Selvedge 101: Learning the Lingo

Selvedge 101: Learning the Lingo

My first experience with selvedge denim was just a the simple google searching of a fed-up Levis shopper looking for real American-made denim. I’ve always worn raw (unwashed) denim because I liked the darker denim, but at the time I didn’t know the look I liked was actually selvedge. I just knew I hated when the ass of my jeans washed out after six months like someone had been taking sandpaper to my hind parts.

I wish I could say that falling in love with selvedge denim was an all-at-once, totally euphoric experience, like what seems to happen for all the denim-heads out west. But my first thought were, in this order, “Holy shit, how does anyone afford this?” and, “I’m not paying $250 just for the branding.” When guys come into the shop and have the same reaction, I’m never offended because I get it - the sticker shock will get to you when we’re conditioned to think of value as more stuff for less money.

That initial search led me to Williamsburg. It was still inexpensive, compared to everything else I’d found, but still better quality than the Levis’ that guys grow up with. With the first batch, I ordered a pair for myself as I usually do with new products, because I like to have a personal testimony for the brands I carry in the shop. I wore that pair every day - and I mean literally every single day - for almost seven months. That would send any department store denim to the trashcan, but this pair had just started to break in. It was a hell of an education and I was sold.

Here’s some of what I learned those first seven months:

Selvedge: Also known as selvage. When denim was first rolling out, jeans were made in very small batches (most selvedge still is), and there was always a finished edge that held the denim twill together - it’s the stitching you see on the seam when you cuff a pair of jeans. That’s where the name comes from.

Weight: This is the first thing guys notice about selvedge - it’s heavy and stiff. Denim weight is measured by square yard of fabric. Most department store denim is under 10 oz. Lightweight selvedge denim is anything below 12 oz. and heavyweight denim is between 12 oz. - 16 oz.  Anything over 17 oz. is probably going to stand up by itself. The heavier the weight of your denim, the more durable the denim and the better the fading will be.

Fade: Fade shows how you wear the denim. Exactly how you wear it, how often you wear it, and what you do when you wear it. How much you love a pair of denim is obvious by the fading. The fade is where the denim is lightened in certain areas. There’s different names for fading on different areas of the denim

Honeycombs: The fading on the back of the knee
Whiskers: The fading that fans out from the crotch of the denim onto the inner
thighs
Stacking: fades around the ankles caused by the denim bunching up
Example of Selvedge Denim Honeycombing Fade
Example of Selvedge Denim Whisker Fade

Example of Selvedge Denim Stacking FadeWarp and Weft: Denim is woven by crossing horizontal stitches (the warp) over vertical stitches (the weft). The more stitches you cross over the denim, the stronger it gets. Typical denim has a 2 to 1 warp to weft weave - so for every vertical stitch, there’s two horizontal stitches crossing it. I’ve never seen a pair of selvedge with less than a 3 to 1 weave. On some denim, you’ll notice that the inside of the jeans is a vastly different color or shade than the outside. That’s because the yarn that makes up warp is usually dyed indigo, while the weft is left natural.

Manufacturing: There are two major manufactures of selvedge that we currently carry. The first is Cone Mills in North Carolina, and the other is Nihon Menpu in Japan.

We’ve got eight brands of denim in the shop right now, and they’ve each got their own weight and fit. Even a few that are exclusive to our shop. If there’s anything you’d like to know, we’d love to tell you and set you up with your first pair of selvedge.

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