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9 Different Types of Jean Finishes

Pairs of folded jeans in different washes

When you just got a call in the middle of the night and you need to run out of the house, when you are just out of time and you need to get there like right now, when you just don’t know what to put on, you reach for a pair of blue jeans. They are everyone’s go-to, everyone’s first choice, one of those items that everyone owns. You know what blue jeans look like, what they feel like, the kind of stuff you should wear with them to show off a little bit of fashion sense. But do you know the types of jean finishes you can find out there and which ones suit you best? Which ones are going to work best for the stuff you want to do while you’re wearing your blue jeans? Get to know a lot more about all the shades you can find in your blue jeans.

A Tailor, Miners and a Pair of Pants

In the 1850s, everything in the American West was still pretty rugged. Trails were still being blazed. And trailblazing is pretty hard work. People in the west were still carving out places for themselves. They were erecting buildings, digging tunnels, trying to tame the west. It was hard work. Hard work needs hard-wearing clothes.

That’s exactly what one wife told Jacob Davis one day in the 1850s. Davis lived and worked in Nevada, which at that time was home to a lot of miners and their families, earning money as a tailor. And he was about to have a bad day at work. He probably knew right away that it was bad news when the woman burst into his shop that day, carrying a pair of pants in her hand.

If you’ve ever worked in any sort of customer service or sales job, you’ve had days like the one that Jacob Davis had all those years ago. Because Jacob Davis was about to get confronted by an angry customer.

Person wearing faded jeans lower half only

That’s just what happened. The woman who came to the stop that day with the pants was the wife of a local miner and she was sick and tired of repairing her husband’s pants. They kept wearing out in specific spots that she had to patch and re-patch. The pants just weren’t strong enough…and that meant they weren’t good enough.

She asked if he sold any stronger pants, maybe something made with more durable material. Davis had to tell her he didn’t but promised he would work on the problem. He would come up with something, he told her. After all, as the local tailor that was pretty much his job. And Davis took his promise seriously. He began to think about the problem right then and there.

If the pants weren’t strong enough, Jacob Davis was just going to have to design a better pair of pants. So Davis came up with a design involving copper rivets, which he placed at key areas of the pants where they seemed to take the most wear. The addition of the rivets strengthened the design in these spots.

But to really create something that was going to work, Davis needed better material. He was going to need a tough fabric that was durable but wearable. And well…he didn’t have it. But luckily, Davis knew just where to get it. Still focused on his new pants design, Davis took a trip to California. There was a big store here where he got his fabrics and other materials for his tailoring business. Davis typically came here once or twice a year to get supplies so naturally, he went to the store when he was looking for the right material for his new pants design.

Sitting in a window wearing jeans

The store was owned by an immigrant named Levi Strauss. And as you might now realize, this was the birth of blue jeans. Strauss of course had just the right fabric for Mr. Davis: denim. Made in a woven construction that was tough but flexible and dyed with a distinct indigo dye that gave it a cool color, denim was just the right material for the re-designed work pants Davis had dreamed up.

The two collaborators and fashion legends took out a patent for blue jeans in 1873 and changed the world for ever. Ever since Levi’s jeans were introduced into the world and became one of the most popular and most-purchased pieces of clothing ever, people have been redefining and redesigning blue jeans. There are a huge variety of styles and cuts now. Jeans are made with different leg styles and fits. They may sit low or high on your waist. They might have pockets or not. Heck, they might not even be blue.

To add to all the different fits and looks and designs, there are lots of types of jean finishes. Can you identify them all?

Finishing Blue Jeans

Denim is really the key ingredient in blue jeans. It was this fabric that set those first work pants apart. Denim is made with a woven construction where one set of threads is dyed a deep blue using indigo dye, while the other set of threads is left white. When the two are woven together, it results in a uniquely mottled look that is a beautiful, deep blue with white specks throughout.

