While denim jeans have been a clothing staple for men since the nineteenth century, the jeans you’re probably wearing right now are a lot distinct from the denims that your grandpa or even your dad wore.
Ahead of the 1950s, most denim jeans were constructed from raw and heavyweight selvedge denim that was made in america. But in the subsequent decades, as denim went from workwear with an everyday style staple, the way jeans were produced changed dramatically. With the implementation of cost cutting technologies as well as the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs to developing countries, the caliber of your average pair was cut down tremendously. Changes in consumer expectations altered the denim landscape as well; guys wanted to get pre-washed, pre-faded, pre-broken-in, as well as pre-“ripped” jeans that “looked” like they’d been worn for a long time.
But regarding a decade ago, the pendulum started to swing back again. Men started pushing back from the low-quality, cookie-cutter, pre-faded jean monopoly. They wanted a top quality kind of denim jeans as well as break them in naturally. They wanted to pull on the sort of American-made dungarees their grandpas wore.
To give us the scoop on raw and selvedge denim, we talked to Josey Orr (fast fact: Josey was named following the protagonist within the Outlaw Josey Wales), co-founding father of Dyer and Jenkins, an L.A.-based company that’s producing raw and selvedge denim on this site in the United States.
To first understand raw and selvedge denim jeans, it will help to know what those terms even mean. What exactly is Raw Denim? – Most denim jeans you buy today have been pre-washed to soften up the fabric, reduce shrinkage, and prevent indigo dye from rubbing off. Raw denim (sometimes called “dry denim”) jeans are merely jeans created from denim that hasn’t experienced this pre-wash process.
As the fabric hasn’t been pre-washed, selvedge denim manufacturer are pretty stiff once you stick them on the first-time. It requires a couple of weeks of regular wear to break-in and loosen a set. The indigo dye inside the fabric can rub off also. We’ll talk much more about this once we review the advantages and disadvantages of raw denim below.
Raw denim (all denim actually) comes in two types: sanforized or unsanforized. Sanforized denim has undergone a chemical treatment that prevents shrinkage after you wash your jeans. Most mass-produced jeans are sanforized, and lots of raw and selvedge denim jeans are far too. Unsanforized denim hasn’t been addressed with that shrink-preventing chemical, then when one does end up washing or soaking your jeans, they’ll shrink by 5%-10%.
What exactly is Selvedge Denim? – To understand what “selvedge” means, you must know some history on fabric production. Ahead of the 1950s, most fabrics – including denim – were made on shuttle looms. Shuttle looms produce tightly woven strips (typically one yard wide) of heavy fabric. The edges on these strips of fabric come completed tightly woven bands running down either side that prevent fraying, raveling, or curling. As the edges emerge from the loom finished, denim produced on shuttle looms are referred to as using a “self-edge,” hence the name “selvedge” denim.
Throughout the 1950s, the need for denim jeans increased dramatically. To reduce costs, denim companies began using denim created on projectile looms. Projectile looms can produce wider swaths of fabric and much more fabric overall at a less expensive price than shuttle looms. However, the advantage from the denim that comes out of a projectile loom isn’t finished, leaving the denim vunerable to fraying and unraveling. Josey pointed out that as opposed to everything you may hear from denim-heads, denim produced on a projectile loom doesn’t necessarily equate to a poorer quality fabric. You can find a lot of quality jean brands from denim made on projectile looms.
Most jeans on the market today are produced from non-selvedge denim. The benefits of the have been the improved accessibility to affordable jeans; I recently needed a set of jeans in a pinch while on a trip and was able to score a couple of Wrangler’s at Walmart for only $14. But consumers have already been missing out on the tradition and small quality specifics of classic selvedge denim without knowing it.
Due to the “heritage movement” in menswear, selvedge denim jeans have slowly been creating a comeback in the past ten years approximately. Several small, independent jeans companies have sprouted up (like Dyer and Jenkins) selling selvedge denim jeans. Even a few of the Big Boys (Levis, Lee’s) within the jean industry have gotten returning to their roots by selling special edition selvedge versions with their jeans.
The issue using this selvedge denim revival has been choosing the selvedge fabric to make the jeans, as there are so few factories in the world using shuttle looms. For quite a while, Japan held a near monopoly on the production xgfjbh 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 period now.
But there are a few companies in the U.S. producing denim on old shuttle looms too. By far the most prominent selvedge denim mill is Cone Cotton Mill’s White Oak factory in N . C .. White Oak sources the cotton for their denim from cotton grown inside the U.S., so their denim is 100% grown and woven in the united states.
Don’t Confuse Selvedge with Raw – A typical misconception is that all selvedge are raw denim jeans and the other way around. Remember, selvedge refers to the edge on the denim and raw refers to an absence of pre-washing on the fabric. Some selvedge jeans on the market can also be created using raw denim, you can find jeans that are produced from selvedge fabric but have already been pre-washed, too. You can also get raw denim jeans that have been made in a projectile loom, and thus don’t use a selvedge edge.