We're just some regular sized folks with big... denim love. Here's our list of the most important terms, demystified, to help you talk the talk if you've been bit by the denim bug like we have.
Did we miss anything or mess anything up? We'd love to hear your thoughts, gripes, and the things that you love most about denim.
Arcuate – (also Back Pocket Stitching) the patterned stitching on the back pockets of jeans -often curved, like arcs. More for style than function, this feature is essentially a designer’s signature to differentiate theirs from other brands. The sometimes ornate, often-simple, double stitching is a common characteristic on nearly every pair of jeans. The arcuate appeared on Levi’s® first pair of waist overalls in 1873 and is quite possibly the oldest clothing trademark still in use.
Bartacks – the band or bar of closely-spaced stitches used to reinforce stress points in jeans. Although not exclusively, bartacks are used to secure back pockets where rivets can cause discomfort or scratch and snag furniture. Bartacks are also found around zip and button flies, belt loops, button openings, inseam joints, and hemlines and can be handsewn or machine-made.
Bleeding – (also Crocking) the transfer of indigo dye from one item or area to the surface of another. The indigo of unwashed denim is known to bleed with wear prior to soak or wash. Hands, legs, and lighter furniture and footwear are all susceptible to dyestuff transfer. Bleeds may also occur during the initial wash, so mix indigos with other colors carefully.
Brand Patch – the label panel commonly found on the rear waistband above the right back pocket used for manufacturer identification. Frequently made of leather or durable jacron paper, this contrast material can have minimal branding design or denote style and sizing information. The iconic Two Horse leather patch was introduced by Levi Strauss & Co.® in 1886 to symbolize the pull-strength of their hard-working jeans.
Broken Twill – denim has a characteristically diagonal patterned weave, or twill. Broken twill combines a left-hand twill (LHT) with a right-hand twill (RHT), reversing the weft consistently, every two or three warp ends. The continuous break in the weft reduces the natural torquing or leg twist, which more common in the regular weaves. The broken twill creates a jagged zig-zag or “w” pattern in the fabric and was first introduced by Wrangler® in 1970s.
Button Fly – the opening in the front rise starting at the waistband that fastens with buttons. Sturdy stud buttons are used, made of two parts: a short nail pressed through the fabric, and the visible head made of copper, brass, or aluminum. Less likely than a zip fly to break, catch, or come undone, this traditional and dependable feature predates the advent of the zipper and, while they create more bulk, can create interesting fade patterns on the front rise.
Cast(e) – the undertone or shade of color within the indigo in dyed denim. Depending on the dyestuff and wash techniques applied, denim can present slight hues of green, grey, red, yellow, black or brown which become more noticeable as the denim fades.
Chain Stitch – the traditional stitch used to hem jeans, using one continuous thread that loops back on itself resembling links in a chain. An ideal mix of flexibility and strength, this thicker, smoother stitch is more authentic looking and, after a few washes, creates interesting fades around the ankle compared with a simpler lockstitch.
Coin Pocket – the smaller pocket, traditionally stacked inside the right front pocket. Also known as the watch pocket, the coin pocket has been around since the original Levi’s® XX 501’s produced in 1873 and is commonly, but incorrectly, referred to as the fifth pocket. The true fifth pocket, the back left one, wasn’t added until 1901.
Cuffing – (also Rolling) the folding of excess fabric at the hem. A necessity for denim workwear prior to the 1920s and the advent sanforization process. Wearers would buy and cuff a longer inseam that would shrink with wash until they fit. Today, cuffing is an art and a style choice for denim enthusiasts, especially selvedge denim.
Denim – a durable cotton fabric characterized by a tight, warp-faced twill weave. Horizontal weft yarns pass beneath two or more vertical warp yarns to produce its signature diagonal ribbing. Traditionally, indigo-dyed yarns are used for the warp and natural, or bleached, yarns for weft. The sturdy textile is used to make jackets, overalls, shirts, and other clothing, but is commonly associated with jeans since being used in their initial production by Levi Strauss & Co® in 1873. And while jeans are from California, the fabric traces its origins to Europe where twill weaves called serge de Nimes were produced in Nimes, France, an important textile center in Southern France. Around the same time, woolen fabrics called nim were produced in Spain. An early denim cloth was included in a sample book belonging to a late 18th century cotton trader from Manchester, England, dubbed Hilton’s Manuscript, nearly 75 years before Levi’s® famous waist trousers.
