When producing the raw material for a pair of jeans, denim mills develop fabrics by selecting yarns, indigo shades, and weights. The standard for classifying denim by weight is derived from the actual weight of a square yard of fabric and is dictated by the type and density of the selected yarns woven into each roll of that fabric.
Denim fabric is produced between 5 and 32 oz. Generally, jeans under 12 oz. are considered Lightweight, 12 to 15 oz. jeans are Mid-weight, and anything 16 oz. and above is a Heavyweight, but not to be considered a simple novelty.
In your hands, a lighter weight will feel softer and more pliable and the same amount of fabric could mean a heavier pair of jeans. Lightweights can be under a pound and heavies can get close to three.
Lightweight denim can be more comfortable to wear, especially in the heat, and easy to break in. However, lightweight denim won’t fade or look quite as distinctive as a heavier weight.
With mid-weight denim, you will need to put in some time and effort. Even mid-weight denim, used for most jeans in the market today, is sturdy enough to develop great fades and comfort over time, but can start off somewhat stiff and heavy to the touch. The resulting pair of jeans is slightly warmer for fall or winter and not easily worn through.
Heavyweights, jeans over 16 and up to a 32 oz. take time and effort and will have much less flexibility for a while. Truthfully, you have to be pretty serious to pull on pair of jeans that are known to stand up on their own when new. However, heavies are almost always well-crafted and your patience will be rewarded with a pair of jeans sure to impress and one that may last you a lifetime.
Ultimately, the real difference is the drape and flexibility, comfort of wear, and seasonality. Summer is the best time for the lightweight jeans, but unbearable -unwearable, even- for heavy-mids and true heavies.
It may be smart to enter the denim scene with lighter pair, but don’t be scared off by mid-weights either. In fact, for 90% of guys out there, 11 to 13 oz. denim is the sweet (not sweat) spot. However, the draw of heavy denim, its sharper and more spectacular fades, is powerful for many.
What’s the weight of your favorite denim?