When Bobby bought an expensive pair of raw selvedge jeans, I was skeptical of the stiff, crude denim but didn’t want to spoil his obvious excitement. He was quick to inform me I was never to launder this denim; it must be worn-in naturally and a wash would only dismantle the hard work he will have already put in to deteriorate them.

Selvedge   Denim    Jeans

Selvedge Denim Jeans

Over the next several months, Bobby wore them in the bathtub to soak the fibers while scrolling through his sports updates; he sweated through them during intense reps of squats and pushups to stretch and mold them to his thighs. One morning, I opened the freezer to find them next to the ice trays - freezing the bacteria removes the smell, he reassured me.

Several beer spills, food stains and one leaky laughing fit later, I decided enough was enough. I put his selvedge jeans in the washing machine and hung them up to dry. They survived.

Though they did not look any different (to me), Bobby was livid. I had lost significant levels of trust and crossed several boundaries according to our pre-marital counselor of the time.

Which lead me to ask:

What benefits do raw selvedge jeans offer?

You can imagine my confusion as this trend gained popularity since every bolt of fabric ever woven has selvedges, or "self edges", down its length on either side.

Selvedge denim, however, specifies denim fabric woven on a vintage shuttle loom common before 1942 when the modern shuttleless Sulzer loom was invented. On a shuttle loom, one continuous cross-yarn is shuttled back and forth between the vertical yarns leaving the fabric's edges tucked and clean.

Traditional Shuttle Loom

Traditional Shuttle Loom

Shuttle Loom Selvedge atop Modern Loom Selvedge

Shuttle Loom Selvedge atop Modern Loom Selvedge

These self-edges are often marked with colorful vertical threads and displayed on the outside seam of the pant leg to prove authenticity.

Red Warp Threads

Red Warp Threads

Shuttle loom fabric is only half the width of fabric woven on modern looms requiring a longer piece of selvedge denim to make one pair of jeans. Which drives the cost up.

Narrow Selvedge  Denim  atop Modern  Denim

Narrow Selvedge Denim atop Modern Denim


Raw denim, particularly unsanforized denim (sanforized: a patented non-chemical pre-shrinking process), has not been washed or finished leaving the denim stiff, dry and susceptible to higher amounts of shrinkage and indigo dye fading.

Why are these qualities desirable? Theoretically, your raw denim will fade in the places you put the most stress making them uniquely your own. And it is said the raw denim will even shrink to your individual body shape. This personalization, however, takes years of consistent wear. Thus the bathtub soaks and sweat-throughs to speed up the process.

Selvedge denim jeans are not cheap.  Shuttle looms are a rarity in today’s denim production as is the cloth these looms create. Recent rise in demand prompted an even higher price for selvedge jeans.

As far as I can tell, selvedge jeans are a throwback to a time when denim was worn for hard laborious work.

U.S. Farmer, 1920

U.S. Farmer, 1920

But for everyday jeans this ruddy denim may not be the most comfortable. The pre-shrunk, washed, soft denim of today is more practical for the guy who works in front of a computer rather than on a farm.

And for those that do work on a farm, I certainly wouldn’t recommend you spend hundreds of dollars on premium selvedge jeans only to ruin them.

Bobby and I have since moved past the laundering incident and past raw selvedge denim altogether. He now sticks to hassle-free modern jeans like the favorites I list below.


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