In raw form, denim is deep blue and somewhat stiff and rough to the touch, actually. This is why denim is washed during the manufacturing process, unless it is specifically being sold as raw denim that is untreated. Many different wash processes are used to create different jean finishes.

Acid Wash

Hybrid & Company Women's Stretchy High Waisted Slim Fit Skinny Leg Pull On Jean P45944SK Blue Acid S Long

An acid wash finish has a mottled look to it, with roundish patches of white appearing through the greatly faded denim. Through this process, the denim is literally washed with acid. Basically, the denim is pre-soaked in acid and then it goes through a machine with pumice stones inside of it. The denim and the stones essentially tumble dry together in this big machine. This creates the unique mottled look and highly faded finish of acid wash, also known as ice wash and moon wash.

Bleach Wash

Amazon Brand - Goodthreads Women's Mid-Rise Slim Straight Jean, Bleach Wash 26

Bleach is added to the wash to create a bleach wash finish. This greatly fades denim. This is somewhat dubious from an environmental standpoint, as it creates chemical waste and runoff.

Rinse Wash

Buffalo David Bitton Women's Skinny Jean, Rinse Wash, 29

Also known as mill wash, the rinse wash finish is meant to leave as much of the color in jeans as possible. The point is to keep the fabric dark, so this dye is not washed out of the material.

Sanding

Woman Within Women's Plus Size Straight Leg Stretch Jean - 18 W, Light Wash Sanded Blue

If your jeans are super distressed and very faded, they probably have a sanded finish. Through this process, the denim is actually sand-blasted with high-pressure sprayers. This greatly fades and distresses the denim.

Snow Wash

Levi's Women's 721 High Rise Skinny Jeans, Blue Topaz Hazy Acid, 31 (US 12) R

An extreme form of acid washing, snow wash uses a great deal of acid to take almost all the blue color out of blue jeans and fade them to the point where they are almost white.

Stonewash

Levi's Men's 511 Slim Fit Stretch Jean Blue Stone 30W x 30L

 

Stonewash is one of the most popular jean finishes because this process creates a faded look that is highly trendy. This isn’t just a cute name for this look. Pumice stones are actually used to create this look. The stones are rubbed on the denim to literally distress it and cause fading.

Enzyme Wash

WallFlower Women's Instastretch Luscious Curvy Bootcut Jeans, Jenna, 11

An alternative to stonewashing is enzyme washing, which uses cellulase chemicals to break down the cellulose in denim. This is an extremely scientific process that creates a look that is similar to stonewashing but much better for the environment. This is an eco-friendly alternative, which can be a big selling point for some buyers. If you’re looking for a more environmentally sound type of jean finish, enzyme wash is the one for you.

Whiskering

Amazon Essentials Men's Athletic-Fit Stretch Jean, Dark Wash, 40W x 28L

 

Also known as atari, whiskering is a process by which small, horizontal lines are added to the center of the legs going out. This has an effect that makes the jeans look creased in this area.

Colors

Women's Plus Size Fuchsia Jeggings with Pockets Pull On Skinny Stretch Colored Jean Leggings Size XLarge

Blue jeans are known for being blue and they come in all shades of blue but denim can actually be dyed to any color. The deep blue is traditional because indigo was the first dye used when denim was first made in the 1700s in a little town in France. But denim is made with cotton threads, which can be dyed to any color of the rainbow and many more besides.

You can get jeans in every shade from hot pink to yellow to blue to anything else you want. Colorful jeans come in a variety of different washes and fades, as well. This denim is treated the same way as blue denim to create different jean finishes and different levels of fading and distress.

Types of Jean Finishes

Different pairs of jeans hanging on hanger

There are lots of different types of jean finishes to choose from. Different finishes range from faded nearly white to a dark, deep blue that is barely faded at all. You can choose a look that’s faded or distressed or one that’s uniform in color. You can even choose a finish in any color! Play around with different jean finishes to create different looks. A more faded and distressed jean is a more casual jean. Something in a darker finish looks a little bit more dressy, in case you want to spruce up for an evening date or a night out with friends.