Distressed – jeans that have been broken in to give them a worn out or vintage appearance, either from years of wear or from abrasion techniques including washing, sanding, bleaching, or shaving. Heavily distressed, or destructed jeans are torn, ripped, frayed at the hems and seams, and sometimes repaired.
Draper Loom – denim looms created by the Draper Northrop Corporation in Hopedale, Massachusetts. Once an industry standard, Draper automatic looms allowed operators to oversee production on multiple looms, boosting output beyond the capabilities of hand looms, common in textile production prior to the late 19th century. Once introduced in 1894, Draper’s automatic bobbin change transformed the industry. Most early American selvedge denim was made on Drapers, including the Cone Mills® denim famously used for Levi’s® 501 xx. An early pioneer of the Japanese premium denim industry, Hidehiko Yamane, founder of Evisu, owned a classic Draper, originating a common misconception that American looms are used for denim production in Japan.
Dyeing – a coloration procedure in which natural cotton yarns are dipped into indigo dye baths prior to the denim weaving process. After each bath, the yarns are hung to oxidize and activate the indigo, which changes hues from yellow to green to blue. The yarn is then rinsed of excess dye and dried.
Ecru - the natural, flecked-cream color of undyed denim yarns before they’ve been dyed with indigo. Tradition and tastes dictate that most denim is colored, but some designers use undyed denim in production.
Fade(s) – lighter areas present in denim after repeated wash and wear. Fades occur as dyes are washed from the warp yarn or when the core fibers are damaged and exposed. Fades present as familiar patterns with names like whiskers and honeycombs in the stress areas and hinges of the jeans, especially around the knee, hip, hem, and thigh. Abrasion techniques like sanding and shaving along with stone and enzyme washes can be used to produce fades artificially, but most denim enthusiasts prefer to earn their fades over time.
Fit – the way that a pair of jeans wears based on cut through the leg, the shape and length of the rise, and the design of the leg opening. Classic fit jeans are roomier in the thigh with a slight taper through the ankle and sit at, or slightly above the hip pointer. High-waisted or low-rise fits will sit soundly above or below and may taper accordingly. Straight cut jeans have a more uniform shape from thigh to ankle with modern tapers and boot cuts flaring in or out respectively. Be sure to try on jeans prior to purchase as designers have varying methods and philosophies for fit and body type.
Hand – the feel of a specific denim, whether in your hand (literally) or against your skin while wearing. Some denim is smooth and thin, while others and thick and sturdy. These descriptors can be somewhat subjective based on your knowledge and expectation how the denim should feel and perform, but in general and in the absence of starch or distressing, the heavier the weight and the newer the fabric, the stiffer the hand.
Hem – the bottom of a shirt, sleeve, or pant leg that has been folded and sewn to prevent unraveling. Most denim is hemmed with a chain stitch or lock stich, whether by hand or machine.
Honeycombs – the waffled fade patterns that appear in the area behind the knee due to the repeated scrunching of the fabric that resemble honeycombs. Deep honeycombs can create a 3D contrast effect in the indigo.
Inseam – the measurement, usually in inches, of the length of the leg from the crotch to the bottom of the hem. The fabric along the inseam of a pair of jeans is usually double-felled, or folded and double stitched for strength and durability.
Indigo – the iconic color and source of the dye that makes denim blue. The naturally occurring True Indigo, Indigofera tinctorial, was once considered rare and has been used in textile coloring for centuries. Known as the living color, this deep-hued and colorfast surface dye does not penetrate yarn fibers and gradually fades with time and wash. The deep blue is the result of oxidation of the dye on the fabric or yarns. Beginning as a white-yellow, then darkening to green then finally blue, each submersion in the dye bath leads to a deeper shade. In the late 19th century, high demand for this once coveted color lead to the development of synthetic dyes. Today, several thousand tons are produced for the garment industry each year.
Japanese Denim - denim cloth known for its quality, characterized by traditional production methods, commitment to high quality ring spun cotton yarns, and natural indigo dyes. While the first jeans produced in Japan were made of imported American Cone® denim, early Japanese denim enthusiasts reverse-engineered and expanded on an American icon. Driven first by the innovation of the Toyoda Automatic Loom Works Model G selvedge looms, which increased production of textiles like silk for Kimonos, and propelled by the popularization of American culture following the end of World War 2, the first pair of Japanese denim jeans were produced in 1973, a full century after their American ancestor.
