Denim Lovers Beware

If you’ve got a denim problem (you know who you are), stop reading now.  There’s a high in town to which you may be blissfully ignorant…

Yesterday I wandered in to a forest of fetish which I had heard tell of, but never truly understood.  The fetish is demin and the forest – one of the premier denim boutiques in the country – is Self Edge. Located in the East Village on Orchard, this mecca can also be found in LA and San Francisco.

Here’s what I learned at the store, and in my subsequent online research including tips from Supertalk, a virtual space for self-proclaimed “denim addicts”  that has more than 5,500 threads in its forum and more than 384,000 posts:

Jeans such as those carried by Self Edge are often twice as much as Diesel (average $400.) Pictured here is a jean produced from a collaboration between Self Edge and Flat Head.  Known is the  SEXFH05BK, they can be had for $335

  1. These jeans aren’t beat up and full of holes.  The emphasis is on the denim itself : deep blue, supple and much heavier than what you’ve probably worn.  Most average 14 ounces but  Denim by Iron Heart “brings their signature 21 ounce selvedge denim to a slim cut jean.”  This denim is not comfortable- it is heavy and stiff and requires real commitment to break in.   (On Iron Heart’s site, you can read, “Denim Life Stories” where believers describe how they came to a higher level of denim consciousness.)
  2. The leading brands are:  Iron Heart, Sugar Cane & Co and Imperial Denim.  Most come from Japan, but 3sixteen is a menswear line headquartered on New York City’s Lower East Side.  Another store on the Lower East Side that carries selvedge denim is Freeman’s Sporting Club which, according to GQ (November, 2009) carries jeans with “selvage from the American masters of the material: Cone Mills in North Carolina.”
  3. Before I tell you what selvedge is, I gotta tell you that guys who wear this denim don’t wash it.  They go months wearing it every day and they don’t wash it.  They are totally committed to shaping it to their body.  They don’t even hang it — they just let it sit in the pile it drops until they put it on the next day.  One blog commenter says he throws his in the freezer to kill bacteria.  Eventually they put them in a cold wash, always inside out.  Here are detailed photos of various stages of wear. My hairdresser, Joseph at Salon Harmony, drops plenty of cash on his denim (G-Star Raw is flying in a pair from their Miami store for him to try.)  While he’s not hip to selvedge and Japenese denim, he thought everyone knew “you don’t wash denim unless you have to.”  I’ve been washing and drying the crap out of my Lucky Brands ‘cuz they get too big and because they are so distressed, I thought it would make them better.  But Shannon just made me give them away to my lesbro Ryan because she said they are tired.  (He looked amazing in them introducing his new film, The Collector, Saturday night at the NYC Downtown Short Film Festival Audience Choice Screening.)
  4. Selvedge is a technical term (a perversion of the original term: self edge),  but it is also one folks use to describe this  higher class of denim.  According to “terms of endearment” from a site dedicated to premium denim called Raw Selvedge, it is “commonly used to refer to denim that has been produced on a shuttle loom. Since the amount of fabric produced from a shuttle loom is significantly narrower than a projectile (wide) loom, the cotton consumption is higher and the time required is greater. In selvage jeans, you will see the actual edge of the fabric where the weaving stops and is finished by the loom, as opposed to denim woven on a projectile loom, where the fabric has been cut off at the ends.”
  5. Quality costs. Just because a denim came from Japan doesn’t mean it is the highest level of quality.  I have $69 jeans from Uniqlo that proclaim to be Japenese denim, but they’re not in the same ballpark as the premium jeans I looked at on the Lower East Side.  Mass market jeans are usually made on one machine, while Thomas at Self-Edge told me jeans they carry are crafted on as many as ten different machines, each intended to achieve a different effect.  Attention is paid to every detail, from the cotton that goes into the denim to the weave to the machines to the artistic collaborations between companies.  Art isn’t for everyone, but this is the art of denim…and if you are interested, you should explore.

It has taken me forever to get this post up because I kept trying to wrap my arms around the topic to offer something useful but it’s just too massive.  Shannon is afraid I am going to have to try these heavy-ass jeans that I have to wear every day and never wash.  I don’t want to.  I’m telling you that right now.

Susan Herr

As a teacher, nonprofit executive, philanthropist and filmmaker, Susan is passionately committed to advancing ideas that matter. She founded dapperQ in 2009 on the hunch that fashion could build solidarity in the GLBTQ community and positive visibility for her peers in the broader media landscape. For her work with dapperQ, Susan has been quoted and featured in media outlets that include the Washington Post, Huffington Post, Daily Beast, Curve, and Diva. She was also named to Go Magazine’s 100 Women We Love. She pays the bills as managing director for Trigger Creative, a film production company based in Brooklyn where she lives with her wife Shannon.

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