I grew up wearing jeans. When I was in high school, I would go through a pair of twenty dollar Old Navy ‘denim’ every two months. They’d be blown at the knees, and I would step on the back of the hems until they ripped off.
Which is to say that denim is a manly fabric. Denim conquered the West and became the seat of badasses like Steve McQueen and Marlon Brando. There’s even a legend that Christopher Columbus used denim sails. When I became style-conscious, my love for denim naturally grew, and for my first Bespoke Unit article I had to share my love for indigo.
Early History Of Denim
The history of denim is unclear, faded like a pair of four-year-old Momotaro jeans, but it’s commonly believed that denim traces its history back to France and something called “Serge de Nimes,” a ‘serge’ fabric from the town of Nimes. Serge de Nimes deteriorated etymologically into “denim,” and denim made its way to the states where we punched rivets into the seams and dyed it indigo. Thus denim became as American as bald eagles and apple pie.
Back in the 1800s, denim garments were constructed using a technique called Self-Edge (a term which has become the modern-day “Selvedge”) which was famous for creating clean inseam lines. These prevent the fabric from unwinding, and allow looms to make tighter and heavier fabrics. It’s important to note that denim at this time wasn’t about “fashion”; these stiff rigid pairs of trousers were made for hard working folks.
In the 1950s, denim became more fashionable than functional. To keep up with demand, most denim manufacturers replaced their old shuttle looms for projectile looms, which shot out more denim at lower quality and, of course, fake fades.
You’d think that with the popularity of denim, somebody would have invented a way to 3D print a pair of überdenim, but as is the current trend, denim nerds are reverting back to earlier traditions, namely good ol’ raw selvedge denim.
The term “raw denim” refers to denim that has not been washed before it’s sold. This keeps denim tough, and produces strong contrast fades, which arguably reveal the true beauty of denim.
Selvedge denim is typically heavier than projectile loom denim, averaging from 10 to 16oz but reaching up to 32 oz. This is part of it’s charm. After months of wearing what feels like sandpaper, a beautiful soft fabric is born.
Selvedge denim is primarily made in America and Japan. Japan is going through a denim renaissance, using shuttle looms from Toyoda – the parent brand of Toyota. The quality of Japanese denim is solid, and some folks would even advise only buying denim produced in Japanese mills. Personally, I love American-made denim. Especially the stuff that comes from the Cone Mills factory in North Carolina, which has been producing denim since 1891!
Buying Selvedge Denim
Selvedge denim can run you from $80 to over $300, and you get what you pay for. Higher-end denim will last you years when treated correctly, so consider buying selvedge denim as an investment.
Note the weight of the jeans. I live in Miami, so I chose a lighter-weight pair. Consider the construction and fit of your jeans. You can get them hemmed, but getting them tapered and tailored is a problem best not to deal with. Lastly, consider the story of your jeans. My jeans were made in a factory in San Francisco, the leather patch is from Tanner Goods in Portland, Or., and the denim was sourced from Cone Mills.
Nowadays, big companies like JCrew, Gap, and even Uniqlo are producing selvedge denim, but the best denim you can find is from dedicated denim brands.
Some Selvedge Denim Brands I Recommend
Momotaro (Japan) – The name references a Japanese legend regarding a boy born from a peach, Momotaro is one of the biggest players in the raw denim movement. Easily identifiable by the two white horizontal stripes on the back pocket.
Rogue Territory (USA) – A small manufacturer in Los Angeles, Rogue Territory has a cult following on Instagram. I especially love their inky-dark color which they produce by weaving black fabric with their indigo.
Tellason (USA) – As mentioned before, Tellason is my personal favorite pair of jeans. Tellason has a small factory in San Francisco, and are known for naming their jeans after members of The Clash. My favorite detail is a small red tab on the inside of the back pocket reading “Legal,” which pokes fun at Levi’s lawsuits to keep the iconic red tab to themselves.
Naked and Famous (Japan) – Known for being strange, Naked and Famous uses rare insane denim blends. Some of these include jeans that fade into red, glow-in-the-dark denim, and even a pair of scratch and sniff denim.