Sanforized? Unsanforized? Selvedge? Raw? – What does it all mean? For the worlds most worn clothing item, there sure is a lot confusing terminology around denim. Here at Stuarts London we believe that everyone should be able to enjoy a good quality pair of denim jeans.
That’s why we’ve put together our very own Denim Dictionary to help you confidently navigate the world of quality denim and get that perfect pair just for you.
Below you can find all the denim terminology you will ever need. All images used are from denim brands that we stock here at Stuarts London.
To see our full range of denim click the button below.
Back Pocket Flasher
Shrink To Fit
The distressed section of a pair of denim, where the fabric shows the results of heavy wear. Often created
with the use of the washing technique and pumice stones on pre-washed jeans.
Acid Wash/Stone Wash
The washing technique that could singlehandedly represent the 1980s. Acid wash uses pumice stones soaked
with chlorine, this strips off the colour in the top layer of the fabric creating sharp contrast all over the
jeans. The look was popularised by hard rock and metal acts in the 80s and Candida Laundry patented the process
Generally, refers to the decorative double stitching on the back of the pockets shaped like bat wings. Levi’s
is credited with the first using it on their very first 501s and they are commonly still associated with the
iconic jean. It goes further than mere association though – particularly in the U.S where no other denim brand is allowed to sell jeans with patterns that even remotely resemble the Levis arcs.
Japanese reproduction brands have imitated the arcs, an act that resulted in several lawsuits.
A word borrowed from Japanese, the term describes the selective fading alongside the ridges of the
seams, and in most cases, it concerns the seams on the back yoke, back pockets, the belt and the zip fly.
Back Pocket Flasher
Traditionally a paper or cardboard flap attached to the right back pocket to indicate differences in size,
finishing, fabrics, and shapes. Also used as a marketing gimmick, it often featured illustrations that referred
to a specific theme associated with that specific model, like westerns.
These tacks are closely spaced stitches forming a band or bar on virtually all denim garments that act as
reinforcement on stress points such as zippers and pocket openings
As the name indicates these were places around the waist to hold a belt, they replaced the suspender
buttons in the 1920s to supply the trend of belts that emerged after WW1. Most jeans have five loops but some
brands like Wrangler have seven for extra support.
This term denotes a collector’s item from the Levis Strauss & Co range, prior to 1970 all Levis Strauss & Co jeans and jackets
featured a red tab with an embroidered capital ‘E’ and are now much sought after by collectors.
Heavyweight weave (from 14oz upwards) bull denim is an ecru fabric and during production is either
printed, piece or garment-dyed.
This refers to any extra colour tones that might be present in denim fabric that is sometimes added by way
of an additional dyeing process, indigo denim can have a black, brown, grey, green, red or yellow caste to
Also known as ‘cambric’, chambray is a plain woven, medium weight cotton fabric usually made from blue
and white yarns, used for making shirts, dresses and children’s clothing. It takes its name from the town
Cambrai in the north of France. A heavier version was used for workmen’s shirts in USA and as such
supposedly the source for the term ‘blue collar’.
The traditional stitch used to hem jeans, it uses one continuous thread that loops back on itself and ends up
looking like the links of a chain.
The fifth pocket, strictly functional. This small added pocket can be found inside the right front pocket also
known as the watch or match pocket, it supposedly first appeared in 1890 and has become smaller over
the years yet retains its functionality.
The level of attachment of dye to the garment, indigo is common for use on denim garments because of its
colourfastness, the contact of the garment with water and exposure to sunlight often results in loss of the
A name that sounds familiar to denim heads all over the world. Not surprising since it’s to this day one of
the biggest denim manufacturers in the world. It started business in 1891 in Greensboro, North Carolina it
was founded by Moses and Cesar Cone and started out a wholesale grocer, a few years after opening its
doors it began weaving cloth, it then started supplying to Levis in 1910 and became an exclusive supplier
for the 501s.
The density of denim refers to the number of yarns that make up the weave, four categories differentiate
the density, Low, Medium, High and Super High, and this is the difference between the looser or tighter
Jeans that underwent excessive wear and show strong abrasions and have been ripped or torn can be
artificially created to give the jeans a real vintage and worn-out look. Taken to extremes with the frayed
hems and seams the denim is torn and ripped and so on.
