While denims have been a clothing staple for males since the 19th century, the jeans you’re probably wearing right now are a lot different from the denims that your grandpa or even your dad wore.
Before the 1950s, most denim jeans were constructed from raw and heavyweight selvedge denim which had been made in america. However 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 standard of your average pair was reduced. Alterations in consumer expectations altered the denim landscape as well; guys wanted to get pre-washed, pre-faded, pre-broken-in, and also pre-“ripped” jeans that “looked” like they’d been worn for many years.
But in regards to a decade ago, the pendulum began to swing back again. Men started pushing back against the low-quality, cookie-cutter, pre-faded jean monopoly. They wanted a quality set of denim jeans and to break them in naturally. They wanted to pull on the kind 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 in The Outlaw Josey Wales), co-founder of Dyer and Jenkins, an L.A.-based company that’s producing raw and selvedge denim below in the usa.
To first understand raw and selvedge denim jeans, it will help to be aware what those terms even mean. What exactly is Raw Denim? – Most denim jeans you get today happen to be pre-washed to soften in the fabric, reduce shrinkage, and prevent indigo dye from rubbing off. Raw denim (sometimes called “dry denim”) jeans are simply jeans created from denim that hasn’t experienced this pre-wash process.
As the fabric hasn’t been pre-washed, selvedge denim jeans are pretty stiff whenever you put them on the first time. It requires a few weeks of regular wear to get rid of-in and loosen a pair. The indigo dye inside the fabric can rub off also. We’ll talk more about this once we go over the pros and cons of raw denim below.
Raw denim (all denim actually) comes in 2 types: sanforized or unsanforized. Sanforized denim has undergone a chemical treatment that prevents shrinkage once you wash your jeans. Most mass-produced jeans are sanforized, and many raw and selvedge denim jeans are far too. Unsanforized denim hasn’t been addressed with that shrink-preventing chemical, when one does find yourself washing or soaking your jeans, they’ll shrink by 5%-10%.
What exactly is Selvedge Denim? – To know 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 both sides that prevent fraying, raveling, or curling. As the edges emerge from the loom finished, denim produced on shuttle looms are called having a “self-edge,” hence the name “selvedge” denim.
Through the 1950s, the need for denim jeans increased dramatically. To minimize costs, denim companies began using denim created on projectile looms. Projectile looms can create wider swaths of fabric and much more fabric overall with a less expensive price than shuttle looms. However, the edge of the denim which comes out of a projectile loom isn’t finished, leaving the denim vunerable to fraying and unraveling. Josey pointed out that in contrast to what you may listen to denim-heads, denim produced on a projectile loom doesn’t necessarily equate to a poorer quality fabric. You can get a lot of quality jean brands from denim made on projectile looms.
Most jeans on the market today are made of non-selvedge denim. The pros with this happen to be the increased accessibility to affordable jeans; I recently needed a pair of jeans in a pinch while on a trip and was able to score a set of Wrangler’s at Walmart for just $14. But consumers happen to be losing out on the tradition and small quality details of classic selvedge denim without even knowing it.
Due to the “heritage movement” in menswear, selvedge denim jeans have slowly been making a comeback in the past 10 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) inside the jean industry have gotten back to their roots by selling special edition selvedge versions of the jeans.
The issue using this selvedge denim revival has become finding the selvedge fabric to create the jeans, since there are so few factories in the world using shuttle looms. For 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 some time now.
But there are some companies within the U.S. producing denim on old shuttle looms also. Probably 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 within the U.S., so their denim is 100% grown and woven in the united states.
Don’t Confuse Selvedge with Raw – A standard misconception is the fact all japanese denim are raw denim jeans and vice versa. Remember, selvedge refers to the edge on the denim and raw refers to an absence of pre-washing on the fabric. While many selvedge jeans on the market can also be made with raw denim, you can get jeans that are made from selvedge fabric but happen to be pre-washed, too. You can also find raw denim jeans that have been made in a projectile loom, and so don’t use a selvedge edge.