Selvedge denim is denim woven using old-fashioned denim-weaving techniques; preferably on old looms. Selvedge looms were popular in denim weaving until the mid-to-late 1900’s. As demand for denim grew world-wide and in the United States, mills began modernizing their machinery to speed production. For these mills, that were focused more and more on increasing output, the use of old selvedge looms became unwanted, making the looms obsolete due to their slower and less consistent production.
However, today, selvedge denim has become more desirable than non-selvedge for two reasons: the nuance of the denim weaving technique itself and the commitment to quality from the mills producing selvedge denim. Japanese mills are the unquestionable leaders in selvedge denim production, nowadays. There is even speculation floating in the denim world that, when American denim mills were modernizing in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, the Japanese, characterized by an unbridled enthusiasm for the American denim culture, bought these old selvedge denim looms and shipped them to Japan. Decades later, they have become the world’s most renowned denim artisans.
Selvedge is often characterized by having a tighter, denser weave than non-selvedge. The higher density gives the denim a sturdier hand. The use of the older selvedge loom technology also creates variations on the denim surface (due to inconsistencies in the weaving process) compared to denim woven on modern looms. These variations make the denim visually unique and highly desirable.
Denim mills that have committed to the production of selvedge denim understand and value the nuance and history of denim. With their advanced knowledge comes a desire, as well as a self-imposed responsibility to make a superior product. For these mills, yarn quality, dyeing techniques, quality control, design and innovation take heightened priority as compared to mills focused on commodity, high-volume production. The result is an undeniable increase of the overall quality of selvedge denim.
The word selvedge comes from “self-edge.” The edge of the denim has a clean finish; it will not unravel and is actually used as the outseam of the garment. A pair of jeans made from selvedge denim can easily be identified simply by looking at the inside of the outseam.
There are variant spellings of the term: selvedge or selvage. Both are grammatically correct. The brand prefers using the former in its product titles and description, because of its direct reference to the root word “edge.”
As the above photograph reveals, the selvedge denim has the white edge with blue thread. This is the “self-edge” of the denim. A non-selvedge jean will need a merrow stitch on this edge to keep the denim from unraveling.
The above picture illustrates the method of laying a jean pattern onto selvedge denim before it is cut. This clarifies the use of “self-edge.” As exhibited in the first photograph of this article, selvedge denim is narrower than non-selvedge, allowing the “self-edges” to be used fully while minimizing the waste of fabric between the jean parts.
Selvedge denim is not to be confused with raw denim. Raw denim is stiff, unwashed denim. All denim, selvedge or non-selvedge, is raw when it comes out of the loom. Once it is washed, it is no longer raw.
There may be many questions concerning the differences between selvedge and non-selvedge denim. One is not superior to the other in terms of quality and longevity. Moreover, the cotton and the dyeing process used for selvedge are not necessarily any different from those used for non-selvedge. In question of comfort, non-selvedge may offer somewhat more flexibility in fabric. However, selvedge is undeniably more desirable and attractive, and the Todd Shelton brand recommends highly and truly the purchase of selvedge denim.