Also called ‘twin needle’ a method that is used to create a perfectly parallel seam, most often used to make
jeans stronger and more durable. Double stitching on back pockets is a tell-tale sign of a classic jeans look.
A button used on a button fly pair of jeans that resembles a doughnut design, containing a hole in the centre of
The original production form of denim when it is still unwashed and untreated. After dyeing and weaving of
the fabric, the cloth is still quite stiff and has a deep blue Indigo colour with a shine, it is left up to the wearer
to break in their jeans made of dry/raw denim. In this condition, the jeans would mould to the wearer’s body
type and shape creating unique folds and fade marks along the way.
An effect that is obtained after repeated wear and wash of indigo-dyed denim. The indigo is attached to the
cotton fibres detaches causing the denim to fade. Recognizable by its lighter colour other than the
standard dark shade of blue or black. Multiple methods exist to create this effect artificially, for example by
stone washing or bleaching.
Nowadays five pockets is the standard number of pockets found on a jeans design, introduced by Levi Strauss & CO
in 1922 with the 501 design, consists of two back pockets, two front pockets and a coin pocket inside
the right-hand front pocket. The Levi’s prototype from 1873 only had two in the front and one in the
back, the coin pocket was added in 1890, the fifth pocket (second back pocket) came a bit later in the 1905.
The five-pocket jeans soon became standard in the jeans industry.
A term to describe how denim feels referring to the materials specific characteristics like smoothness,
stiffness, stretchability, or thickness.
A dyeing process to maximise colour penetration that also makes the yarn keep its soft feel. Yarn is looped
over a hook and dipped in water which opens up the fibres. This allows the dye to reach everywhere, the
fabric is left in the dye for 48 hours then washed and redipped, a process that is repeated a few times.
All denim that is heavier than 12oz is considered heavyweight. Pictured are the heaviest jeans ever made, the 32oz Worlds Heaviest Jeans by Naked And Famous Denim.
A process of adjusting jeans by folding up an edge stitch and sewing it in place preventing it from
unravelling. Denim is usually hemmed in the factory with a chain stitch.
Also, referred to as just ’combs’ this refers to the area at the back of the knee of a pair of jeans, the indigo
colour fades the more the pants are worn and is said to resemble honeycomb patterns.
Jeans typically are indigo blue hence widely used name blue jeans, the indigo dye which gives
jeans this deep blue colour has a long history. The use of the word indigo could be confusing as it refers to
the dye itself, the colour of the dyed fabric as well as the dye’s natural sources the woad (Isatic Tinctoria L)
and true indigo (INDIGOFERA TINCTORIA L), both of these plants produce such a similar blue dye that
chemical analysis of historical textile cannot even tell whether it has been dyed with woad or indigo.
Preparation of the dye tubs and the dye process itself are complicated and require a lot of work. The dye
bath starts out a white/green colour which only turns blue once the textiles exposed to oxygen, the more
often the fabric is dyed the deeper the blue becomes, an important characteristic of indigo is that it is
colourfast. In 1826 French jean Baptiste Guirnet secretly developed a synthetic blue which was put on the
market at the end of the 19th century by the German company badische anilin-und soda fabric (BASF)
synthetic indigo soon exceeded the demand of the traditionally produced dye.
The inseam is the length as measured from the inside of the leg from the crotch to the hemline (this
should reach the ankle bone) together with the waist size, the inseam determines the various jeans sizes.
A denim cloth that is in high demand due to the quality, the quality is maintained by the traditional
production methods used in Japan, using 28inch shuttle looms as well as high-quality ring-spun yarn
Japanese denim is typically given several indigo baths.
The opening at the bottom of all pairs of (denim) jeans, the width of it varies per brand and model.
This is a type of denim that comes straight from the loom and has not been sanforized or modified in any
way, any pre-1920 produced denim would have been loom state denim.
Refers to a very soft loose denim weave that is rinsed just once after loomstate, it is done for environmental
purposes as well as to create a specific look and feel. It is a Japanese invention from 1991 that never quite
made it to European or American shores.
