the different fabrics that they were producing for different clients.
The Cone Mills White Oak factory in North Carolina started supplying fabric for the Levi’s 501 jeans in 1915. Around 1927, they incorporated a red thread in the selvedge of the “extra durable” XX-fabric. It made it easy for the mill to identify various rolls of fabric. It also had the added bonus of being recognized by the general public as a Levi’s pair of jeans; immediately associated with quality and durability.
Today, the red thread has become synonymous with selvedge fabric from any brand. A result in part to the dominance of Levi’s in the market the first half of the last century.
The Selvedge ID in History
It is still possible to find vintage jeans from that period without the red thread in the selvedge. Lee jeans originally used plain white selvedge denim yet sometimes you’ll find jeans with yellow thread in the selvedge. Wrangler used a green thread to distinguish their fabric. On most vintage Wrangler jeans the outseam is double felled (like the inseam) compared to the busted seam that will reveal the selvedge.
The Pitfalls of Popularity
Don’t be fooled into thinking that selvedge automatically means a higher quality of denim. Such is the popularity of selvedge denim, nowadays many of the highstreet brands are jumping on the bandwagon with cheap selvedge denim.
And they are getting sneaky about it. New overlocking machines (the sewing machines which run along an open fabric seem and prevent it from fraying) are now designed to simulate the iconic white and red of the selvedge line. We have personally come across this on jeans whose price tag rivaled that of higher end, respected raw selvedge denim brands. We have also seen tape which is sewn on top of open seem. Keep a vigilant eye out. If it seems to good to be true, it probably is.
Finding A Balance Between Price and Quality
In the world of raw selvedge denim there is perhaps a tipping point in regards to price. A point in which the pursuit of a great pair of jeans, from the point of view of quality, tips to the pursuit of a passion. The price tag for this tipping point is as individual as the fades on your jeans. We will say that the further you pursue it, the further the merits of the higher price tags present themselves.
Generally speaking, a pair of jeans sewn from good quality selvedge denim should start around the $100 mark. Brands like Unbranded brand and some of the Kickstarter successes such as RPMWest will get you a decent pair. Any cheaper and you are running into questionable construction and denim quality, not to mention ethics and working conditions.
For a little more money, you are into the Naked & Famous and Nudie Jean Co territory. Great denim combined with great ethical construction. Perhaps the perfect balance of price and quality.
From the $150 mark onwards you are getting into denim produced specifically for a certain brand, perhaps even for a certain jean.
The construction quality and quality of hardware used ramps up significantly as does the uniqueness of the offering. We will admit; this is where the passion kicks in.
The Perfect Pair of Selvedge Denim Jeans
Whatever your price bracket and whatever you are looking for in a pair of jeans. With a little due diligence and consideration, you will find that a pair of selvedge denim jeans will serve you better than perhaps any piece of clothing you’ve bought before.