While denim jeans have been a clothing staple for guys since the 19th century, the jeans you’re probably wearing right now are a lot distinct from the denim jeans that your grandpa or even your dad wore.
Prior to the 1950s, most denim jeans were constructed from raw and selvedge denim which was made in the United States. Nevertheless in the subsequent decades, as denim went from workwear for an everyday style staple, the way jeans were produced changed dramatically. With the implementation of cost cutting technologies and the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs to developing countries, the quality of your average pair was cut down tremendously. Alterations in consumer expectations altered the denim landscape too; guys wanted to grab pre-washed, pre-faded, pre-broken-in, and even pre-“ripped” jeans that “looked” like they’d been worn for years.
But about a decade ago, the pendulum started to swing back again. Men started pushing back up against the low-quality, cookie-cutter, pre-faded jean monopoly. They wanted a quality pair of denim jeans as well as break them in naturally. They wished 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 after the protagonist in The Outlaw Josey Wales), co-founding father of Dyer and Jenkins, an L.A.-based company that’s producing raw and selvedge denim below in the United States.
To first understand raw and selvedge denim jeans, it helps to be aware what those terms even mean. Precisely what is Raw Denim? – Most denim jeans you buy today have already been pre-washed to soften in the fabric, reduce shrinkage, and stop indigo dye from rubbing off. Raw denim (sometimes called “dry denim”) jeans are just jeans produced from denim that hasn’t been through this pre-wash process.
Because the fabric hasn’t been pre-washed, raw selvedge denim are pretty stiff whenever you put them on the first time. It requires a few weeks of regular wear to break-in and loosen a set. The indigo dye in the fabric can rub off as well. We’ll talk a little more about this once we look at the advantages and disadvantages of raw denim below.
Raw denim (all denim actually) will come in two types: sanforized or unsanforized. Sanforized denim has undergone a chemical treatment that prevents shrinkage when you wash your jeans. Most mass-produced jeans are sanforized, and several raw and selvedge denim jeans are extremely. Unsanforized denim hasn’t been treated with that shrink-preventing chemical, then when you are doing find yourself washing or soaking your jeans, they’ll shrink by 5%-10%.
Precisely what is Selvedge Denim? – To understand what “selvedge” means, you must know a bit of 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 sides on these strips of fabric come completed tightly woven bands running down either side that prevent fraying, raveling, or curling. Since the edges emerge from the loom finished, denim produced on shuttle looms are called possessing a “self-edge,” hence the name “selvedge” denim.
Through the 1950s, the demand for denim jeans increased dramatically. To minimize costs, denim companies began using denim created on projectile looms. Projectile looms can produce wider swaths of fabric and much more fabric overall with a less expensive price than shuttle looms. However, the advantage in the denim that comes away from a projectile loom isn’t finished, leaving the denim vunerable to fraying and unraveling. Josey remarked that contrary to whatever you may hear from denim-heads, denim produced over a projectile loom doesn’t necessarily equate to a poorer quality fabric. You can find lots of quality jean brands from denim made on projectile looms.
Most jeans on the market today are produced from non-selvedge denim. The benefits with this have been the increased accessibility to affordable jeans; I recently needed a couple of jeans in a pinch while on a trip and was able to score a couple of Wrangler’s at Walmart for just $14. But consumers have been at a disadvantage on the tradition and small quality information on classic selvedge denim without even realizing it.
Thanks to the “heritage movement” in menswear, selvedge denim jeans have slowly been creating a comeback in the past ten years or so. 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) in the jean industry have gotten returning to their roots by selling special edition selvedge versions of their jeans.
The issue using this selvedge denim revival continues to be choosing the selvedge fabric to help make the jeans, because 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 within the United states producing denim on old shuttle looms as well. By far the most prominent selvedge denim mill is Cone Cotton Mill’s White Oak factory in North Carolina. White Oak sources the cotton for his or her denim from cotton grown inside the Usa, so their denim is 100% grown and woven in the USA.
Don’t Confuse Selvedge with Raw – A common misconception is the fact that all selvedge are raw denim jeans and vice versa. Remember, selvedge refers back 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 will find jeans that are made of selvedge fabric but have been pre-washed, too. There are also raw denim jeans which were made in a projectile loom, and so don’t use a selvedge edge.