Jeans – a common name for denim pants, the term jean is also used to refer to any denim garment. Originating from the French spelling Jannes or Gênes fabric, a twill weaved cotton where both warp and weft threads are dyed the same color, jeans eventually came to describe an item of clothing in the mid-18th century. In the 1950s the word jeans began to refer to a counter culture denim item which has grown into one of the most timeless, iconic, and popular garment on the planet.
Knee-Down Taper – the narrowing of the shape of the jeans below the knee. Almost all jeans have a taper, slight though it may be. When shortening the inseam more than two inches, an adjustment to the taper should be considered prior to hemming
Leather – an animal skin, dried and tanned, for used in clothing. Leather is commonly used for waist-band branding patches and for backing rivets for comfort. However, it is also used in upcycled, patched, and leather-combo denim garments.
Left Hand Twill - a denim weave where the warp threads rise visibly to the left, also known as S twill. Originated by Lee®, the yarns of LHT denim are spun clockwise, combined and spun together resulting in a softer hand with sharp, vertical fades as the yarns loosen with wash and wear.
Leg Opening – the opening at the bottom of a pair of jeans. The width will vary with brand and style or taper. Slim fit -skinny jeans- will taper in while boot cut will flare out. The measure of the leg opening will impact how a pair of jeans will cuff or stack above your footwear.
Leg Twist – the rotational effect in denim fabric based on weave direction due to yarn shrinkage during wash. Both left and right hand twills can twist -to the left or right, respectively- with the skewing most noticeable at the outseams as they move forward or back. This natural adjustment in the fabric can be is prominent in raw denim and vintage and jeans but also occurs in new and preshrunk denim.
Outseam - the measurement of a pair of jeans along the outside length from the very top at the waistband to the bottom at the hem.
Nep – denim that has been woven to allow some weft fibers to protrude from the warp surface. The “bubbled” texture of nep denim is more pronounced than that of a slub denim. Here, the adjusted weave can appear fuzzy on its surface. Loom chatter can also play a role in the production. As cotton fibers are spun and then woven, they break and knot. Loom chatter further agitates the fibers allowing them to shake and tangle during the weave, leaving them more exposed. Like any denim, nep fades with wash and wear. However, the exaggerated exposure of the weft fibers leads to a highly distressed, furry appearance and a singularly unique trait of a horizontal fade, as well as traditional vertical ones.
Pumice Stones – a small, lightweight piece of hardened lava foam used in the process of pre-aging denim called vintage wash or stonewashing. Tough, porous and lightweight, larger pumice stones are also used to de-pill sweaters and as an abrasion agent to distress target areas of jeans.
Railtracks – (also Train Track Fades) the fades along the outseams of jeans, which resemble a train track. Railtracks occur when the fold of the outseam presses up against the bordering fabric causing fiber damage and dye loss. They are an interesting, albeit less common fade pattern as they occur mostly in selvedge denim and slim fits.
Raw Denim – (also Dry Denim) unwashed and untreated denim. Considered more traditional or pure as it has not been preshrunk, distressed, or washed for comfort and fading. Raw denim has a stiff or rigid hand, or feel, and is commonly constructed from a heavier weight denim fabric. With wear and time, jeans made from raw denim mold to the wearer’s body type and shape, developing unique fade patterns. Because it has not gone through a sanforization process, or preshrunk, it is recommended that raw denim be worn as long as possible prior to wash and kept from heat while wet. Often, and mistakenly, believed to be the same, raw and selvedge denim are not synonymous. Selvedge refers to the type of loom used to create the fabric and raw expresses how that fabric is (or isn’t) treated once woven.
Redline – refers to the contrast thread added to clean edge of selvedge denim fabric. Early denim produced for Levi’s® by Cone Mills® was easily recognized by this iconic feature. Although used by many brands, redline selvedge is still a considered well-made denim.
Ring Dyeing – the coloring of only the exterior of a spun cotton yarn used in denim fabric production. While indigo is considered a colorfast dying agent, the core fibers are not penetrated in the process leaving their natural (ecru) or bleached-white color forming a ring around the white center. This characteristic of the dying process allows denim to fade from wash and wear as the dye bleeds and core fibers are exposed.
Rinsed – raw denim that has been rinsed, but not undergone a full wash process. Rinsing can remove excess dyestuffs and reduce bleeding (crocking) or transfer onto furniture or footwear, without softening the hand or affecting durability.
