When first dipping your toe into the inky indigo pool that is raw denim, the amount of new information and vocabulary can be downright mystifying. What is a flat-fell versus an overlock? How does rise length affect fit?
If that all sounds like a foreign language to you, fear not, below are the basic terms to know to be an educated consumer of all things raw denim.
No matter how unique the denim is, how many intricate details there are, or how much they cost you, if your jeans don’t fit how you were expecting – you’re going to be sorely disappointed. Thus understanding the different fits available, and parts of a jean which can affect the silhouette, is crucial to picking the perfect pair.
Straight (Classic Fit)
When riveted denim jeans were invented in the late nineteenth century, they were far from the fashion staple we know today. They weren’t designed to flatter, they were workwear ‘overalls’ designed to withstand all kinds of abuse from miners, cattlemen, and cowboys alike. This means that the classic straight fit is the least tailored, and sports the widest legs and hem openings.
The straight-leg fit has been subject to interpretation over the years, for example, you may see brands describe their jeans as a 30’s or 50’s classic straight, in reference to the silhouette of the everyman-jean of that era. Conventionally, a pair of straight leg jeans will have mid to high rise (see below), a roomier top-block, gentle or no taper, and a wider hem opening.
As the name would imply, slim jeans fit snugly to the body. Back in the 50’s, rock stars such as Elvis Presley would controversially wear jeans with a super-slim top-block to evoke a rebellious image, and slim jeans have since been ubiquitous in pop culture. These days, slim jeans are vastly popular as they are easy to wear with sneakers, boots and shoes, and can be dressed up or down depending on the occasion.
The narrowness of a slim jean can vary from brand to brand, but a standard slim-fit will have a mid to low rise, and a leg which is narrow from the thighs down to the hems.
A somewhat modern silhouette, tapered jeans have a roomier top block, and taper heavily from the knee down to a small hem opening. Not only does this give an instant comfort boost, but it means that tapered jeans can accommodate those with larger thighs who want a slimmer fit.
Slim Tapered Fit
Similar to the above, a slim-tapered fit jean still tapers from the knee down, but has a lower rise, and skinnier thighs.
Online denim retailers typically list out the measurements of their products by six specific dimensions. With this info, you can lay out your own pair of jeans and easily determine which size (if any) is most appropriate for you. There are many different methods of measuring denim amongst enthusiasts, below is what we feel is the most common system you will find amongst denim brands.
The “true waist” is measured flat with a measure tape directly across the top waistband of the jean and then doubled. Many jeans are vanity-sized, so the true waist could be several inches bigger than the number on the tag.
The rise is the length from the top of the inseam (crotch) to the very top of the fly. It determines the shape of the top-block and often correlates with the width of the thighs. Rise will be described on a scale ‘high’ to ‘low’, with a high rise being the longest.
The hem is the very bottom of your jeans, which is often finished with chainstitching. Apart from boot cut jeans, the hem will be the narrowest part of the leg, and is measured in two ways – across in inches (e.g. 7.5″) or around the circumference of the opening, in centimeter (e.g. 21cm).
The inseam refers to the length of the jean from the crotch to the leg opening. Most raw denim jeans will come with a very long inseam of up to 40″, but shrinkage from soaking and washing your jeans should always be taken to account before hemming. Many websites and brick-and-mortar stores will offer chainstitch hemming as a complimentary service or for a small surcharge.
As the largest part of your leg, the thigh measurement is critical when choosing a pair of jeans. Whether you’re a serial squatter or you’ve just been endowed with thunder thighs, you don’t want to spend $200 plus on a pair of jeans to be chafing all day. Likewise, if you’ve got slim thighs, you don’t your jeans hanging off you. Thigh measurements are taking across from the crotch to the outseam.
For a visual guide on how to take the above measurements, you can check our beginners guide to buying raw denim.
Fabric and Construction Terms
The raw denim trade can get a little more technical than many other areas of fashion, where enthusiasts have specific interest in the production and raw materials of their goods.
Twill is a term used to define the diagonal weaving process as well as the fabric that this process creates. Twill fabrics are strong and are created by weaving the ‘weft’ yarn over and under several ‘warp’ yarns, which results in a ribbed diagonal pattern. Denim is a twill fabric, and if you flip your jeans inside-out you’ll notice the diagonal weave.
Denim is traditionally woven with a right-hand twill, meaning the diagonal pattern runs downwards from left to right, but you can get left-hand, and broken twill denim, all of which have different fading properties.
