Jeans. You’ve probably worn so many pairs of them that you can’t even begin to count them all. You probably have lots more of them hanging in your closet than you even know. Everyone is familiar with jeans and everyone has worn them. But what are they made of and why? There’s a whole lot you don’t know about the different types of jean materials and fabrics, how they feel and what they do and how they came to be chosen for jeans, truly one of the most iconic and recognizable pieces of fashion of all time.
Finding the Perfect Fabric
When it comes to jeans, the fabric that is used the most often and the one that was used first is denim. The fabric had been around in the fashion scene for about 100 years by the time the first-ever jeans were patented in 1873. Everyone liked denim well enough even before jeans, but the pairing of these two is truly the stuff of legendary fashion.
The decision to choose denim was a bit of a collaborative effort, just like the creation of jeans. Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss filed the patent for the jeans in 1873 but the process of getting there involved a few mistakes, some good choices and one angry woman.
In the year 1853, a German immigrant named Levi Strauss moved to San Francisco to open up a dry goods business, selling everything from bags of rice to bolts of fabric. Jacob Davis, a tailor who lived in nearby Revo, Nevada, purchased his fabric from here. It would turn out to be a fateful decision.
Davis used the fabric to make items like work pants, which were purchased and worn by local miners in Nevada. But…there were problems. Davis found out all about these problems one day when an angry wife marched into his shop carrying a pair of his work pants. And she gave him an earful. His pants kept wearing out in the same spots and she kept patching them and patching them.
It was too much. She was spending all her time mending her husband’s pants. She told Davis that he was going to have to do better and make a pair of pants that could actually withstand the job.
Davis took her words to heart. He came up with an idea to reinforce the pants with copper rivets at the stress points and took his idea to San Francisco. He went to the store to find the perfect fabric for his new idea. As luck would have it, Levi Strauss knew exactly which fabric to choose for the work pants that needed to withstand tough jobs.
How Denim Came To Be
Denim is everywhere now. Yes, it’s the default fabric of choice for jeans but you’ll find denim in all sorts of clothing, accessories, furnishings, decorations, everywhere. Denim is tough but comfortable to wear, durable but nice-looking. It’s soft to the touch and easy to wear. People recycle denim and turn it into rugs and all sorts of other home goods. It is truly a wonder fabric. But the truth is, no one was trying to make denim. This material was created purely by mistake.
In the 1700s, Nimes, France was a hotspot for clothing manufacturing and textile making. Fabric was everywhere but the most popular fabric in town was a blue cloth that came from Genoa, Italy. Even in the town that was full of people who made fabric, the one that was most in demand had to be imported from another country.
The fabric makers in Nimes hated that they had to pay money to have this fabric from Italy shipped over. It would be easier to cut out that step and simply make the blue fabric on their own. That would save both time and money, allowing them to keep more of the profits.
That’s exactly what they set out to do: make their own version of the fabric. They got some blue dye, indigo actually, and some soft fibers. They dyed the fibers, wove them together and created a blue material. But…it wasn’t that blue material from Italy. It was something different altogether.
It was…denim. Or, the fabric that would become known as denim. And suddenly, the textile makers in Nimes didn’t care about that other blue fabric anymore. Denim material swept the globe and became an incredibly popular choice of fabric in workwear.
Denim was already a well-known material for work clothing that day when tailor Jacob Davis walked into the shop owned by Levi Strauss with a new idea for reinforced work pants. Strauss knew that denim would be the right material and just like that, the first blue jeans were made. The men knew they had a hit on their hands and took out a patent. Soon, Levi Strauss was selling jeans right out of his shop.
You probably have a pretty good idea of what happened next, since Levi Strauss continues to be such a famous name in jeans that jeans are actually called Levi’s. That’s not a bad legacy to have. And it all started with an angry wife, some greedy textile makers and two men who just happened to meet in the right place at the exact right time. Since that day in 1873, denim has been the defacto fabric of jeans. But there’s a lot more to the fabric of your jeans than you think.
How Is Denim Made?
Denim is a twill weave. That means that two different fibers are woven together. What makes denim so unique is that diagonal weave. This creates a visible ribbing. Because denim is also made with one set of fibers that are dyed indigo blue and one is left white, denim also has a distinct mottled look that stands out. The twill weave makes denim highly durable and somewhat stretchy and soft. This also creates a nice drape.
Types of Denim
Denim seems like a pretty standard fabric. After all, it’s made of cotton and woven together in a tough design. What’s so complicated? Actually…a lot of things. There are many different types of denim that all have their own distinct characteristics. Once you get to know more about these different types of denim, you’ll know more about why different types of jeans look and fit differently than others.
