Over the past decade, both fashion nerds and the fashion curious were lured to style-focused sites, blogs and forums to be romanced by raw denim. It came at a time when men were thirsty for anachronism, latching onto classic workwear designs. Denim's history, archaic insider rituals and fade-it-yourself mentality — not to mention the fervent perseverance of Japanese brands reproducing vintage Levi's — drew fans to buy their first pair of expensive jeans.
While much of the denimhead's journey is in the denim itself, there's one detail that really makes the fabric even more special: selvedge. It's a detail that went from being esoteric to a full-blown trend that fashion's biggest labels capitalized on. You'll likely find it on a pricey pair of jeans, but what exactly is it? And, why is it more expensive?
The term 'selvedge' is a compound of the word 'self edge' which itself is shortened from 'self-finished edge.' This refers to the part of the fabric which is at either end of the weft yarns (the yarns which run horizontally). Here, rather than an unfinished edge which needs to be finished to prevent fraying, the fabric is woven in such a way that it is already finished.
While modern projectile looms weave the weft yarns row by row separately, vintage shuttle looms weave the weft yarns in a single continuous thread which doubles back once it reaches the edge. This is what results in the self-finished edge that hardcore denim fans lust after. But, selvedge can be found on a variety of fabrics other than just denim, including canvas, oxford cloth, poplin and more.
Many times, the weave of the selvedge is different than the main fabric. For instance, denim is typically woven as a twill fabric, which gives it its characteristic diagonal grain. The selvedge, in contrast, is often woven as a plain-weave.
What Do the Colored Yarns Mean?
As a means of identifying a particular fabric, selvedge often includes contrasting colored yarns. This is referred to as the selvedge ID and is most commonly seen as a red line between two white lines. This is why some enthusiasts refer to it as 'redline' denim. But, selvedge IDs can come in a variety of colors other than the conventional redline.
To preserve as much fabric as possible, the selvedge was historically incorporated into the outseams of jeans, running all the way from waistband down to the hem. It's only when jeans are cuffed that the selvedge detail is exposed. Jeans used to come at one long length, intended to be tailored. Not everyone would get their jeans hemmed, though. Instead, many wearers would turn the cuffs up to prevent them from dragging. The move eventually caught on as a stylistic choice, one that shows off the selvedge and continues today.
Selvedge is so sought after because it's more expensive to produce. These types of fabrics are woven on are shuttle looms, which is an older style of machine used in textile production a century ago. These looms produce fabric at a much lower speed and are now less common than faster projectile looms. Selvedge is often associated with higher-quality — brands that invest in slower selvedge production may also invest in better materials and construction — thus adding legitimizing its higher price.
The Rising Cost of Raw Denim
Raw denim's popularity brought the selvedge detail to prominence and many brands began incorporating premium denims into their collections. Selvedge became so popular in the last decade that some brands even tried to imitate the look of selvedge with faux selvedge denim offered at suspiciously low price points.
You can often expect a pair of jeans above $1750 to be made with selvedge denim. Just take a peek inside the legs and you'll know. But brands like Gap and Uniqlo have managed to squeeze out quality selvedge denim for well under that price point. Whether you're interested in selvedge for its history, function or aesthetics, it's never been easier to get into it.