Denim Dictionary: A - M

2X1 WEAVE

A lighter-weight denim, so named by the number of weft threads per warp thread. This weave tips the scales at less than 10.5 ounces per square yard.

3X1 WEAVE

This is the more traditional weave of denim because it creates a sturdier fabric. 3x1 weave, which weighs more than 10.5 ounces per square yard, refers to the number of weft threads per warp thread.

A

ABRASION

Usually achieved by washing fabric with pumice stones, the abrasion process boils down to scraping or rubbing denim to create a worn, aged, or vintage feel. Abrasion methods range from rubbing with sandpaper or sand blasting to dragging through gravel, applying a razor (for a honeycomb fade), or our favorite method: daily wear and tear. 

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ACID WASH

An ‘80s classic, the acid wash finish—AKA Marble, Moon Wash, or Snow Wash—infuses sharp contrasts into indigo jeans, typically by exposing raw indigo denim to pumice stones soaked in chlorine.

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AGED

Think: your broken-in weekend denim. Aged fabric looks worn and feels soft to the touch thanks to a wet processing abrasion method.

AMOSKEAG

Welcome to the bustling factory town of Amoskeag, New Hampshire.

Known as the first major source of denim in the States, the town laid claim to Amoskeag Manufacturing Company. The company began in 1838, peaked in 1900 as the world’s biggest textile producer, and closed its doors and filed for bankruptcy in 1935. Once the exclusive denim of industry mainstays Levi’s and Jacob Davis, the now-legendary Amoskeag denim contributed to the fabric’s timeless success. Its other legacy—the Amoskeag XX label.

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ANTI-TWIST

See: skewing

ARCUATE

A hallmark of the classic Levi’s jean—so much so that no other brand can sell denim with a similar pattern in the US. This “bat wing” double stitching can be found on denim rear pockets. Arctuates, or arcs, have the distinction of being the world’s oldest clothing trademark.

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ATARI

Not to be confused with the classic video game, Atari is Japanese for “hit, success, or reaching the mark.” In denim, that translates to the selective fading of the ridges of creases—appearing along the hem, side seams, belt loops, or pocket seams, and on the front and back of the knees or the upper thigh. This kind of substantial fading is raw denim's raison d'être.

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AUTHENTIC

Authentic denim is characterized by traditional styling and fabric weaves. These days, the term is tossed around by marketing departments, usually describing jeans with heritage denim qualities.

B

BACK CINCH

Largely out of fashion by the early ‘40s, save for vintage-esque styles, this was our ancestors’ answer to a sagging waistband. The back cinch and back buckle combo tightened the waist of jeans before belts were a common accessory.

BACK POCKET FLASHER

This marketing technique proclaimed denim types, washes, styles, and sizes—sometimes paired with Western-themed or classic ‘50s imagery—on a small paper or cardboard flap strategically placed on the back right pocket. 

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BARTACK

You’ll be hard pressed to find a pair of jeans without this hearty stitch. Identified by a closely-stitched band or bar, the bartack is used to reinforce stress points, such as zippers, front flies, pocket seams, and inseams.

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BELT LOOPS

Suspender is to suspender button as belt is to belt loop. These functional loops arrived on the denim scene in the ‘20s, often in sets of five; sometimes seven.

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BIG E

The iconic red tab on the back of Levi's clothing and denim was once emblazoned with an uppercase E. When the letter with replaced a lowercase in 1971, Levi’s insta-vintage “Big E” jeans skyrocketed in value.

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BLEACHING

The process of using sunlight or chemicals to lighten an item. Whether applied by sponging, soaking, dabbing, splattering, or spraying, bleaching is used to alter denim's color, remove impurities, or adjust the fades.

BOOT CUT FIT

This aptly named style was traditionally defined by leg openings wide enough to fit over a boot. Today’s boot cut (or boot leg) jeans are often slimmer in the thighs and knees and flare slightly near the bottom.

Bonus trivia factoid: We have the deck-swabbing sailors of yesteryear to thank for this fit. The style evolved from their functional pants that were easy to pull on over boots, roll up while working, and quickly pull off even when wet. The fit got its name in the 1980s to differentiate the style from the wardrobe staple of the hippie movement: the bell bottom.