During production, fabrics typically stretch and once washed, the fibres relax and shrink back to their
original length. Pre-shrinking or sanforizing eliminates this, see also ‘sanforized’.
The purest form of denim. That is denim that has not been washed or treated in any way, giving it a
rigid feel. The term “Raw Denim” is actually credited to the brand G-Star, who were the first to use it for their
untreated, unwashed products in 1996. (See also dry denim and Rigid Denim).
A term that implies raw denim that is only rinsed rather than subjected to a full wash and therefore keeps its
rough, durable qualities.
The length from the crotch up to the waistband, jeans can have a rise ranging from high to low,
making the difference whether the waist is cut under or above the navel.
Proposed by Jacob davies a Latvian tailor from Reno (Nevada), Levi Strauss filed for patent number
139/121 for a work trouser strengthened with copper rivets, this patent emphasized that the use of the
rivets as an “improvement in fastening pocket openings” ensured sewed seams are prevented from ripping
by applying metal rivet or eyelet at each end of the pocket opening. Rivets were often used decoratively.
Generally regarded as the best method for indigo dyeing of yarns. These yarns are twisted together until
they form a rope and then briefly dipped in indigo baths. Due to the short dyeing time the dye does not
fully colour the yarns the resulting ring dye yarns therefore fade faster than the yarn that has fully absorbed
the indigo, this is one of the main methods to dye indigo yarn (see “Slasher Dyeing” and “loop Dyeing”).
The term that is used for the vertical edge of the denim fabric that is usually decorated with a coloured
thread, it prevents the end of the denim from revelling and gives the jeans a clean finished look, the colour
varied according to the brand and producer. Vintage Levi’s for example used to have an all-white strip and
later had a single redline Selvedge, Wrangler used a yellow, and Lee often a plain white type.
Shrink To Fit
Before processed as sanforization and stone washing were available people were obliged to buy their jeans
a couple of sizes bigger because of the shrinkage that would occur after washing, such untreated jeans
were soaked before wear to shrink and soften the rigid fabric of the jeans, for example, Levis 501 model
where shrink to fit until 1959. Shrink to fit jeans are still offered today by selected manufacturers for the true
Slubs are inconsistencies in denim that are created on old 28inch shuttle looms, due to uneven spinning
the fabric may be thicker in some areas than in others. Whereas they used to be seen as flaws slubs are
now sometimes deliberately added to give more character
This refers to a denim hybrid fabric made with a percentage of elastane fibre in the welt which
makes the model cling to the body thanks to its elasticity. Cone Mills was the first (American) mill to
produce it back in 1962 (see also “cone mills”)
The very recognisable yet small signature label usually attached to the side of the right back pocket of any
pair of jeans that identifies the jean brand, also known as a “flag”.
Indicating the tobacco colour tint of the stitches commonly used by denim manufacturers.
Twill is a weaving technique that gives the fabric a characteristic pattern of diagonal lines, twill weave is not
limited to a certain type of material and can be applied to cotton, silk, linen, wool or any combination of
these materials. All twill fabrics consist of warp threads and weft threads, warp threads run along the length
of the fabric and the weft across the width, the way in which these threads are crossed determines the
strength and look of the woven fabric. Thread quality and width also influence the flexibility and
sustainability of the fabric. Denim is often specified as 3×1 twill which refers to the number of weft threads per warp
thread, denim fabric is traditionally woven using 3×1 twill as opposed to a more lightweight denim (under
10.5oz) with 2×1 twill, with a 3×1 fabric the weft thread is woven three times over the warp thread and on
time under and so on.
Warp is a specific construction of yarn in which the vertical yarns are alternately woven over and under the weft, it
makes the resulting material stronger. In denim warp runs parallel with to the selvedge and is usually blue,
the term “warp” is said to have been derived from either the Norwegian warp or from the Dutch verb
werpen, i.e. to throw across.
Weft is the term for the horizontal threads that pass through the warp threads via the shuttle during
weaving and run perpendicular to the Selvage. See also “twill” and “warp”.
The horizontal crease lines around the crotch, thigh, and knees of the jeans, formed by wearing dyed jeans
resulting in a faded look, they can also be artificially applied with industrial fading techniques such as
lasering or sandblasting.
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