Hear more about different twill patterns via our explanatory article.
Originally known as self-edge, selvedge denim is woven on vintage shuttle looms, which seal each edge of the denim fabric with a narrow white band to prevent unravelling and leave the denim with a clean, attractive finish.
The selvedge line runs all the way down the inside of the outseam and can be exposed if you turn-up your hems. This can plain white band, but usually, a coloured thread will run through that band, which is known as a selvedge ID. Red is the most commonly used colour, but many brands use different colours to support their branding, such as Samurai, who use a silver thread to symbolise a Samurai’s sword.
Get the full rundown on selvedge denim via our in-depth article.
Flat-Fell is one of the two ways in which inseams are stitched. A flat-felled seam is an overlapped seam, created by placing one edge inside another folded edge of fabric, and stitching it down to create a flat surface. As well as being clean and simple, this is a stronger type of seam as it leaves minimal stitching exposed.
Overlock stitch is the other type of seam used on jeans. It is a more exposed seam which is created by stitching over one or two edges of fabric to lock them together. Overlock stitching is not as clean or strong as flat-felled, but it is much more efficient, and there are industrial machines designed solely for overlocking.
See more about overlock stitching vs. flat-felling here.
Sanforization is a process invented by Sanford Lockwood Cluett in the early twentieth century. It is a method of reducing shrinkage in fabric to as little as 1%, and is conducted by stretching and heating the fabric before it is washed. Sanforization revolutionized the mass-production of raw denim, as it cut out the need to pre-shrink jeans yourself before wearing, thus making it much easier to obtain the correct waist size.
Learn all about the sanforization process here.
Shrink to Fit/Unsanforized
In contrast to the above, shrink-to-fit, or unsanforized denim is raw denim that has not been pre-shrunk, and requires the wearer to soak their jeans prior to wearing them to remove excess starch and shrinkage. Unsanforized denim is stiffer, more irregular, and often favored by denim heads at it is the most traditional variation of raw denim, and is known to produce more high-contrast fades.
See our full article on the ultimate shrink to fit jean, the Levi 501.
The most infamous stitch in the heritage clothing world, chainstitching is a traditional stitch which can only be conducted on specialized machines, such as the Union Special 43200G. As well as being authentic and original, chainstitching will make for desirable ‘roping’ fades in denim.
See our complete article on chainstitching and its effects here.
Lockstitching is a simple, robust stitch which is cheaper and more accessible than the chainstitch. It is often overlooked by some denim heads as it’s a less traditional stitching method, which yields weaker roping fades.
See our article comparing the pros and cons of lockstitching and chainstitching.
Rivets are permanent fastenings used to reinforce stress-points on jeans. Most commonly found on pocket corners, rivets are small metal plates traditionally made of copper, which are punched through the denim. They are often hidden on the back-pockets to avoid damaging furniture.
See our full article on the history of the hidden rivet.
Not like eggs, the yoke is the rear piece of the jean connecting the legs to the waistband. The jean has to taper around the hips up to the waist, so the yoke is a necessary part of the pattern. Most yokes point down like a V, but a few jean models have them inverted as well.
As one of raw denim’s most famous and unique qualities, fades are the reason many of us denim heads got into the game in the first place. If you’ve found yourself dumbfounded by the fade-jargon on our site and across the web, here are some definitions of popular fades.
You can also view our backlog of hundreds of faded examples in our Fades section.
Whiskers are the creases which span across the lap, in a formation that resembles cat whiskers. Earned by sitting up and down, they can even claw round to the seat, or continue down the inner thigh as subtle striations.
One of the most sought after fades, honeycombs are the overlapping creases which develop in the hinge of your knee. They come thick and fast on slimmer jeans, and like most fades, their intensity will depend on how active the wearer is.
If you wear your jeans uncuffed, you’re likely to work in some stack fades as your jeans stack towards the hems. The excess piles of denim are subject to friction from your everyday activities and fade in a shimmering pattern similar to honeycombs.
Tracks, or train-tracks are the subtle fade which develops down the outseam, caused by the selvedge line inside the jean.
Ropingis the name for the puckered fades which can occur on any overlapped seam, but is most famously on the hem and yoke seams.
Not a fade, but still a result of wearing and washing, leg -twist is where the outseam skews to the right or left, and wraps around the leg. Love it or hate it, leg-twist is pretty much imminent unless a manufacturing process has been put in pace to prevent it.
For more denim tips and terms check out our Dictionary.