Jeans are supposed to be comfortable. And yet for months—even a year or so—raw, selvage denim is decidedly not. Meaning men (us included) go out and essentially buy a self-imposed war of attrition to encase their legs and groins. Why? We posed the question to Scott Morrison, an early pioneer of modern selvage denim and the proprietor of the great ready-to-wear and bespoke selvage emporium 3x1, to defend not just the physical value of selvage, but the metaphysical as well.
ESQ: What about your world view and the way you see things leads you to believing that selvage denim is better than any other sort of denim?
Scott Morrison: Let's go back in time. In the late 1800s through the 1950s, the only way to produce denim itself was on a shuttle loom. The modern-day projectile loom, rapier loom, air-jet loom technology—all of that yarn-spinning and weaving technology—really hadn't been created in the way that we know it today. That happened in the fifties and sixties, when jeans became really popular and manufacturers tried to focus on manufacturing efficiency and getting costs down. The quality to some degree lessened as a result of that. But a shuttle loom is a lot more unforgiving. It takes a lot longer, and it produces almost half the quantity. And that's what selvage denim is made on. So when I think about selvage denim, I think about: one, it's the way denim was made 120 years ago; and two, it requires the best quality cotton to produce.
Do you apply that thinking to all of your purchases, though? With cars or whatever else?
You know, candidly, I love technology. [Laughs] I'm sitting here and charging my iPad Pro and my iPhone 6. I have not thrown out my computer and I do not only use a typewriter. But there are very few things in our life that we can say that the best way to make them is the same way people did 120 years ago. I've got a pair of V2 jeans that I've been wearing since 2000. My wife would probably point out that it's not the most flattering fit on me. But it's still a great pair of jeans that's fully stood the test of time. I can probably wear them for another ten or fifteen years.
But is there a way people can know the cotton might not last as long, just by going into a store?
Typically, you get what you pay for. Yes, there are a lot of very expensive jeans that probably aren't using the best quality process or cotton or construction and weaving. But it's very difficult to make a cheap selvedge product. It's less expensive to make wide-width fabrics—using really small, compact yarns that are kind of bottom of the barrel, so to speak—to make super-stretch denim or high-recovery yarns, which typically aren't made on a shuttle loom.
Is there something beyond price point that people can look to, though?
The side seam. Selvage fabrics create a "self edge": it's a clean, finished edge on either side of the fabric. You can't do it with a rapier loom or an air-jet loom or any of the more modern-day weaving instruments. That's the first thing I look for, personally. Then, it's the overall construction: Do those stitches seem broken? Does the wash or treatment look like some kind of bad bleach job or like it was spray-painted on? But I think if it looks cheap and is cheap, it's probably not really great quality.
It can be that simple.
Yeah. If you're buying a $200 pair of jeans, you're probably going to get something pretty good. And if you take the investment a step further—a $265 or $285 selvage product—you are getting something with a real sense of history and something potentially more beautiful than even what you're getting at $200.
What's the beauty?
It's the most personal way to wear a pair of jeans, to buy them in raw form with all of the starch. The starch is what makes the fabric so stiff, and the starch chips off with the indigo the more you wear it and it becomes softer and softer and the indigo becomes less and less, and as that happens, you are personalizing your jean in a way that really could never be done by anyone else. I think inherently you look back after a year of wearing that product and it's just a love affair.
Which of your pairs are your past lovers?
The jean I'm wearing right now is literally the first pair of jeans that I have from when we started the brand. I can think back fondly to setting up the shop. Most people don't know this, but I had four or five sewing machines in my second bedroom of my apartment. I had a crack team of one pattern-maker, one sample-sewer, myself, and my girlfriend at the time, who's my wife now. We were making jeans for four months before we opened the shop—perfecting the fit, and the patterns, and really trying to figure out the details. So it brings me back, and it's still one my favorite pairs we've ever made, for sure. I also have a pair of jeans that reminds me of my first trip to Japan. I remember eating raw cat's liver for the first time on that trip, which is a delicacy. And I remember wearing my cut-off army shorts instead of my jeans, because it was so hot out, when I went to a fabric appointment. When I walked into this big office, probably 150 employees stood up and bowed, which I thought was really weird and eerie. I walked into the meeting room and five minutes later, in walked the CEO of the company. The reason everyone stood up to bow was because that day was the first day the CEO of the company had ever been to their floor. And he came to learn about the American premium-denim market. He'd heard it was starting to explode. But they hadn't given me a heads up. So there I was, meeting the CEO of this, I don't know what it was—9, 10, 12 billion dollar company—in ripped army shorts and vintage T-shirt, and sweaty, and gross. It was amazing. [Laughs] Every time I wear that pair, I'll remember that story, for sure.
Do you wish you'd worn them?
I wish I'd worn a suit.
But the stuff still—well, it's painful.
[Sighs] It can be. It can. But we have a fabric here from Kaihara, Japan. It's basically a supima-cotton selvage denim that's brushed back with these metal picks. What that does is break down the threads to make them extremely soft. And we don't put any starch on the finished product. So this particular fabric, it's selvage, but it's as soft as a cashmere sweater. You don't have to buy 15- or 16- or 18-ounce denim and break it in over a year and really pay your dues. There's a lot of things you can do in the middle. There's a lot of great stretch-selvedge denims. There is this kind of selvage denim that couldn't be made 60, 80, 100 years ago, too.
There's your mix, then: authenticity and technology.
Yeah, absolutely. You don't have to be so single-minded.
From: US Esquire