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BROKEN TWILL

Twill is woven in a diagonal pattern; when uninterrupted (such as in left-hand twill and right-hand twill), the diagonal weave causes denim to twist when washed. Broken twill interrupts the weave by reversing at every two warp ends—forming a random design or zig-zag pattern and eliminating the dreaded post-wash-leg-twist.

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BUTTON

Buttons come in three types, but most jeans feature a stud, or tack, button. These metal buttons consist of a grooved tack piece that pushes up through the denim paired with a top button that’s hammered onto the tack.

BUTTON FLY

Though many jeans now feature a zip fly, the original Levi’s blue jean, released in 1873, had a button-fly closure. On button-fly jeans, the fabric between the inseam and the waistband is secured by buttons (usually around five) rather than a zipper.

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C

CARDING

In weaving, this mechanical process cleans, untangles, and aligns fibers to create a continuous sliver.

CAST

This refers to added color tones in the fabric, often added by dyeing. Depending on the dye, denim can have a black, brown, gray, green, red, or yellow cast.

CELLULOSE ENZYME WASH

Enzymes are handy for many things ... including removing the indigo color in denim by physically eating away at the cellulose in the fabric. An enzyme wash is one of many methods manufacturers use to give new denim a worn or aged look.

CELLULOSIC FIBERS

These fibers, which are structured from the starchy carbohydrate, cellulose, are used to make fabric—from the heaviest of denim to the daintiest of organza. The fibers are created by dissolving natural fibers (cellulose or wood pulp) and then regenerating them by extrusion and precipitation. It’s science.

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CHAIN STITCHING

This authentic looped stitch looks like the links of a chain. The chain stitch creates a familiar rippling effect and nice fading pattern along the hem. It can only be produced by a special sewing machine, such as the trusty ol' Union Special.

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COIN POCKET

The fifth pocket, also called a watch pocket, in five-pocket jeans has only gotten smaller since it arrived on the scene in 1902. Found inside the right front pocket, it was traditionally home to the wearer’s watch. Many denim heads make use of this pocket to achieve greater atari and fades.

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COMBED YARN

Like anything that adds time and quality to the process, combed yarn is pricier than carded yarn. Combing a yarn’s sliver creates a smoother, stronger, and more compact yarn that’s perfect for weaving.

COMBING

The combing process can be summed up in two easy steps:
Step 1: “carding” the yarn to separate and untangle the fibers
Step 2: “combing” the yarn with a fine-toothed comb so it runs parallel in the and to remove the short fibers while it’s being spun into yarn

CONE MILLS


- 1895, Greensboro, North Carolina: The Cone brothers, Moses and Caesar, open the doors at Cone Mills and start making flannel and denim for working men

- 1910: The company starts supplying denim for Levi’s jeans

- 1922: Cone Mills—now one of the world’s largest denim manufacturers—gains the distinction of being the exclusive supplier for the Levi’s 501 jean

- 1952: Union Bleachery buys Cone Mills and gets the first license in the US for “sanforizing.” With 12 plants, the company becomes the largest denim manufacturer in the world

CORE SPUN YARN

Yarn that is strengthened by being wrapped by a second yarn, often of a strong polyester. In denim, hearty core spun yarn (or polycore) cuts down on the number of broken stitches when sewing seams and hems.

COTTON

This soft and fluffy staple fiber really is the fabric of our lives. It’s the most popular natural fiber cloth used for clothing, and a whopping 25 million tons are produced around the world each year to support that high demand. The denim industry relies heavily on cotton: most jeans are made with cotton, either entirely or with a cotton blend.

COTTON GIN

Every US history book makes mention of Eli Whitney and his landmark invention. Whitney’s concept was simple, but revolutionary. Before, cotton seeds were removed from the fibers; Eli’s cotton gin did the opposite using wire hooks in a cylinder to pull the fiber through a mesh sieve. What’s more, the crank-operated gin was fifty times faster than painstakingly cleaning cotton by hand.

