Know Your Terms: Selvage Denim

Because dropping the lingo is half the fun of dressing well.

Colored selvage stripes allow mills to differentiate between different types of denim. Red is the most common color choice.

The term selvage (or selvedge, for the Brits) comes from the phrase “self-edge,” and refers to the self-finished edges formed when the cross-thread (or weft) loops back into the lateral thread (or warp) on each side of a bolt of fabric. It can appear on any type of cloth, but you’re most likely to encounter it when you pull on a pair of jeans.

And when it comes to denim specifically, it means that the fabric was woven on an old-style shuttle loom that weaves the denim with a continuous weft. Unlike modern projectile looms with multiple wefts—the kind that most jeans manufacturers started using around the 1950’s to keep up with demand—shuttle looms yield a narrow bolt of fabric (typically around 30”). Narrower bolts mean a longer piece of fabric is needed to make a pair of jeans. Couple that with the relative scarcity of functional shuttle looms, and you’ve got a more expensive final product.

Nevertheless, diehards swear by it. Why? For one, the use of a continuous weft tends to create denim with more irregularities and a greater depth of character. Also, making selvage denim is time consuming, and it requires specialized equipment. Simply put: It’s a chore. If a mill is willing to put in the time to weave it, and a company is willing to put in the expense to produce jeans from it, it’s often (though by no means always) an indicator of a higher quality product.

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  1. Curt says:

    …I still don’t get it. Which part of the picture shows the selvage? Is it the part with the yellow thread? Next time could you show a picture of modern style versus the selvage so I can know that difference? Thanks!

  2. Jonathan Evans says:

    Hey Curt,

    The selvage is the red and white stripe at the edge of the denim in the shot above.

    Hope that helps.

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