This article is sponsored by Vaer Watches, a brand one reviewer called “the watch equivalent of Japanese raw denim.” They’re just a great balance of design, quality, and value. Check ’em out here!
There are many myths about what selvedge denim is, but it’s simply denim woven on antique shuttle looms, unlike the projectile looms that make most of the fabric today.
In other words, it’s really old fashioned. This stuff takes ten times longer to make than mall brands and typically, though not by definition, it’s thicker, has more character and durability, and wears and fades better.
If you look around in public you’ll see at least half the guys around you wearing jeans, so, why not get the best jeans you can buy?
That’s what we’re here to do: find the best jeans for just about anyone. After dozens of videos and trips to denim brands from London to Montreal, we think we’re very well positioned to bring you the ideal overview of the selvedge denim landscape. This list covers the Americana, the post heritage Japanese, the best stretch jeans, best fitting jeans, best value (twice), and more.
The Best Selvedge Denim Jeans
We were going to post a bunch of educational content on what selvedge means, raw vs selvedge denim, and all the ways these jeans are different to your normal Levis, but we moved all that to the end of this article so we can get straight to what we’re here for. Keep scrolling for the picks and scroll even further for the FAQs.
1. Best Overall: Shockoe Atelier
- Small, family-owned business from Richmond, Virginia
- Free lifetime repairs on jeans
- Sources from world renowned mills like Vidalia Mills (USA), Collect Mills (Japan), Candiani (Italy)
- Great value, with many pairs under $250
My favorite brand for selvedge jeans is Shockoe Atelier, and here’s why.
Unlike some big conglomerates in this space, Shockoe Atelier is a small, family-run business in Richmond, Virginia.
Anthony Lupesco founded it with a deep commitment to the notion of jeans as your daily companion, sharing your adventures and expressing the way you’ve worn them.
To that end, he wants them to last as long as possible, offering free lifetime repairs on all his jeans — a significant value add for customers.
Because of that warranty, it makes business sense to craft them as sturdily as possible so you won’t need to send them back. So there are many touches that make them unusually durable: riveted pockets to keep them from pulling away, tough pocket lining to keep keys from poking through, leather backed rivets to make them easier to repair when they need to, and more that we outline in our complete Shockoe Atelier review.
Yet for such a small operation, Shockoe Atelier has an impressive range of fits, fabrics, and apparel, including seasonal offerings like linen selvedge and ripstop fatigues. They’ve clearly done their homework when sourcing, making jeans from world renowned mills like Vidalia in the United States, Collect Mills in Japan, and Candiani in Italy, a rap sheet even the most discerning denimhead will approve of.
Their Japanese Kojima denim is the flagship product, and we break down a years-old pair in the video above. Kojima is comfortable and classic while having enough character and irregularities to please longtime and newcomer fans of selvedge alike.
Finally (and above all for a lot of guys), their pricing is very fair for the quality they offer. Given everything I’ve said, seasoned shoppers would assume their jeans cost well over $300, but their Kojimas are currently $275 and many of their models, including the black and gray selvedge, are under $250. This exceptional value is what really elevated them to the number one spot, taking them from great to fantastic.
Plus, after falling for Shockoe, I convinced them to get you a discount code for 10% off. Enter “STRIDEWISE” at checkout!
Best Japanese Denim: Tanuki
- Japanese brand with a modern streetwear, “post heritage” approach
- Experiments with fabric dyes like black bean, saffron, turmeric, and sumi ink
- Limited-edition products and fabrics
- Collaborations with brands like Oni
If you’re willing to spend a bit more, but not bonkers prices, these completely Japan-woven-cut-and-sewn jeans mostly fall in the $300 to $350 range. Tanuki is a distinctly Japanese brand that has earned a devoted following on Reddit and other raw denim forums for its innovative yet subtly executed fabric experimentation.
Just about everything they offer is limited edition, so it’s hard to say exactly what you’ll find on offer when you visit their store — but we can guarantee it’ll be cool. Fabrics have included denim dyed with saffron and turmeric (producing more golden fades), black beans for a rich and steely blue, traditional sumi for inky blacks, and agonizingly hand dipped aizome on an awe-inspiring $660 pair we tried.
