Originally the denim cloth used to fashion jeans was produced on shuttle looms. These produced a tightly woven cloth by passing a continuous thread backwards and forwards. The resulting fabric was narrow and had finished edges or self-edges hence the term selvedge. This fabric was relatively costly and slow to produce as were the jeans fashioned from it.
The return of selvedge denim very much began with specialist labels producing jeans from cloths woven in Japan. The Japanese have long valued the quality and heritage of traditional denim and manufacturers there bought up the old shuttle looms in order to weave denim the old fashioned way. Most selvedge denim is currently crafted in Japan although there are mills in America, notably the White Oak Cone Mills in North Carolina which famously produce denims for Levi's, unfortunately White Oak has now closed and denim produced from that mill is now highly collectable.
Selvedge denim isn't necessarily raw denim and vice versa but most selvedge denim is also raw. Raw denim is untreated cloth which has not been washed, softened or distressed during the production process. The cloth is stiff and requires breaking in.
Exactly how stiff depends on the weight of the cloth which varies and is measured in ounces. Denim which is 18 ounces or more is characterised as heavy and is very stiff indeed. Jeans fashioned from this type of denim will almost stand up on their own and do take some getting used to. Breaking in raw denim basically involves wearing the jeans as often as possible without washing them. This process gradually softens the fabric whilst the jeans mould to the wearer and develop unique fading patterns known as whiskers, honeycombs and stacks. These unique patterns are treasured by denim junkies.
Raw denim has not been pre-washed and so the dye tends to rub off. This is great for creating those fades but perhaps less convenient otherwise as the things wearers come into contact with have a tendency to turn blue. This can include other clothing, car seats, furniture and mobile phones with white cases.
Sizing can be an issue with selvedge and raw denim. If it hasn't been treated at all then it will shrink when it is washed. This issue has been addressed via a process called sanforizing which shrinks the cloth without washing it.
It is important to know whether the jeans you are buying are sanforized or unsanforized if you want to achieve a good fit. Sanforized jeans will still shrink but to a lesser extent. Unsanforized jeans should be soaked in cold water before they are worn. It should also be noted that selvedge jeans are often sold in genuine sizes rather than the vanity sizes which are common in mainstream collections. You might need a larger size than you usually wear if you opt for selvedge or raw denim jeans.
Selvedge denim is explained in a nutshell by Naked & Famous in the video below :
At JeanStore we take pride in stocking selvedge denim from the best denim makers in the world. Follow the link below to shop our selvedge denim collection :