While it may seem that denim hasn’t been around for all that long, you might be surprised to learn that denim has in fact first made its appearance at the end of the 19th century. The art of creating the material by passing a weft under at least 2 warp threads to create denim actually started in the French city of Nimes.
Its original name was “serge de Nimes”. Today it is known as selvedge denim.
Of course, the jeans you wear today are not the same as those original ones and denim and denim jeans, in particular, has come a long way since then.
Improve your denim I.Q with this short article we’ve put together for your reading pleasure.
How Selvedge Denim Is Made
This is a special type of denim which utilizes the cross yarn, also known as the weft; and runs it back and forth through the warp beams. The warp runs vertically and the weft must be continuous.
Traditionally the material was made on the shuttle loom and this is still pretty much the only way you can make it today!
The reason selvedge was so popular in the 50’s and why it is making a comeback today is the fact that it creates tightly woven edges. These may appear like a thin band that runs down the outer edges of the fabric. Because of the way this denim is made these cannot fray, curl or unravel. This makes them a tough piece of clothing and the perfect option for work wear, motorbike riding and general fashion.
In effect the denim has its own edge; not something that you can say of most fabrics.
A Little History
Unfortunately, by the middle of the 20th-century selvedge denim was disappearing from the high street. This wasn’t because the style had become unpopular. In fact, it was the high demand for denim jeans that drove the manufacturers to find more cost-effective ways of producing jeans.
This saw the end of the shuttle looms as the manufacturers started to use projectile looms. These were capable of making the denim much faster and they could also create more of it. The denim was much wider than anything a shuttle loom could create.
This drove costs down and increased the number of jeans available. It was great for consumers looking to purchase jeans at a low price; the manufacturers also benefited from decreased production costs and therefore higher profits!
However, selvedge denim tends to have a tighter weave; this makes it stronger than denim made by other means.
How To Tell If Your Jeans Are Selvedge Denim Or Not
The easiest way to check is to look at the inside of the outseam. The fabric simply ends if it selvedge, there is no need for any stitching. However, if it is any other type of denim then you’ll see a neat line of stitching to prevent the edge from fraying back in. The very edge of the material is likely to be frayed, although this is often cut back so as to be nearly invisible.
The main point is that the selvedge will not fray; it is literally “self-edge”. The selvedge edge is traditionally blue or red on a slim strip of white. Fabric suppliers today are creating many different colour combinations.
Selvedge denim is usually only 32 inches wide; this may mean that you have more joins than with alternative types of denim. Non-selvedge denim can be as wide as 64 inches!
But, thanks to the strength of selvedge denim this should not be an issue for the wear and tear of your jeans.
In fact, the merrow stitch which is used on non-selvedge denim is the weak spot; regardless of how few joins there are. If this stitch is damaged and starts to become unravelled then the jeans can fray and will quickly become useless.
Raw Denim vs selvedge, what’s the difference?
It is also important to understand that raw denim is not necessarily the same as selvedge denim. Raw denim simply means denim that has not been washed or treated before it is turned into clothes. This means you are purchasing fresh material that has not been exposed to water and it will be fairly rigid, to begin with. In fact, it can take several weeks of wear before this denim has softened enough to be really comfortable.
You may also discover that the dye can come out of these jeans when you first wear them. If you’ve ever had a pair of jeans that leave your legs blue you’re probably wearing raw denim.
This style is appreciated as over time it will fade naturally and create a unique appearance. Your jeans will literally look like no other!
Selvedge Denim Today
Because selvedge denim still needs to be produced on a shuttle loom it is a lot more expensive to produce and buy than other types. This has resulted in people purchasing lower cost products. However, quality is becoming increasingly important to consumers; resulting in a surge of interest in selvedge denim.
Again, non-selvedge jeans do not necessarily equate to poor quality jeans; that will depend on the manufacturer’s production process. But, the selvedge jean will last better as it does not fray or shred easily.
While the cost factor and the huge market demand has led to most modern jeans being made from non-selvedge denim there are still firms like One Denim creating the highest quality selvedge jeans.