Unlike some companies that painstakingly recreate vintage fabrics and fits, Tanuki adopts a more modern, streetwear-inspired approach to their brand, comfortably experimenting with unique dyeing techniques without going over the topwith comically eye-catching jeans. It’s a balance that sits just right with guys looking for unique but not cartoonish apparel. (Hey, we love cartoony jeans too, we just think Tanuki will appeal to more guys.)
Additionally, they frequently collaborate with the secretive Oni Denim Co — I’ve got 21.5-ounce Secret Denim jeans from them that keep me toasty warm in New York winters.
On top of their simply wonderful approach to making clothes, a significant advantage they have in the market is that a native English speaker (Markus) handles their marketing and Instagram. This makes getting information, making inquiries, and buying online easier than most Japanese brands, as they are more digitally accessible than many competitors (many of whom don’t even have websites).
A lack of transparency and communication is one of the most frustrating things about selvedge denim, and it’s not a problem with Tanuki. For this, and their excellent products, they deserve the podium.
Widest Variety: Naked & Famous
- Wide variety of innovative denim fabrics
- Famous for extreme fabric choices like glow-in-the-dark, scratch-and-sniff, and 32-ounce jeans
- Good price-to-quality ratio due to Japan-Canada trade relations
- Inventive, limited offerings every season
One of the largest and most beloved brands in selvedge, Naked & Famous have dozens of jeans on offer from daily drivers to fabrics made with milk, elastane, rainbow wefts, scratch-n-sniff, and more.
We’ve covered classic Americana-style selvedge and more modern, expertly dyed Japanese selvedge from Japan. Up next, we couldn’t write this list without one of the biggest and probably the most beloved selvedge brand: Naked & Famous.
They have a store here in New York where I’ve done a million videos and I’ve even visited their headquarters in Montreal. That Canadian connection is important, because Japan and Canada have a favorable trading relationship that lowers tariffs and makes these Japan-woven, Canada-made denim pretty well-priced.
Their basic raw denim is called Left Hand Twill, but they’re willing to create just about anything. Tanuki may have skill and subtlety in their fabrics, but Naked & Famous’s CEO is nicknamed The Willy Wonka of Denim for good reason.
This is a company that loves the superlative. Over the years, I’ve seen jeans that are glow-in-the-dark, scratch-and-sniff, made with possum hair, with milk, and even ones that fade to rainbow colors. They’re particularly famous for their 32-ounce denim, about three times thicker than you’d find in mall brands, and I’ve even handled a prototype of their 40-ounce jeans. (The loom struggled hard to make it, so no one is sure if it will ever come to market.)
Regardless, they offer good prices, many conversation-starting fabrics, and every season sees an array of fun limited editions. As an example, I recently enjoyed their 9-ounce Blue Bird Selvedge on a steamy trip to Sri Lanka, because it was a lighter weight than any other pair I could find. Or I could have worn glow-in-the-dark jeans. My point is they go in all directions, so there’s something for everyone.
While they often have just three fits, some fabrics come in up to six, and Naked & Famous has become very widespread because their jeans are accessible, cool, and wearable. What else would you want from jeans?
Toughest Jeans: Iron Heart Denim
- Smooth, consistent selvedge denim (that’s slow to fade)
- 5 available fits
- Famous for their heavy 25-ounce denim
- Ideal for pairing with character-rich shirts or jackets
In the world of selvedge denim, you typically have two camps (though there’s plenty of crossover). In one camp, you have the guys who love knotty, slubby, neppy, hairy fabrics like you’ll find at Naked & Famous and Tanuki.
The other camp just wants classic looking denim that’s as high quality as possible. These guys always wind up at Iron Heart.
Iron Heart jeans are very smooth, consistent, and uniform in appearance, selling some of the most flawlessly perfect selvedge you’ll find. They’ve rightfully earned a devoted cult following for their very smooth and, therefore, very comfortable fabrics.
This uniformity is a feat unto itself when you consider that the irregularity in fabrics so many denimheads love stems from the fact they’re made on chattering antique shuttle looms that are known for all the imperfections they produce. While some might think this uniformity could lead to boring fades, Troy’s pairs clearly show that your jeans will look beautifully well-loved as time goes on.