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COTTON INSPECTION

Cotton’s official quality standards for interstate and foreign commerce are determined by:
Color: ranging from white to yellowish, it’s determined by growth conditions like temperature, humidity, and sunlight
Purity: based on the amount (or lack thereof) or foreign matter, such as leaves and seed-coat splinters
Fiber length: impacted by both genetics and environmental conditions

COWBOY CUT

A Wrangler original, designed and wear-tested by cowboys, for cowboys. The style caters to riding, roping, and lassoing, with high back pockets, a tapered leg to fit over boots, extra space between front belt loops to display a western belt and trophy buckle, and smooth rivets, plus extra room through the seat and thighs for all-day comfort while riding.

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CROCKING

Raw denim aficionados, crocking is the likely-familiar occurrence of dye rubbing off onto your skin or other fabrics. Just one of the many things that gives raw denim its character, crocking is the cause of fades and fabric wear.

CROSSHATCH

This rare type of denim fades into a crisscross pattern. It’s made by weaving uneven yarns in the weft and warp directions.

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D

DENIM

Though American as apple pie, denim hails from France. The sturdy fabric that the French called serge originated in Nîmes, France. First “Serge de Nîmes” (translation: “Serge from Nîmes"), the name was quickly shorted to denim. The fabric made its way to America at the end of the 18th century, and we haven’t looked back since.

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DENIM HEAD

Also, denim fanatic. If denim had roadies, denim heads would be first in line. These denim enthusiasts eat, sleep, and breathe denim.

DESIZING

This enzyme rinse softens denim. Science nerds: desizing uses either amylase enzymes, an oxidizing agent, or sulfuric acid to strip the solution that’s added to the fabric during the sizing process.

DISTRESSED

Raw denim is broken in by you; distressed denim is broken in by the manufacturer. Distressing methods such as stone, enzyme, or acid washing and sandblasting create a vintage look, complete with frayed seams, fading, and sometimes holes. Though distressed denim looks worn in, it doesn’t conform to your body quite like raw denim.

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DOUBLE NEEDLE

This common denim stitching method adds polish while reinforcing seams. It’s characterized by two threads, sewn side by side.

DRAWING

This is yet another step of the spinning process in which the slivers are teased out after they’re carded and combed. Drawing, or drafting, helps to smooth the unruly slivers before they’re twisted into yarn.

DRY DENIM

See: Raw Denim

DRY WASH

See: Mechanical Wash

DUAL RING-SPUN

This denim weave uses ring-spun yarn for both the warp and weft threads. The result is a soft, textured fabric—making it pricier and more valuable than open end and regular ring-spun denim.

DUNGAREE

This cotton cloth, which originated in the Indian village of Dungri, was used by the British to make sails, tents, and, when leftover, clothing. Working men made this fabric popular in the 20th century by wearing overalls: dungarees with a bib and shoulder straps. In some countries, “dungaree” and “denim” are used interchangeably.

DYEING

There are many ways to add color to fabric. Denim is colored indigo with either of the two main types of dye:

Natural: taken from nature, these colorants such as henna, saffron, and indigo create a mellower color than synthetic dyes

Synthetic: derived by chemicals, these widely-used dyes are less expensive and produce more vibrant colors

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E

ECRU

The term for natural, undyed cotton also refers to the hard-to-find undyed denim: ecru jeans.

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ENZYME WASHING

The eco-friendly alternative to stone washing, enzyme washing creates a worn look and soft feel in denim without weakening the fabric.

ENZYMES

In textiles, these complex proteins break down denim for processes such as desizing and enzyme washing. Eco-friendly bonus: enzymes are recyclable.

F

FAIR TO MIDDLING

Ever heard the southern expression, “feelin’ fair to middlin’”? Meaning okay or average, the phrase also applies to the quality of cotton. This average grade of cotton, which is fleecy, white in color, and mostly devoid of debris, is typically used for denim.

FIBER

Fiber is the building block of fabric. Natural fibers, such as cotton, fur, hair, silk, and wool, are derived from plants, animals, or minerals. Man-made fibers come in two varieties: regenerated (processed natural fibers, such as viscose rayon) or synthetic (such as polyester, nylon, or acrylic, which are created from chemicals).

