More About Raw And Selvedge Denim

Thanks to the “heritage movement” in menswear, selvedge jeans have slowly been making a comeback during the past ten years or so. Several small, independent jeans companies have sprouted up, selling selvedge jeans. Even some of the Big Boys (Levis, Lee’s) in the jean industry have gotten back to their roots by selling special edition selvedge versions of their jeans.

The problem with this selvedge denim revival has been finding the selvedge fabric to make the jeans, because there are so few factories in the world using shuttle looms. For a while, Japan held a near monopoly on the production of selvedge denim because that’s where most of the remaining shuttle looms are. The Japanese love everything post-WWII Americana, and they’ve been sporting 1950s-inspired selvedge denim jeans for a long time now.

Japan remains the world’s top producer of high-end selvedge denim.

But there are a few companies in the U.S. producing denim on old shuttle looms as well. The most prominent selvedge denim mill is Cone Cotton Mill’s White Oak factory in North Carolina. White Oak sources the cotton for their denim from cotton grown in the U.S., so their denim is 100% grown and woven in the USA.

Don’t Confuse Selvedge with Raw

A common misconception is that all selvedge denim jeans are raw denim jeans and vice versa. Remember, selvedge refers to the edge on the denim and raw refers to a lack of pre-washing on the fabric.

While most selvedge jeans on the market are also made with raw denim, you can find jeans that are made from selvedge fabric but have been pre-washed, too. You can also find raw denim jeans that were made in a projectile loom, and thus don’t have a selvedge edge.

Make sure to keep this distinction in mind when you start shopping for selvedge or raw jeans.

The Pros and Cons of Selvedge and Raw Denim

The Pros

They’re durable. Because of the selvedge edge and the often heavy weight of raw denim, selvedge and raw jeans can hold up for a long time, even with near daily wear. A quality pair of raw/selvedge jeans, properly taken care of, can last anywhere from a few years to a decade. And if they do rip or wear out, they can always be patched up and repaired and put back into service!

Better value. While raw and selvedge jeans can have a high upfront cost, because of their durability, the long-term cost-per-use can actually make raw and selvedge denim a value buy. Instead of replacing a pair of mass-produced jeans every year, your raw and selvedge jeans will likely last you for a long time.

They’re (usually) made in the USA. If you like to shop American-made, then raw and selvedge denim is for you. While Japan is still the leader in producing quality selvedge denim, the U.S. is quickly catching up.

While most raw and selvedge jeans available in the U.S. are made domestically, there are some brands that do make theirs in third-world country sweatshops, so always check the label.

They look great. Raw denim is dark denim and dark denim is probably one of the most versatile pieces of clothing you can own. Raw jeans look much sharper than a faded pair of jeans, and not only can you wear them with a t-shirt and a pair of Converses, you can also pair them with a dress shirt and a sport coat for a night out in town.

They’re “personalizable”. While mass-produced jeans come with faux fading and distressing that is the same for every single pair, with raw denim, you create the fading and stressing based on your body type and how you actually wear them. There are different types of wear patterns that may appear in your raw denim such as honeycombs on the back of the knee or “whiskers” on your thighs. Each pair is uniquely yours.

The Cons

Upfront costs are typically very high. There are varying price levels for raw and selvedge denim, generally ranging from $150 to $300 and up. The lower-priced selvedge and raw denim jeans (like the ones you find at Gap) are usually manufactured in developing countries. However, there are a few brands that make their jeans in China and still charge $200+ for a pair.

Always keep in mind that higher prices don’t necessarily equate to higher quality. Higher priced selvedge and raw denim brands usually make their jeans from the same White Oak denim factory fabric as the more affordable brands. While the higher sticker price might reflect stylistic details that lower priced denim brands ignore, the high price of most designer jeans is often an attempt by brands to artificially create a high value in the mind of the consumer. Remember, price does not equal value!

They take a while to break in. Unlike most mass-market jeans that are oh-so-soft when you first put them on, when you initially don a pair of selvedge/raw denim jeans, they’re going to be super stiff. Depending on the weight of the fabric, it may feel like you’re wearing two plaster casts on your legs. Give it some time, wear them every day, and your jeans will soon start to soften up.

Sizing can be tricky. This is based on my personal experience. Most major jean brands use “vanity sizing” on their jeans. Which means while you may have a 34” waist, the sizing label on the pant will say 32” to make you feel better about yourself. Most selvedge jean brands don’t use vanity sizes, so you can’t use your actual size.

Indigo can rub off. Because raw denim hasn’t been pre-washed, there’s a lot of indigo dye in the fabric that can easily rub off on whatever it comes into contact with, like seat cushions, car seats, and your shoes. Hey, you’ve always wanted to leave your mark, right?

After a few weeks of wear and a washing, the indigo bleeding stops. And even if you do experience an occasional indigo rub off, removing the stain isn’t all that difficult.

More About Raw And Selvedge Denim

More About Raw And Selvedge DenimThis is how it all began….

 

 

{courtesy “The Art of Manliness”}