Vintage Levi's Selvedge Denim │ What is Selvedge Denim?

Vintage denim is popular. There’s no denying it  I’m one of the loyal believers. I love denim, love the material, color, feel, and look. I wear it almost everyday.  

It’s popular because it’s beautiful and durable. It’s a classic. And vintage denim is having its moment … for the decade. 

But vintage denim is popular not just because it’s a popular thing to like but because it’s quality. 

A pair of vintage jeans, with a book and coffee cup
Vintage Selvedge Levi's
Take any pair of vintage jeans - even acid-washed ‘80s jeans - and you’ll find quality denim that was probably made in the USA. They don't make them like this anymore. Sure, there are special lines of "heritage" quality denim made by fast fashion, but it's not a large run. It isn't as profitable as the cheap denim most clothiers (from China) make today.

Selvedge is a style of denim identifiable because of how it was made. It’s its own category because it’s well-made and is essentially a more costly way to produce denim. 

Many other folks, people certainly more qualified than me, can give an in-depth look at what selvedge denim is. But in essence, here's my short version: selvedge denim is a more costly way to produce denim but also the original way denim was made.  

But wait… there's more.

According to Gustin,  a local California jean producer and clothier whose jeans I own and love, "The term "selvedge" (sometimes spelled selvage) refers to the narrow, tightly woven band present on both edges of the famous fabric, which helps prevent unraveling and fraying."

They go on to say, "Aside from being functionally more durable, the weaving process used to produce selvedge ... gives the fabric a cleaner and more polished appearance compared to conventional denim. The edge that gives it its name is often white with a colored yarn in the middle, with red yarn specifically being referred to as the iconic "redline" selvage. This makes for a striking detail which you can show off by cuffing the legs, and you'll definitely see more colors than just red used to ID different variations and fabric runs."

They said it all right there. Because of that history and background Gustin so clearly laid out, selvedge denim is intrinsically more labor-intensive and expensive to produce, as it requires more time and attention to detail than is typically found in non-selvedge denim production.

A close up of a selvedge seam on vintage Levi's
This is the selvedge seam on a pair of my
 own vintage Levi's jeans
Levi's is the OG when it comes to selvedge denim. They were the ones who created the first denim jeans for the world, after all. 

Some say they notice a difference in selvedge versus non-selvedge. It's hard to say. I think I can tell too, but with denim, you can create a pair of modern non-selvedge jeans that look and feel like they're old. Selvedge is always quality-made denim because that’s the only way to make it.

So if denim feels quality but isn’t selvedge, you’re getting a quality pair of jeans. Quality doesn’t always mean selvedge but selvedge always means quality.

I often come across jeans while sourcing vintage made by a brand promoted by Target (yes, Target) who give vintage denim a run for its money. Other cheap brands are doing the same thing as well. They’re usually all cotton, not made with synthetics, and they have an ‘80s “thick denim” vibe to them.

But, I don't know the durability of their cotton. Thick denim doesn’t always mean quality. It may last another 100 years, or it may not. 

I have a feeling we'd be lucky to see these jeans make it another five years with washing and wearing. All I know is that vintage Levi's - even ones from the mid-1800s are still found (albeit rarely) - that are still wearable. Ones from the ‘50s and ‘60s are rare too but more common and they look and feel just like modern quality denim even being 75 years old. It’s astounding.

That says everything about the quality of selvedge denim. Especially vintage Levi’s selvedge denim.

And as a vintager (no, that's not a word, but I use it all the time and it should be a word - one who loves all things vintage) and Levi's enthusiast and purist, there's no way I'm not going to want to wear real selvedge denim from Levi's. I'm always looking for it, and have found only three pairs of selvedge Levi's in the last 14 years. 

If you find a pair, consider yourself blessed. They’re hard to find. 

I'll be sure to blog about my next pair as soon as I find it.

Thanks for listening to my selvedge talk today. It's Levi's for life, I say. Levi's for life.

And now you know what selvedge denim is. 

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