There are so many different ways to style jeans and so many different styles to try, you can wear jeans every day and still find new ways to explore this classic fashion item. Have fun with different jean washes to see which looks you like best.

FAQs

Who knew there were so many ways to wash jeans and distress denim? For a design that seems so simple, there’s really a lot that goes into making jeans. If you still have questions, we’ve got answers. We found the most frequently asked questions about jeans and jean finishes, so you can get all the info you need to know jeans just like an expert.

Are jeans business casual?

Jeans are accepted just about everywhere. People wear them for everything. And in a nice dark wash, why not? Are jeans business casual? You can wear them to the office for a day of work…right?

Wrong. Jeans are still considered casual wear and unless you explicitly get to dress down for a casual Friday or some other event, you probably shouldn’t try to get away with wearing jeans to the office. Since the early days, jeans were made as workwear for hard laboring types like miners, ranchers, construction workers and others who have to put in a tough day’s work. Jeans became especially popular with cowboys and they have been associated with western style ever since.

Everyone loves jeans and everyone owns jeans but for now, jeans are still considered to be a little too casual and a little too unprofessional to be worn to the office.

Can jeans shrink in the dryer?

You can’t wait for ever to wash your jeans. At some point, they’re going to get wet and they’re going to need to be dried. But will putting your jeans in the dryer cause them to shrink? Jeans have a reputation for being difficult to wash and even dangerous to dry. They’ll lose their shape, or they’ll shrink. They may fade. Something terrible will happen!

But you can dry jeans in the machine as long as you do it carefully. Jeans should only be dried on the lowest possible heat setting. Because denim is made with cotton, it will absolutely shrink in the presence of heat. You can also hang jeans to dry or lay them flat to dry.

Should jeans be hung or folded?

There are all sorts of pieces of clothing that are supposed to be stored this way and not that way. They can’t be hung, they must be folded. These items have to sit upright, these others should be placed on their sides. But jeans? You can actually store them pretty much how you like. Jeans can be folded and put in a drawer or on a shelf but they can also be hung on a hanger. It’s best to fold jeans in half to hang them on the hanger.

How should jeans be washed?

Style experts agree that jeans should not be washed often. You should avoid washing your jeans and wash them only after several wearings. The more your wear your jeans, the more comfortable they’re going to get. Over time, denim will conform to the curves of your body and the jeans will become highly flattering because they will fit your body perfectly. Washing jeans will cause the fit to change slightly. You’ll have to wear your jeans for several hours to get them fitting perfectly again.

But sometimes, you just have to wash your jeans. When that happens, be sure to do it the right way. First, don’t wash jeans or denim clothing with other items of clothing. Wash denim only with denim. When you wash jeans, turn them inside-out and wash them in cold water on a gentle setting. Wet denim, if twisted and pulled, can become damaged. The water should be cold because heat can cause cotton to shrink. Use a mild detergent. You should also turn jeans inside-out to wash them to prevent fading.

Which jeans are right for you?

Different jean finishes do have an effect on the way your legs and your body look overall. Dark washes, for example, have a more slimming and lengthening effect on legs. If you have shorter legs or thicker legs, you might want to stick to darker washes to create a visually longer, leaner line.

If your legs are already long and lean, distressed jeans and light washes are actually more flattering. Stonewash and other distressed looked have a way of visually breaking up the long lines of your legs to make them appear curvier. Distressed jeans will help to visually widen your hips and thighs to help you emphasize your shape.

Sources:

BelleTag – Jean Guide: How to Find Best Jeans for Your Body Type

Coats – Denim Wash

Macy’s – Types of Denim Washes for Men

Martha Stewart – Hang or Fold? Here’s the Best Way to Sort and Store All of Your Clothes

Sew Guide – 12 important types of Jeans Washes & Surface treatments

Whirlpool – How to wash and dry jeans by hand or in a washing machine – the basics