What is Denim | Different Types of Denim

Last Updated on 14/03/2021

What is Denim? 
A popular conception of the etymology of the word denim is that it is a contraction or derivative of the French term, serge de Nîmes. At present, denim is one of the most widely manufactured fabrics. Denim is a warp faced cotton fabric, made from indigo dyed warp and undyed weft yarns. Since it is a 3/1 twill weave with the warp set closer together than the filling, the former predominates on the surface of the fabric. Denim was traditionally colored blue with indigo dye to make blue “jeans,” though “jean” then denoted a different, lighter cotton textile; the contemporary use of jean comes from the French word for Genoa, Italy (Gênes), from which the first denim trousers were made. Although blue denim fabric has been a consumer favorite for many years, the product also comes in different shades and tones.

Denim is a type of cotton textile known for its use in blue jeans and other clothing. It uses a sturdy twill weave with a characteristic diagonal ribbing. Originally used for workmen’s clothes, denim is now ubiquitous and has even entered the world of high fashion. Nearly everyone has at least one garment made of this fabric in the closet these days.

Fashion is today incomplete without denim. Denim comes in all forms, looks and washes to match with every dress. It would be difficult to believe that the same denim was originally employed in clothing for the pants and overalls worn by miners on the west coast (US). A number of technological factors have contributed to making denim the fashion icon that it is today – including vast improvements in spinning, weaving, finishing etc.

Types of Denim
While the original denim was a 100% cotton serge material, you can now get it in a variety of materials, including blends that give you the same wonderful look of 100% cotton denim with some great additional features. Denim’s unique look comes from the rich indigo blue in one shade or another woven together with white threads to give the “depth” that people associate with denim. Today, some types of denim no longer have indigo, but other colors with the white opposing threads, producing denims in a rainbow of shades.

Types of Denim are given below:
Types of denim are broadly categorized as:

  1. Dry Denim
  2. Selvage Denim
  3. Stretch Denim
  4. Poly Denim
  5. Ramie Cotton Denim
  6. Organic denim
  7. Natural dyed denim
  8. Tencel/cotton blend denim
  9. Wool denim
  10. Silk denim
  11. Linen denim
  12. Polyester blend denim etc.

Some popular types of denim are briefly described below:

Dry or Raw Denim
Dry or raw denim, as opposed to washed denim, is a denim fabric that is not washed after being dyed during its production. Most denim is washed after being crafted into an article of clothing in order to make it softer and to eliminate any shrinkage which could cause an item to not fit after the owner washes it. In addition to being washed, nondry denim is sometimes artificially “distressed” to achieve a worn-in look. Much of the appeal of dry denim lies in the fact that with time the fabric will fade in a manner similar to factory distressed denim. With dry denim, however, such fading is affected by the body of the person who wears the jeans and the activities of their daily life. This creates what many enthusiasts feel to be a more natural, unique look than pre-distressed denim. To facilitate the natural distressing process, some wearers of dry denim will often abstain from washing their jeans for more than six months though it is not a necessity for fading. Predominantly found in premium denim lines, dry denim represents a small niche in the overall market.

raw or dry denim
Fig: Raw or dry denim

Selvage Denim
Selvage denim (also called selvedge denim) is a type of denim which forms a clean natural edge that does not unravel. It is commonly presented in the unwashed or raw state. Typically, the selvage edges will be located along the out seam of the pants, making it visible when cuffs are worn. Although selvage denim is not completely synonymous with unwashed denim, the presence of selvage typically implies that the denim used is a higher quality. The word “selvage” comes from the phrase “selfedge” and denotes denim made on old-style shuttle looms. These looms weave fabric with one continuous cross thread (the weft) that is passed back and forth all the way down the length of the bolt. As the weft loops back into the edge of the denim it creates this “self-edge” or Selvage. Selvage is desirable because the edge can’t fray like lower grade denims that have separate wefts which leave an open edge that must be stitched. Shuttle looming is a more time-consuming weaving process that produces denim of a tighter weave resulting in a heavier weight fabric that lasts. Shuttle looms weave a narrower piece of fabric, and thus a longer piece of fabric is required to make a pair of jeans (approximately 3 yards). To maximize yield, traditional jean makers use the fabric all the way to the selvage edge. When the cuff is turned up the two selvage edges, where the denim is sewn together, can be seen. The selvage edge is usually stitched with colored thread: green, white, brown, yellow, and red (red is the most common). Fabric mills used these colors to differentiate between fabrics.

