Raw Denim Myths – The Truth About Selvedge Denim

Raw Denim Myths - The Truth About Selvedge Denim

Raw Denim Myths – The Truth About Selvedge Denim

I overheard a conversation in a local denim shop today, and it got me worried. Two teenagers were looking at jeans a table away, one of them kept flipping up the cuffs to check the outseam. When his companion asked him why, he replied “I’m looking for selvedge…that other stuff is peasant sh-t.” Seriously.

Now, it’s no secret that raw denim is everywhere these days. From Converse to Burberry to artisanal Japanese brands, raw denim has staged such a strong comeback that it’s now a household term. (When I tell people I manage a website about “raw denim”, most of them give me a funny look but they usually know what I’m talking about.)

However, with raw denim’s sharp increase in popularity has come equally increased interest in selvedge denim. It’s pretty common knowledge that jeans made from selvedge denim are considered more desirable than those with flat-lock seams. The typical explanation for this sounds something like this:

Selvedge denim can only be woven on shuttle-looms, which are rare because they’re the same exact vintage machines that Levi’s sold to the Japanese when they upgraded to modern, high-capacity looms. The Japanese have continued the artisanal methods using these vintage looms that produce better quality (and subsequently more expensive) denim.

Sound familiar?

Raw Denim Myths - The Truth About Selvedge Denim

The above explanation is not completely false, but it’s also not entirely true. Selvedge denim can only be woven on shuttle-looms, yes. Levi’s (as well as other brands) did sell their shuttle-looms when they upgraded, yes. Japanese mills have continued using the arduous and less cost-effective shuttle-looms to produce denim of an artisanal sort, yes.

All that being said, shuttle-looms are not that rare. A number of manufacturers still produce modern shuttle-looms, many of which are being used to produce selvedge denim at lower costs than the mills which do still employ the vintage looms. A perfect example of this is the aforementioned $40 Converse Selvedge jeans versus the $2,000 hand-woven Momotaro jeans.

Raw Denim Myths - The Truth About Selvedge Denim

Photo Courtesy of TaylorTailor

Contrary to seemingly popular belief, selvedge denim does not always equate to high-quality denim, just as wide-loom denim is not necessarily synonymous with mediocrity. The adage of “You get what you pay for” still stands (Up to a point. Those $2,000 Momo’s aren’t made of unobtanium and unicorn hair…the crotch can still blow).

As for the vintage Toyoda Type-G looms from the American brands, most of them did, in fact, end up going to Japanese buyers after the Second World War. The Japanese brands continued using them largely due to the availability of spare parts in Japan, where the looms had originally been manufactured. Many Japanese mills continue to produce selvedge denim on modern looms of the shuttle variety.

Raw Denim Myths - The Truth About Selvedge Denim

The 1924 Toyoda Type-G Automatic Loom. (Photo courtesy of AutoReview)

All of this is not to say that selvedge denim is worthless or overrated, but I start to worry when I hear selvedge getting hyped up to be the ultimate in denim. I guess caveat emptor ultimately applies to everything. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get off my soapbox.

Raw Denim Myths - The Truth About Selvedge Denim

An amusing advertisement for Toyoda looms.

Sean

An enthusiast for all things denim, vintage and manly; speaker of Japanese; Rawr Denim's Managing Editor. When he's not being a grammar-nazi, he can be found finishing his degree in East-Asian Studies.

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  • A.A.

    In regards to this article I just want to ask what the difference is between the pair of APC New Standard which I own (which isn’t selvedge), and a pair of APC New Standard that is made of selvedge denim?

    • iro-ochi

      great article. i bet it was great just hearing the young people talking about selvedge denim. while it may not be entirely true that selvedge is synonymous with quality, it’s still a common perception. for me, although my current daily’s are nudies non-selvedge jeans, the selvedge edge is still a desirable design detail, especially for those summer rolled cuffs. they say perception is reality and that is probably the same case here, just the same as “made in usa” vs. “made in china” and such.

    • iro-ochi

      sorry about replying w/o answering your question but I thought all new standards had the selvedge edge, except the new cures. I could be wrong.

  • Renith

    Eddie Baur just started selling selvedge denim on their website for $100. The description says the denim is from cone mills. I bought a pair and they are amazing for the price.

  • Renith

    Gap is also selling selvage denim 1969 jeans for $89 dollars. I’m not sure where the denim is made but there’s lots of bleeding on the inside of the jeans.

  • JIM

    True!! one of my friend just bought a pair of Uniqlo selvage jeans and he really believes that pair is no different from the ones made by some crafted Japanese brand ( Flathead, Skull By Alchemist, and etc.)

  • dan

    Good title! The article is a bit short though. Do you know of any non selvedge denim that is better than medium quality selvedge fabric?

  • William

    With so many selvedge denim out there recently, I’ve wondered about this a lot. So I can use lower quality cotton and produce it on a shuttle loom to have the selvedge. But, I could also use a higher quality cotton and use modern equipment to produce it without selvedge.

    If the above statements are true, selvedge does not indicate the quality of fabric used, only that the production process used is more time consuming.

  • http://www.facebook.com/igorpelego Igor Moreira

    I think that selvedge is a great Denim Geek badge (that is if you know what you are wearing). I haven’t been able to find another accurate description for it, but that reason there is the biggest bonus to me.

  • Rogue Territory

    Great article Sean. This topic is always on my mind as a designer and denim enthusiasts. For me, the selvedge detail is great but it’s only half the story. I think that the color, weave construction, cotton used and hand (feel) are equally as important. If I come across a non-selvedge denim that I fall in love with I am left trying to answer the same question, “will my customers buy this if its non-selvedge?” I tend to believe that yes they will buy it provided the price point is right, but there in lies the rub. I’ve come across plenty of beautiful non-selvedge denim that is more expensive then some of the selvedge I use and of course there’s a reason for the difference in price. What I think is just as important when working with denim is the story and the info you can provide to your customer. If you can’t tell someone who’s looking to spend their hard earned money on raw denim why they should consider buying non-selvedge vs selvedge at the same price then I would tend to think selvedge is going to win out more times then not. I could be wrong, but as raw denim has become more mainstream it’s only natural that people want to stand out from the crowd and that turned up cuff with the finished self edge is a great way to do it. Just some thoughts from someone who has denim on his mind all day everyday. -Karl

  • Grazfather x

    Selvedge is sick, though. I have had people come out and ask me about my jeans when they spot my cuff. Hell a guy that worked at Levi’s asked to feel my 19oz jeans.

    Also… calling it peasant shit is hilarious.

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