Guide to Black Selvage Denim

Venture into a raw denim forum on Reddit and you’ll find topics that range from how to repair the dreaded crotch blowout to a debate over which distressing comes first, the honeycombs or the whiskers? But some of the more spirited discussions surround raw black denim. Like a white whale, raw black denim is the elusive sibling of raw indigo that purists are starting to embrace. While less common, raw black denim shares many of the same traits that make raw indigo so iconic. Whether you’re new to the raw game or looking for a reason to cop this style, read on for some background on black denim’s rise to fame and how it might become your new fave.

We’re all familiar with the story of denim jeans: gold rush + Levi Strauss = a legend is born. However, denim as a fashion look took some time to catch on. It wasn’t until the Duke himself strut across the scene in a pair of cuffed Levi’s that people took notice, aiming to copy John Wayne’s cowboy swagger. Black denim’s unique qualities made their mark when Mick Jagger (or his stunt double) was (ahem) ready for his close-up on the cover of “Sticky Fingers”.

Warp, Weft, Weave

Black and indigo raw denim share the same qualities of raw denim, which include:

  • Usually 100% cotton
  • Left “raw” or untouched after the finishing process
  • Generally includes a selvage seam, but not always
  • More rigid and generally more durable than pre-washed or distressed
  • Can be sanforized (treatment that prevents shrinkage) or unsanforized (untreated, so may shrink up to 10%)

The main difference between the two types of raw denim is the color of the threads used during the weaving process. Both styles of Bluer Denim’s raw indigo and raw black denim jeans are made of selvage denim, that old-school way of weaving that is slower and tighter and therefore creates a self-edge (aka selvage) when finished. During the weaving process, two yarns are woven together: the warp (which runs vertical) and the weft (horizontal). Indigo jeans are made with dyed warp yarns; the undyed white/natural color remains in the weft. With raw black denim, the warp is dyed black and the weft is left in its natural, undyed color.

Fade to Black?

However, when it comes to fading, the two colors diverge. Indigo dye doesn’t penetrate the yarn in the same way that black dye does; it mainly adheres to the surface so when fading occurs, it’s because the indigo on the warp threads chips off. With black raw denim, the black dye penetrates the yarn deeper, so the fading takes longer and they will fade more evenly. If you wash them right away (which we generally advise against), then you’re likely to get an allover gray. Generally speaking, the longer you hold out on washing your black raw denim, the more time for the dye to settle into the yarn and retain that dark color. The best advice is to avoid washing (see our washing bible here) or dry-clean them, albeit infrequently.

Beyond the history and chemistry of black denim is the style factor. Black denim can be worn interchangeably with indigo and can be dressed up for special occasions (like Willie Nelson’s wedding) with a velvet jacket or luxe sweater. For those who can’t quite commit to the denim-on-denim look, black denim offers more contrast to that chambray button-up. Of course black goes with everything, so you can reap the versatility by pairing raw black denim jeans with bright colors (think: season’s hot hues of mustard yellow and tomato red) or keep it minimalist with a clean white tee or crisp white shirt.

The beauty of raw denim-- whether blue or black-- is that no two pairs will ever look alike. From distress marks to fading to the knee wrinkles and contours of whatever you choose to put in your pockets, raw denim is the ultimate in off the rack that becomes bespoke over time. If you’re looking to venture into a new shade of denim, head to the dark side with Bluer Denim’s raw black denim jeans, available in two styles: Classic Straight or Modern Slim.