Selvage Denim
Fig: Selvage Denim

Stretch Denim
Stretch denims have been found to be very useful from the wearer’s point of view. These denims containing a small percentage of lycra contribute substantially to the wearer’s comfort and hence have become quite popular. It is usually about 98% cotton and 2% Spandex for a bit of that forgiving stretch we all love. This blend gives you wonderful ease of movement and at the same time some support for those “trouble spots” you aren’t so fond of around the hips or thighs. Stretch denim jeans are one of the fastest growing segments of the women’s market for jeans manufacturers.

Stretch Denim
Fig: Stretch Denim

Poly Denim
It is the blends that appeal to those who like the look of denim but prefer polyester blends that wash and dry quickly and are lighter weight and a bit dressier. These usually appeal to a slightly older market, but are also finding favor for pantsuits, etc. when the look is meant to be “dressy but casual”.

Poly Denim
Fig: Poly Denim

Ramie Cotton Denim
It is the blends that are found in a variety of combinations, with a wide price variance. Ramie is a plant fiber usually added because it reduces wrinkling and adds a silky luster to the fabric. It isn’t as strong as cotton, however, so it has to be blended with this stronger material in order to stand up as a denim material.

Ramie Cotton Denim
Fig: Ramie/Cotton Denim

Organic denim
Organic cotton is an ecofriendly cotton variety that is cultivated without using synthetic agricultural chemicals like fertilizers and pesticides. Cotton farming is carried out in 2.5% of the cultivated land globally but requires 16% of the total consumed insecticides. This agrochemical is one of the major causes of pollution. The use of organic cotton is preferred for making organic denim; also, potato starch, natural indigo, etc. are preferred over tapioca starch and synthetic indigo. The quality of cotton (cotton fiber length, strength and micronaire) does not differ much between conventional and organic cotton. So for sustainable development, denim manufacturers are encouraged to use organic cotton rather than standard cotton with a premium price of the product. But dyeing of organic denim is challenging for dyers because it is time-consuming and requires skilled workers. This leads to high processing costs, which prevents organic denim from currently being more popular.

Organic denim
Fig: Organic denim

Natural dyed denim
Natural dyes are obtained from natural sources such as vegetable matter, minerals and insects. These dyes find use in the coloration of textiles, food, drugs, cosmetics, etc. Although the market for natural dyes is very small and is less than 1% of the world synthetic dyes consumption, they have a demand in the niche segment mostly due to their ecofriendly attribute. Use of natural dyes in denims is one such limited domain. Natural indigo, Indigofera tinctoria, is the only natural vat dye and gives a similar shade to that of synthetic indigo. However, the former needs to be applied at a higher concentration as it is weaker than the synthetic one. Dyeing of denim with several other natural dyes, and using ecofriendly mordants, is possible, by which different shades are achieved on denim. Onion extract has been attempted on denim using natural and synthetic mordants. A synergistic effect of natural mordant combinations like a tartaric acid and tannic acid combination has been reported, giving good results by the meta-mordanting process.

You may also like:

  1. Process Flow Chart of Denim Manufacturing
  2. Denim Fabric: Types and Manufacturing Process
  3. Latest Dry Washing Techniques in Denim Garments
  4. Latest Dry Washing Techniques in Denim Garments
  5. Improving Comfort Properties of Denim Fabric through Washing Treatment
  6. Effect of Random Wash on Denim Fabrics by Using Different Techniques
  7. Textile Recycling and Uses of Recycled Denim
  8. Woven and Knitted Denim Manufacturing and Limitations of Woven Denim

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