Rise - the measure from the waistband to the bottom of the crotch seam. An important part of the fit of a pair of jeans, rise will dictate where on your hips they sit. The waistband of high rise, or high-waisted jeans will button near your naval while low rise jeans will sit closer, or even below, to your hip pointers. Be sure to try on jeans prior to purchase as brands have varying methods and philosophies for fit and body type.
Rivets – metal fasteners used to attach or reinforce two or more pieces of fabric. Comprised of a head and tail designed to be pressed together until permanently fused. It was the addition of copper rivets to points of stress in work trousers, particularly the pocket stitching and the base of the button fly, about which Jacob W. Davis first wrote Levi Strauss in 1872. The patent that they were later awarded in 1873 was, in fact, for riveted trousers, not blue jeans in general. Eventually, the back-pocket rivets were replaced by bartacks while innovations like the more comfortable, and less-costly, leather-backed rivet have come and gone. Once a workwear necessity, rivets have since become an ornamental additional and a reminder of the origin this iconic look.
Sanforized – (also Sanfor-treated) the process of stabilizing denim and other fabrics to reduce the affect of heat and wash on garment sizing -in its simplest terms, the process of preshrinking. Invented by Sanford L. Cluett and patented in 1928, fabric is treated by repeatedly steaming and stretching to ensure consistent shrinkage once built into a garment. The process effectively disrupted the denim industry by reducing the chance of shrinkage from nearly 7-8% to less than 3%. Used by most denim manufacturers today, sanforization was first implemented in denim production by Erwin Cotton Mills (Durham N.C.) in 1936 and used by J.C. Penny for its Big Mac work clothes line and, soon after, Lee® jeans. Levi’s® followed suit, using sanforized denim in its Levi’s Ladies jeans in 1938, but didn’t offer a sanforized men’s jean until the 1970’s.
Selvedge – (also Selvage) a fabric that contains a tightly woven and durable, finished edge -often of different thread- to prevent unraveling. Derived from the combination of the terms self and edge, selvedge fabrics are produced on shuttle looms by weaving the weft thread back and forth through the warp threads without cutting. The resulting contrast detail is often used in creative ways in the finished garment; most notably in the outseam of jeans, visible when cuffed, or rolled. Once the industry standard, shuttle looms create a narrow (approx. 30”) fabric but were replaced in the 1940-50s by wider, high-volume projectile looms with their 60” output. Vintage American denims, Japanese denims and quality denims in a growing, modern marketplace contain selvedge tape beneath the outseam. At one point, the quality of a denim and even the brand were indicated by the contrast threads used in the white selvedge strip, or tape. In 1927, Cone Denim Mills® first inserted a red thread into the selvedge of a heavy-duty denim that they were making for Levi’s® (XX fabric) for better identification. Due to Levi’s market dominance, redline selvedge still evokes a sense of quality. Early Lee® jeans can be found with yellow line selvedge while some traditional Wrangler’s® that don’t have a double-felled outseam, have green line selvedge.
Shrink-to-Fit - the process by which the cotton fibers of a pair of jeans would constrict and form to shape and size through wash and wear. Early unsanforized jeans, dry or raw denim, were purchased with an expectation of 7-8% (sometimes up to 10%) shrinkage. Pants were known to lose up to 2” in the waistband and 3” in the inseam. A new pair of jeans would be cuffed or rolled, but less so as they shrank to the wearers true inseam.
Slim Fit - a moderately tight and narrow fitting jean, especially through the hip and thigh. Not the same as a skinny jean unless tapered through the calf and ankle.
Slub - a thick or heavy denim with a characteristically bubbled texture. The two main factors that create slubby denims are the looseness of the weave and the uneven thickness of the yarns used. Vintage slubs occurred due to inconsistencies, most notably in yarn production and the use of older, wobbling machinery. Today, modern slubs are manufactured as yarns are spun specifically for varying thickness and loom tension in lowered to create shaking referred to as chatter. Slub denim loosens even further with wash and wear producing an incredibly soft hand and because indigo bleeds from the inconsistent yarn thickness, it fades brilliantly and in irregular, sometimes vertical patterns.
Stonewashing - a method of aging and softening denim by adding pumice stones to the wash process. The result is a softer hand and general fade as the stones’ abrasive surface and added weight cause fiber damage during the wash cycle.
Stretch Denim - a denim hybrid fabric made with a percentage of Elastane or Polyurethane added to the weft yarns for elasticity and comfort. Stretch denim commonly has between 1-5% additive for effect. Elastane, or Spandex, is a combination of Polyurethane and Polyester and can be repeatedly stretched over 500% without breaking and will return its original shape, while Polyurethane alone may loosen and relax over time. Cone Denim Mills was the first American mill to produce it, back in 1962.