FILLING

See: Weft

FINISHING

One of the final steps in the manufacturing process for most jeans, save raw denim. Finishing is the method of aging denim, whether by way of an enzyme or stone wash or processes such as bleaching, overdying, and sandblasting.

FIT

Jeans comes in a variety of fits, or styles, such as slim, skinny, straight, relaxed fit, etc. Prevailing trends determine the fit for some; others select a fit based on what works best for their body type.

FIVE POCKET JEANS

Today, nearly every pair of jeans has five riveted pockets: two in the back, two in the front, and a small coin pocket inside the right front pocket. It wasn’t always that way.

1873: Levi’s original prototype has two pockets in front and one in back.

1890: Levi’s adds the watch, or coin, pocket.

1905: The 501XX Levi’s jean adds a fifth pocket to the backside.

G

GENES

We have the trend-setting 19th century Genoese sailors to thank for today’s blue jeans. Though the sailors’ trousers were made of cotton fustian, not denim, the blue fabric was referred to by the French as “bleu de Genes,” and later, just genes.

GENOVA

Jeans were originally made and sold in this bustling Italian port city, circa 1500. Jeans were adopted by the Genoese Navy because the pants could withstand the rigors of ship life. And sailors were hard on their jeans: they washed their pants by dragging them behind the ship in fishing nets, causing the sun and salt water to bleach the fabric over time.

GINNING

The process of stripping seeds and other debris from the cotton. Harking back to Eli Whitney’s cotton gin in 1794, ginning today involves:

1. Drying the cotton

2. Cleaning it to remove debris such as burs, stems, and leaves

3. Removing the cotton fibers from the seeds with a series of toothy rotating saws

4. Compressing the cotton fibers into 500-pound bales before sending to textile mills

GOOD MIDDLING

A step above cotton’s average grade, middling. Good middling cotton (or, GM) is the highest grade, meaning it contains less debris than middling. GM cotton is recognized by its creamy white coloring.

GREENCAST

Denim that’s first dyed with green sulfur and then with indigo. Greencast denim fades to greenish blue over time as the indigo dye fades.

H

HAND

Fabric is also characterized by its sensory qualities. Hand, or handle, refers to all the tactile aspects of fabric—it’s thickness, smoothness, luster, stiffness, stretch, draping qualities, and more.

HEDDLES

Each heddle serves a single-minded purpose: control its warp yarn. These wire loops affix to the loom’s harness to separate and control the warp yarns during weaving. Heddles are situated near the eye that yarns pass on the loom to control the weaving pattern and shed while it’s raised and lowered.

HEMMING

This is the processes of finishing a cut edge of cloth by folding, refolding, and sewing down to seal the rough edge. When jeans are hemmed to shorten the leg length, one of two hemming styles are typically used: chain stitch or lockstitch.

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HIGE

1In Japanense, hige refers to facial hair, or whiskers. In the context of denim, hige are fade marks through the crotch and thigh caused by the repetitive wear and tear of walking and sitting. Hige can be created artificially by scrubbing jeans over boards, but the natural fading process of raw denim produces fade marks customized to your body.

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HONEYCOMBS

The knees of your jeans really take a beating. The repetitive scrunch behind the back of the jeans’ knees creates a honeycomb-esque fading effect.

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I

INDIGO

Denim gets its blue color from indigo dye. Once derived from plants, indigo is now made synthetically—to the tune of several thousand tons of dye each year. Because indigo doesn’t penetrate to the fiber's core like other dyes, denim fades over time as specks of indigo are washed away.

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INSEAM

The measurement from crotch to hem of a pant’s inner leg. There are no rules to inseam length: some prefer to show a little sock with a shorter inseam while others prefer a longer inseam to cuff and display their selvedge denim. Some manufacturers' jeans are labeled with waist size and inseam length, although a large number of brands only label the waist size.

INTIMATE BLEND YARN

This type of yarn combines different fibers to create a super fabric that enhances the individual fibers' pros and plays down their weaknesses. Take a wool/cotton blend: the wool retains warmth and elasticity, while the cotton reduces pilling and adds softness. Recognizable blends include wool/cotton, ramie/polyester, silk/wool, rayon/cotton, and nylon/acetate.