Until recently these factories were concentrated in Japan as they had the majority of the old-fashioned shuttle looms. The Japanese have a reputation for creating the best selvedge fabrics on the market. However, there areseveral manufacturers in the Italy and the US who are producing their own selvedge denim. White Oak in North Carolina is perhaps the most prominent example in the US; they actually offer 100% US produced jeans. Unfortunately, they have recently closed thanks to a lack of orders.
This shows just how specialized the selvedge denim market has become and how few people really appreciate the quality in this type of jeans.
At this point, it’s a great idea to take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of these jeans.
Advantages Of Selvedge
Because the weave is tighter these types of jeans are more durable than most other pairs. Even if you wear them every day you’ll find they last.
Value For Money
They may be more expensive to purchase initially. However, because they last so much longer than other jeans they actually represent good value for money. Due to the demand for selvedge, suppliers from third world countries have also started to make selvedge fabrics. However, these are not the same quality as selvedge jeans from reputable mills in Japan, Italy, Turkey and America. When purchasing selvedge denim, try to find out which mill the fabric was sourced from.
These are the only jeans on the market that have an instantly recognisable inseam. That makes them unique; not something you’re going to get with the mass-produced pairs.
Looking After Your Selvedge Jeans
In general, you don’t need to do anything before you start wearing your selvedge jeans. The only exception to this is if you have raw unsanforized selvedge jeans which only a handful of brands still offer. These are effectively made to shrink to fit. You’ll need to pre-soak them before you start wearing them to ensure they actually fit you.
Do not wash your jeans regularly. All denim should be worn many times before washing. When the knees start to sag, then its time to give them a wash.
Raw selvedge jeans should be worn for 6 months before their first wash, otherwise, it will disrupt the natural wash process and will change the pattern of your natural fade.
However, if your jeans start to smell then you’ll have no choice; you need to wash them before wearing them again.
Putting them in the freezer does not remove the smell; even if it does kill some of the bacteria.
It is best to make sure you air them every night; minimizing smells and bacteria while you allow your jeans to become uniquely yours.
Disadvantages of Selvedge
The most obvious disadvantage is that it is more costly to produce selvedge denim than other styles. The cost of this type of jeans will always be higher than other, mass production methods. Not only is the fabric cost higher than non-selvedge fabrics, but it takes 2.5 meters of selvedge fabric versus 1.4 meters of non-selvedge to make a pair of jeans.
There is also a contradiction in prices thanks to the dramatically lower cost of labour in China and India. It means they can sell selvedge denim jeans for $50 to $200 a pair. However, the finished quality won't be as good and the working conditions for workers are usually very poor. The price for an American or Italian made pair is going to be at least $100 but could be as high as $700.
If you want to purchase the best quality selvedge jeans at the lowest price then look at direct to consumer brands that skip the traditional retail channels and their extra margins.
How To Wash Your Selvedge
Ideally, you should wait for 2 months before washing your selvedge for the first time.
When you’re ready to wash them it is a good idea to do it in the bath by hand.
You should use warm, but not hot water and just a little of your favourite detergent. Make sure that it has fully dissolved before you add your jeans; this will prevent it clumping or sticking to the denim.
The milder the washing aid the better, you are simply trying to remove body oils and sweat.
Let the jean soak for at least 45 minutes before gently scrubbing them. This should remove any surface dirt and grime. Your jeans need to be under the water and if they float use something to hold them down.
You can then rinse them in cool or cold water before air drying them. Under no circumstances should you use a tumble dryer. It is advisable to rinse them two or even three times; to make sure all the dirt is gone.
It is also advisable to wash them by themselves. If you don’t the colour of your denim will go onto your other clothes.
The above is the ideal way to wash your jeans, however, if time is of an essence then machine wash using a mild detergent, set on a cold wash. If you turn your jeans inside out before you wash them this will reduce the amount of colour that leaks out of them; helping you to create the cool look that you actually want. The dirtiest part of your jeans will be the inside; where they touch your skin.
If you need to iron your jeans you’ll need to turn them inside out again. Then turn your iron onto a high cotton setting and run it over the pocket first to test it. You can then iron each leg and the waistband before wearing them again.
Summing Up The Selvedge Denim Experience.
All jeans aren't created equal and if you’re looking for the very best denim jeans that’ll last you for a long time to come, then give One Denim a try. They are likely to be the best jeans you ever buy!