Stacking - excess denim that gathers on the foot or at the ankles.
Tapered Fit – (also Skinny Jeans) a generally tight and narrow fit that gets slimmer in the calf and ankle.
Twill - a weave of vertical warp and horizontal weft threads characterized by a diagonal wale or pattern on its surface. The progression of thread crossings determines the strength and appearance of finished fabric, while thread quality and size impact its flexibility and durability. Twills are identified by rise in the wale pattern as left-hand (LHT), right-hand (RHT), or broken twill based on the twist of the yarns and sequencing of the weave. Denim is typically a 3×1 right-hand twill, with three weft threads for every warp. However, lighter weight denim is often a 2×1 twill.
Vintage - refers to clothing produced at least twenty-five years prior to present day. Generally, it can refer most clothing from the past, particularly when previously worn, or second hand. Due to its resilience or sturdy make, vintage clothing is often considered of high quality and lasting value. Vintage clothing that has not been worn and stored in its original state is referred to as deadstock.
Unwashed - the original production of denim prior to wash or treatment; dry or raw denim.
Upcycled Denim - (also Recycled Denim) the reuse or combination of clothing in the creation of a new garment. Once a creative way to embellish or to make clothing last longer, the addition of patches, embroidery, screen-printing, or other is now part of the slow fashion movement. New or used clothing can be customized and considered upcycled, but generally either the based garment or add-on pieces are reused to avoid the environmental impact of textile production.
Warp - (or End) the yarns of a textile that run vertically through the weave, carried over and under the weft. As warp yarns provide the bulk of the hand and weight of the denim and carry more dyestuff, they must be stronger, generally containing more twist, than weft yarns.
Wash - the rinsing of denim to soften and remove excess dye. Repeated washing can produce, often desirable, shrinkage and fading.
Weft - (also Filling) the horizontal yarns of a weave which run across the fabric, beneath and through the warp. Weft yarns maintain the fabric and join the stronger warp yarns. They rest mostly beneath the warp and may or may not be color treated or dyed.
Weight - the measure, in ounces, of a square yard of denim fabric after weaving. Denim weight correlates to heft and density. The heavier the fabric, the thicker the denim. Denim is generally graded by weight into three categories. Lightweight denim is 5-11 oz., middle weights are 12-15 oz., and anything 16+ oz. is considered heavyweight. Generally, jeans are made from 11-14 oz. denim. Once washed, denim can feel lighter and softer. Lightweight denim is commonly used to make shirts and other garments that should move freely, or to line jackets. Lighter denim is often preferred in warmer months.
Whiskers - a fade pattern characterized by horizontal, or slightly angled, lines on the front rise that begin at the fly and can stretch across the pockets to the outseam. This common pattern is the result of the folding and stretching of denim while seated. Slimmer fits create tight, straight lines as they crease more cleanly with less fabric. Looser, regular fit jeans tend to have larger, drooping whiskers. Whiskers may also present on either side of the knee based on fit. Abrasion technics are often used to mimic this great natural look in modern distressed jeans.
Yarn - a continuous strand or thread used in textile production. Often made of cotton, created by twisting together and stretching a cluster of individual fibers.
Yoke - (also Riser) the V-shaped section at the back of jeans, above the pockets. The yoke allows for hip movement and comfort when seated. Based on fit, the cut can range from straight to a deeper V-shape with a greater the seat curve.
Zip Fly - the opening in the front rise of jeans, fastened by interlocking metal teeth. The zip fly was an innovation that allowed for garments to be cut and sewn to fit more tightly without the use of laces for entry. More likely to catch, break, or separate, and first introduced in denim overalls by Lee® in 1927, the zip fly is linked to the advent of the sadforization of denim as fabric stabilization is essential to zipper performance as the length cannot adapt with shrinkage. It wasn’t until the 1950s that most denim brands began making zippered versions of jeans. Eventually, the metal teeth-works were improved, the edges brushed, and the zip fly has become the most prevalent fastener style for jeans.
Zipper - a metal or plastic fastening implement with interlocking teeth along a determined track. Its name is derived from the sound it makes as it closes but was originally called the hookless fastener. The first iterations were developed in the 19th century and perfected and patented in the nineteen-teens. Although alternatives exist, metal zippers are sturdy and better securing denim and primary type found in jeans.