Bull denim is a tough fabric that is made with 3×1 construction, which creates a highly durable denim fabric. This material is slightly heavier and stronger than standard denim, which is made with 1×1 construction.
Color denim can be made in any color at all. Though denim is commonly made with indigo dye to give it a blue color, the material can actually be dyed to any shade. Sulfur dyeing is one common technique to color denim, although other methods are also used.
In double dyed denim, the yarns are dip-dyed more than once. This results in very dark blue denim.
Polycore denim is made with a blend of polyester and cotton. This ratio varies depending on the manufacturer, but polyester and cotton are used together in various amounts to make denim. The addition of polyester adds wrinkle resistance and strength to the standard denim composition.
Denim that is made with 100 percent cotton is a very popular fabric for clothing. This is standard denim that you’ll see often. Denim has been historically made with cotton, a natural fiber that is soft, breathable and non-irritating.
Raw denim is also known as unsanforized or unwashed denim. This is because the denim has not been washed or treated in any way. Raw denim has a deep blue color and a somewhat stiff texture. Raw denim tends to shrink quite a bit after it is washed and dried because it hasn’t been treated in any way. Raw denim shrinks about 20 percent during its first wash.
Sanforized denim is raw denim that has been treated so that it won’t shrink when you machine wash and dry it, something that raw denim is known for doing.
Stretch denim is made with a fabric blend that includes lycra or spandex. This stretchy material gives your jeans flexibility and keeps the fit comfortable. You’ll find stretch denim in skinny jeans often.
Selvage denim is finished with a red or orange band along the edges. This is high-quality denim that is produced primarily in Japan.
Washed denim is used to make jeans all the time. There are many different jean washes and finishes that give denim a unique look. Some washes, such as acid wash, create a marbled look.
Jeans Materials and Fabrics That Aren’t Denim
A lot of different types of denim are used to make jeans but denim is not the only material used for this. There are other types of fabrics that can be used to make jeans. You may find that you like some of these even better than standard denim jeans.
This material looks a great deal like denim but actually, it’s a different material. Chambray is made with a different weaving process than denim. It has an alternating pattern.
Known for its thick pile and somewhat ropey texture, corduroy is a thick cotton fabric that is warm and soft to the touch.
Unlike cotton, rayon is a synthetic material that is made in a lab and not by nature. But rayon is a highly versatile fabric that can be made to feel like lots of other fabrics. You’ll find rayon a lot in clothing, including in jeans. Rayon is highly durable and wrinkle-resistant. Rayon can be machine washed and dried without shrinking, unlike cotton.
Types of Jean Materials
There are many types of jeans materials, even materials that aren’t denim. Knowing more about how these fabrics feel, what they do and what their strengths and weaknesses are will help you pick out a good pair of jeans every single time. After all, the material means everything when it comes to the clothes you’re wearing.
There’s much more to jeans than just denim! Even denim isn’t so simple, as this list proves. So there’s still lots to know about the different types of jeans materials. We’ve got the answers to the most commonly asked questions about jeans fabrics, so you’ll know everything you need to know about your jeans.
Can you wash jeans with fabric softener?
When it comes to washing your jeans, fabric softener is a personal preference. You can always add this if you want to but do so sparingly. Fabric softeners can build up on clothing, leaving behind a residue that actually breaks down the denim fibers and causes fading. You can always add a little vinegar to the washing machine to soften denim without leaving any chemical residue behind.
Does jean color bleed when you wash denim?
The first time you wash a brand-new pair of jeans, the color could bleed. Wash your jeans inside out in cold water to prevent this. Use a gentle wash cycle, as well. You should also wash denim by itself. Either wash jeans with other denim or wash them separately. Even with precautions, you’re likely to lose a little color the first time you wash jeans because that’s the nature of the indigo dye that’s used to make denim.
Which jeans fabric is best?
There are a lot of different jeans materials and fabrics to choose from…so how do you know which one is best? The “best” fabric is really relative, as people all have their own personal preferences. Try different fabrics in different types of jeans and see which ones you like the best.
Can you wear jeans with a denim jacket?
This age-old fashion question has stumped many. Is it okay to wear jeans and denim or is this really a big fashion no-no? Well, yes and no.
If you wear two pieces of the same color denim, you’re going to look pretty unfashionable. You can get away with wearing different denim pieces in the same outfit but only if you’re wearing different shades of denim. Contrast is key if you’re going to wear multiple pieces of denim.
History of Jeans – History of Jeans and Denim
Lee – Fabrics
Levi Strauss & Co. – The History of Denim
Sew Guide – What is Denim? 20 types of Denim Fabric