Iron Heart jeans are expertly dense, uniformly stitched, and have the kind of attention to detail and under-the-radar simplicity that appeals to denimheads worldwide. (And that simplicity also makes them ideal for matching with more textured or patterned tops.)
Best Stretch Denim: Hiroshi Kato
- Fabric from Japan, made in Los Angeles
- 4% polyurethane for stretchiness
- Some voodoo magic keeps them from losing shape like some stretch denim
- Weight ranges from 10.5 to 17 ounces
- 4 fit options: Slim, skinny, straight, and tapered
The best stretch denim jeans, according to a broad consensus, is Hiroshi Kato. They make their industry leading stretch jeans from denim woven on shuttle looms in Japan that’s then cut and sewn in Los Angeles.
It’s true that some enthusiasts consider stretch jeans heresy due to their love of the vintage element of selvedge. Many buy it because it’s the way jeans used to be made before projectile looms and mass production — a time when there were no polyurethane pants.
However, while I’ve yet to find a stretch denim that breathes as well as cotton, I can’t deny its superior comfort for travel, watching a movie, or… maybe anything.
That’s why most (though not all) brands include some stretch denim in their product lines. Despite the misgivings of traditionalists, stretch can still be woven on shuttle looms and still fade nicely.
While they have some 100% cotton jeans, Kato is a stretch selvedge brand, and there’s good reason for their success in the niche.
Their magic numbers are 96% cotton, 4% polyurethane. That’s more than the typical 2% elastane found in popular stretchy trousers like Flint and Tinder’s 365 pants or Taylor Stitch’s Boss Duck. It’s remarkably stretchy, they feel like sweatpants, yet they somehow manages to keep its shape with wear. (That’s rare; Flint and Tinder’s stretch right out.) I spent all summer in my 10.5oz pair to make sure I could include them in this list.
Their range includes weights from 10.5oz for warmer months to 17oz for colder weather. While no stretch denim I’ve found breathes quite as well as cotton, I’ve loved how the weight of their very lightweight 10.5oz balances that out. And when it’s cold and you’re wearing heavier pants, breathability doesn’t really come to mind.
Kato offers four fits: slim (“Pen”), skinny (“Needle”), straight (“Hammer”), and tapered (“Scissor”). Most of them lean slim, and I’m waiting for them to release a dedicated relax tapered fit, because I have unusually large thighs. But I squat a lot and have a weird body — most guys will be able to find what they want with those standard four cuts.
While they used to be very pricy, these days most of Kato’s jeans are under $250, which is very reasonable for the product you’re getting.
Best Fits: Nudie Jeans
- Made in Scandinavia with Japanese cotton
- Only uses organic cotton
- 9 fits available
- Very transparent supply chain
I just touched on how finding the right fit can sometimes be difficult; everyone’s body is different.
And while Iron Heart does have a great reputation for how their jeans fit, Scandinavia’s Nudie Jeans offers a whopping nine fits to choose from. So if you’re particular about getting the perfect fit, they’re a great place to look. (Athletic guys, go with the Steady Eddie II.)
Another cool aspect of Nudie is its serious commitment to sustainability. They use only organic cotton — actually meaningful for your carbon footprint, it’s not just greenwashing — and they partner with the Fair Wear Foundation (FWF). The FWF conducts regular audits of the raw materials used by their supply chain and if you go to any jean’s product page (under “Product Transparency”) you can click the drop downs and see where every single component comes from and where every single part of the process takes place, cotton farm to dyeing facility to who transports them to the warehouse.
Most of their jeans are non-selvedge (fine if that’s what you’re after!) but they have a good array of the shuttle loom stuff that’s mostly under $300. Nudie may be the largest brand in the space (a turn off to some guys with a traditionalist bent), but they do a lot right and deserve the success.
Best Budget Selvedge: Brave Star
- Made in America, with some Japanese selvedge options available
- Great value; mostly under $250
- 6 fits available
- More traditional fabrics
If saving cash is your biggest priority, there’s a lot to love about Brave Star. They’re made in America, the denim is all from the United States or Japan, and almost every pair is under $150, with some 25oz options for under $200.
Why do they cost so little? It’s true they don’t spend much on marketing, but the consensus is that the fits and fabrics aren’t super consistent between pairs, and the denim isn’t all that exciting or interesting if you’re keen for those super Japanese irregularities.