IRO-OCHI

The fading in high-stress and high-exposure fabric regions, such as the knees, seams, and upper thighs. The term comes from the Japanese for “color slips.”

J

JAPANESE DENIM

Considered some of the highest quality denim on the market (or, at the very least, Italian denim’s strongest competitor), Japanese denim has a die-hard fan base. Japanese denim arose during the early ‘90s when denim artisans began creating boutique jeans using vintage methods such as shuttle looms, selvedge denim, and ring-spun yarn. Because it’s painstakingly produced in small batches, Japanese denim is usually pricier than other denims.

L

LAUNDRY FACILITY

This is where the finishing magic happens. Denim laundries finish raw or dry denim jeans with processes such as dyeing, stone or enzyme washing, sanding, and bleaching. The most noteworthy denim laundry is Martelli—a laundry founded half a century ago in Bologna, Italy, and hailed as “The Wizard of Colors.” Most laundries can be found in Italy, Japan, and Los Angeles.

LEFT-HAND TWILL

“LHT” or “s twill” for short, the weave’s grain line runs from the fabric’s top left-hand corner to the bottom right. When washed, left-hand twill is soft and fluffy. Logically enough, the opposite of LHT is right-hand twill.

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LEG OPENING

The bottom of your jean is the leg opening. It’s not rocket science, people.

LEG TWIST

Twill weaves create a twist that causes pant legs to twist right or left, depending on the twill type. To avoid the twisting effect in denim, manufacturers skew—or twist in the opposite direction—the fabric before creating jeans or use a broken twill weave.

LEVI'S 501

Levi’s timeless 501 jean entered the market as the XX jean. Named to mean “extra, extra strong,” the XX name spoke to the jean’s utility and working wear status. Levi’s XX were renamed 501 in 1890, but the company honored its roots in 2009 when it brought back the XX name.

LOCKSTITCH

This cheaper alternative to the chain stitch "locks" the fabric to form a strong bond, but it doesn't produce quite the same roping effect on the seam. Though less expensive, the lockstitch provides a more durable hem than the chain stitch.

LOOM

Weaving 101: Fabric is woven on a loom. Warp yarns are stretched vertically across this frame/machine and then weft yarns are threaded horizontally through the warp yarns. Denim is usually woven on shuttle or projectile looms.

LOOP DYED

This traditional denim-dyeing method takes up less space and results in consistent coloring. To loop dye a material, ropes of yarn are pulled through indigo dye and allowed to oxidize in the open air before being re-submerged in the dye.

LYCRA

Lycra is to spandex fiber as Kleenex is to facial tissue. Dupont developed the world’s most recognized brand of spandex in 1958 as an alternative for rubber in corsets. Some jeans feature fabric with a touch of Lycra to add stretch to the denim.

LYOCELL

This versatile rayon material can be made to mimic fabrics such as denim, suede, and wool. Lyocell is the generic name for an eco-friendly, biodegradable, and hardy cellulose fiber made of dissolved wood pulp.

M

MAN MADE FIBER

Artificially produced fibers, such as nylon and polyester.

MECHANICAL WASH

Perfected at laundry facilities, mechanical (or dry) wash techniques include stone wash, sand blast, and hand or micro sand.

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MERCERIZATION

This chemical treatment helps to up cotton’s luster and keep dye from fully bleeding into the fibers while strengthening. Created in 1844 by Mr. Mercer himself, the process entails repeatedly dipping material in a sodium-hydroxide bath to shrink the fibers and smooth the threads. Mercerized cotton is sometimes called pearl cotton, due to its satiny appearance.

MICROSANDING

Unique to pre-distressed and pre-washed denim, microsanding is a fabric treatment process that creates a soft, raised finish. Microsanding is achieved by pulling the fabric across a group of horizontally arranged cylinders that are coated in abrasive paper or a chemical abrasion agent. It’s especially adept at helping less-expensive fabrics mimic the softer textures of costlier fabric.