Denim is one of the most versatile fabrics ever invented. Originally used mainly for tent-making, denim eventually found use as a sturdy clothing material that was easy to clean, stylish, and, most importantly, durable. It was the optimal choice for the working man on the job, but the past hundred years have seen an explosion in the use of denim as a bold fashion statement, proudly worn by everyone from A-list celebrities to the kids at the local club. There are many styles and variations on denim, some created for sex appeal, some for more practical applications, but one of the most versatile and desirable forms of denim has to be selvedge.
If you're thinking of taking your denim wardrobe to a whole new level, here are a few things to consider that are sure to put selvedge denim on the top of your list.
"Selvedge" is a cute little contraction of the term "self-edge" or "self-finished edge". Most standard jeans do not possess a self-finished edge, and thus are more prone to fraying and unraveling. Some denim fans consider this wear and tear to be attractive on their jeans, but modern fashion is moving away from this apathetic stance and it looks like this kind of "grunge chic" may be past its day.
Basically, selvedge jeans are a bit more expensive, a lot more durable, and extremely desirable to the denim connoisseur. They won't dissolve into a tangle of fibers. The guarantee is right there in the name.
The Manufacturing Process
Selvedge jeans have become scarce in the past fifty years thanks to the decline in the shuttle loom as a manufacturing tool. Shuttle looms were common before the 1950s but they fell out of style with the increased demand for cheaper (and lower quality) denim. Shuttle looms aren't the fastest tools for denim-making, but the jeans they churn out are beyond compare. And with the increased demand for retro fashion, it looks like shuttle looms are making a comeback in a big way.
Since the rise of the cheap, mass-produced blue jean in America in the 1950s, the main producer of selvedge denim has been Japan. Many Japanese factories still possess shuttle looms, some of which are decades old and still in wonderful condition. If you bought a pair of selvedge jeans in past ten years, it's a safe bet they were made in Japan.
But once again, selvedge denim is becoming big business in the United States for the first time in a while. It looks like there may be some competition for the selvedge market brewing in the good old U.S.A.
Selvedge denim has existed since the 19th century. We've got James Dean to thank for transforming common work wear into a symbol of rebellion and sex appeal. The actor famously sported a pair of ragged jeans in "Rebel Without a Cause", creating a definitive moment in fashion history that still influences us to this day. It was American icons like Dean and Clint Eastwood who kept interest in selvedge denim alive in Japan. Japanese consumers couldn't get enough of the sexy, exotic blue garment, and today selvedge is making its way back over to the West after fifty years existing as an export from the Land of the Rising Sun.
In addition to being a sexy and exclusive choice that bespeaks real denim expertise, selvedge denim is nigh indestructible. The hem of the fabric is woven or knit after it comes out of the loom, creating a much more durable edge. Also, selvedge denim usually has a more dense weave overall, meaning the fabric is extra resistant to tearing and can provide more protection from the elements.
Grab a pair of selvedge jeans at your next opportunity and see if you can't tell the difference. You won't regret it. You can start by checking out all of Cult's selvedge denim styles here