But many people love this brand, not many people are make-or-break on a fabric’s bumpiness, and there’s no doubt the price makes any potential shortcomings worth it. Check out the video above to see how my 21oz pair faded after a few months and decide for yourself!
Runner Up for Best Budget: Unbranded
- Made in Macau
- 5 fits available
- Includes offerings with more character (eg “18oz Neppy Raw”) than Brave Star
- Quietly a sub-brand of Naked & Famous
When talking about the best value selvedge, there are guys who like the American-made angle of Brave Star and don’t mind that the quality control is a bit of a roll of the dice, and then there are guys who insist the best value is Unbranded. So we included both of them.
You can get similar prices from both brands, and Unbranded has its own asterisks: they’re made in Macau, so you lose the USA-made and Japanese-made cachet of Brave Star. But you get some stuff in return: as a sub-brand of Naked & Famous, the quality control is better from pair to pair, and although they emphasize simple fabrics they do have a few more Japanese style denims than Brave Star, like the Neppy Raw and the Slub Selvedge — both 18 ounces, both under $150. They sell some solid jackets we’ve reviewed too.
Which one a bargain hunting denimhead will prefer is anyone’s guess, we’re just here to give you solid options to choose from!
What Is Selvedge Denim?
- Selvedge denim is woven on shuttle looms
- Signified by a colored selvedge ID running along the edge
- Creates a wider range of fabric textures
- Often thicker and has more (desirable) imperfections
Traditionally (like pre-1950s), denim was woven on shuttle looms that weaved the fabric in a way that made tidy self-finished edges we know call selvedge — from self-edge, from “self-finished edges.”
You can spot them from the selvedge ID: different mills and brands use different colored threads woven along the self-finished edge. This ID is the most visible marker of selvedge jeans that you see when you cuff your jeans.
Modern projectile looms make denim 10 times faster (so it’s much cheaper), and the ends of this fabric are frayed and loose, without that ID.
So, shuttle looms weave at a slower pace, put less tension on the yarn, and tolerate (or produce) more variations in the yarn, which many people prefer for the character it adds to the fabric. The most common examples you’ll hear about are slub, unevenness in the fibers that appear like streaks in the fabric, and nep, small knots of tangled fibers protruding from the surface that can make jeans look like they’ve been in a snow flurry. (Though nep can also start out indigo, it’ll usually fade to make snowy jeans.)
These are “flaws” that projectile looms help to eliminate, but in the same way I love the flaws in the beanie my sister knit me, many denim guys love the way those imperfections make their jeans unique and old fashioned. Plus they make for more unusual fades.
That’s “all” selvedge is: denim made on shuttle looms. It’s not by definition thicker or knottier, but it tends to be, because that’s what the market tends to like. Even though, as mentioned, there are plenty of great selvedge brands that do very uniform denim, Iron Heart being the most notable example. And in instances like that, it’s the brands’ ability to make such uniform denim on chattering old looms that are prone to making imperfections that they find so respectable.
So selvedge is not inherently stronger or thicker than other denim, it just means it was made using traditional techniques on expensive, hard-to-maintain looms that make smaller amounts of fabric. But again: usually it winds up being thicker and stronger anyway.
Raw Denim Jeans vs. Selvedge Denim Jeans
Buying high-quality denim can be intimidating for a lot of people, we get it. If you’re new to the scene, you might think the words raw and selvedge are used interchangeably.
But as we’ve said, selvedge refers to how it’s woven. Raw denim means that the fabric hasn’t been pre washed. Think of raw as the state of the fabric right after it leaves the loom. Selvedge and non selvedge denim both start off as raw.
Most jeans we buy aren’t raw. They’re washed to remove the extra dye that can rub off and to prevent excessive shrinkage. Raw denim is pretty stiff, as you’ll notice during the first wear.
There’s a difference between raw and sanforized denim, which is a particular way of treating jeans to remove shrinkage, but we don’t want to get too into the weeds here, especially since many brands use ‘raw’ and ‘unsanforized’ interchangeably. Just know that if it’s unsanforized, they’ll definitely shrink a good size or two when you wash them. If they’re raw, they probably won’t shrink quite as much.
Don’t worry too much, just be sure to read a jean’s product description in its entirety, where every brand addresses shrinkage and stretch — no one wants to deal with returns, so brands are pretty good at telling you how to handle sizing and whether the fit will change dramatically.
Selvedge Basics: A Jargon Glossary
There are entire subcultures based around denim that go way more into detail than we need to here, but there are a few basics to help you better understand the benefits of getting a nice pair of jeans.
Fabric Weight (What Does ‘Ounces’ Mean With Jeans?)
You’ll read a lot about denim weight in this article. Weight doesn’t refer to how heavy a pair of jeans are, it refers to the weight of one square yard of fabric. Naturally, lighter weight fabric is more breathable and comfortable in warmer weather, the heavier stuff gives a nice, protected, swaddled feeling in cooler weather. (Some like that armored feeling in summer too.)
Most jeans on Earth are 11 or 12 ounces per square yard. Some brands, like Naked & Famous, come out with summer weight jeans under 10 ounces, but a lot of guys gravitate to selvedge because of how different and sturdy the thicker ones feel. The best known is probably Iron Heart’s 25oz line, though Naked & Famous have a mythical 32oz pair. (It’s not often sold because it really strains the looms — and the knees of whoever breaks them in.)
In the same way many guys prefer their boots once the leather has aged and the color has loosened up, denimheads consider their fades a badge of honor, a market of their commitment and love for this pair, a sign these pants truly are their well loved daily companions.
You’ll notice not a lot of selvedge brands sell pre-faded jeans like you see at the mall. Selvedge fans like to start with raw, crisp, dark indigo and wear them hard so that the fades belong to them and reflect the journey they’ve had with them. There are countless forums and even competitions, like the Indigo Invitational, designed to get the best fades possible.
It’s a complicated topic, but the short version is: more infrequent washing makes higher contrast fades, while regular washing makes them a bit more uniform. For more tips, check out the video above or its companion article: How to Fade Your Jeans.
Details like tucked belt loops, a cool leather patch, flies with self finished edges, and copper rivets at stress points add character and uniqueness to jeans. More expensive jeans (Iron Heart again) may have hidden rivets. In fact, riveted stress points are the defining factor that made Levi Strauss able to patent — nay, create — the first pair of jeans: it’s debatably what makes them jeans and not pants.
I hope this helps you find a pair of jeans that you love. That’s what all this is about. They’re the most common kind of casual pants, and, like highend boots, they’re so durable that they eventually reflect the way you wear them and become more of a companion on your journey than a simple item in your wardrobe.
I’m a big proponent of buying fewer, higher quality items, and after wearing quality selvedge denim for a while, big box brands will feel more like tissue than jeans.
When we own something for a long time, we develop a relationship with it. This list, I know, will help you find jeans that will last as long as possible and be worthy of the closeness you’ll feel with them. On your legs, and in your heart.
Yes, that last line is corny as all hell. I only briefly hesitated before writing it.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is raw denim?
Raw denim jeans are made with denim that hasn't been washed to remove extra dye and soften the fabric. Raw denim jeans get higher contrast fades.
Does Levi Strauss make selvedge jeans?
Levi's has a Selvedge Denim line.
Will selvedge denim jeans shrink after the first wash?
Instead of checking for the term selvedge, check if they're sanforized. Unsanforized jeans haven't been washed, and they'll shrink a size or two on the first wash. Whether or not they're sanforized, 100 percent cotton jeans will stretch and shrink about a size based on the last tie you washed them.
What are the most popular selvedge denim brands?
Nudie Jeans and Naked and Famous are the most popular brands in the selvedge space.
Is selvedge denim better?
Selvedge jeans tend to be thicker and more durable than mall brand jeans. If you're priority durability, look for pairs described as 14 ounces and up. This means the fabric is thicker than regular jeans.
What is the difference between selvage and denim?
Selvedge is a kind of denim. that has been woven on old fashioned shuttle looms. It takes ten times longer to make and is usually thicker than most jeans, which are made on projectile looms.
Why is selvedge denim so expensive?
Selvedge denim is expensive because it's made using old-fashioned looms that make fabric ten times more slowly than regular jeans. Selvedge brands often use other techniques that increase the price, like increasing the denim thickness and using unusual dyeing methods.