Denim 101 – The Ultimate Denim Guide

Denim 101 – The Ultimate Denim Guide

Trust us — we know how strange ‘Denim 101’ sounds. There’s a compendium for jeans? In fact, there is! Or at least, there should be. There’s a lot to know about denim, after all; whether it be denim history, brand knowledge, maintenance or sizing, this guide should have you well on your way to knowing and loving denim about as much as we do! The following are answers to the questions we get asked most frequently.

How do I take care of my denim?

This is a big question, and one which we will break up and answer in smaller slices below, but here’s the short answer: wear, wash, repair, repeat. There’s no need to throw your jeans in the freezer or wash them in the ocean. Myths busted. Instead, we recommend you wash your jeans when they need washing (more on that below) and then repair them when rips and tears appear. In our opinion, there’s nothing better than a well worn and loved pair of jeans. And the only way to get there is with lots of wears and repairs. Fortunately, Dutil offers repair services.

How (often) should I wash my raw denim?

There are two questions here: first, how should I wash my jeans? and second, how often should I wash my jeans?

To answer the first: it depends. Different washing techniques will render different results post-wash. For example, the more rigorous the wash and the hotter the water, the more dye you will lose; however, a rigorous wash with hot water isn’t exactly easy on your jeans. The hot water could shrink your jeans (in the waist and in the length) and could cause any small rips to tear open further. Then, the reverse is also true: if you put your jeans through a gentle cycle with cold water, they will lose less dye and shrink less. Drying is another beast altogether; however, we usually recommend hang drying your jeans as a tumble dryer can be hard on denim and lead to unwanted shrinkage.

In response to the second question (i.e., how often), again, the answer isn’t so easy. Washes will inevitably remove dye from the jeans, so the more you wash your jeans, the lighter they will become. With that being said, if your jeans smell bad, wash them. No questions asked. Not washing your jeans at all is equally bad (if not worse) for the health of your denim than washing your jeans rigorously and with hot water.

For those who still have questions: as a very general rule, we would recommend washing your jeans in a machine with cold water once every 4 – 6 months.

When I buy jeans, how should they fit when I first put them on?

Pretty much all denim stretches out; this is an inevitability of the cotton (and/or stretch synthetics) that make it up. Knowing this while shopping for jeans will make the process a lot easier. If the jeans you’re trying on in-store fit slightly tighter than how you’d like them to fit long term, you’ve probably nailed the size. As a general rule, denim will stretch out about a half size.

Raw denim vs. selvedge denim:

‘Raw’ refers to a fabric’s lack of processing (e.g., washing and pre-distressing), whereas selvedge refers to the manner in which the fabric is woven. The fabric that constitutes a ‘raw’ pair of jeans has not been washed, pre-distressed or faded in any way. As a result, raw denim is often (although not always) dark in colour and at least somewhat rigid. Selvedge fabric is one that is woven with a continuous weft yarn (more on ‘weft yarns’ shortly!), which creates a finished edge along the length of the fabric. It is generally produced on old fashioned shuttle looms. The few manufacturers who possess these old fashioned shuttle looms appreciate how the detailing alludes to the craftsmanship of a lost era.

An example of selvedge denim.

What is the difference between sanforized and unsanforized denim?

In the world of ‘raw denim,’ there are two types of fabric: sanforized and unsanforized. For clarification’s sake, both are generally considered “raw.”

When Levi’s first started producing denim, the fabric they were using (called loom state and later, ‘unsanforized’) shrank once it was soaked or washed in water. Later, in order to ease some of the guess-work involved in buying ‘shrink-to-fit’ denim, companies started to process their fabric so that it would not shrink so significantly. This process is known as sanforization. Sanforized denim, then, is denim that has been treated to ensure that the fabric does not shrink significantly. Most of the denim you find today is sanforized, and this is because companies want to give their consumers confidence that they are buying a pair of jean that will fit. However, some companies choose not to treat their denim, knowing that a small niche of consumers would like to buy their jeans in its most natural or ‘raw’ state. When buying unsanforized denim, most will size up one size expecting the denim to shrink proportionally (and several inches in length).

What is the warp and weft of my jeans?

Every fabric is a combination of warp and weft yarns woven together in 90-degree angles.

The warp refers to the yarn that runs vertically in the fabric. It is typically dyed (indigo in the case of blue jeans and black in the case of black jeans).

The weft runs horizontally (or, weft to right) and holds the warp together. Typically, the weft is undyed, meaning that it is a natural, white colour. The combination of an indigo dyed warp and undyed weft is what normally constitutes a ‘blue jean.’ However, some denim makers like to dye their weft as well as a way of creating a unique fabric. See indigo x indigo jeans which have both indigo dyed warps and wefts or black warp jeans which, of course, have a black-dyed warp. These attributes both contribute to the look of the jeans off the shelf and the look of the jeans after the fabric has started to fade.

What are the different denim twills and do they make a difference in my jeans?

When you weave together your warp and weft yarns in the aforementioned, 90-degree fashion, you end up with a pattern that runs diagonally. This is known as the twill.

Left Hand Twill

With this type of denim, the lines of the weave run diagonally from the top left corner to the bottom right corner.

Right Hand Twill

Right Hand Twill has a diagonal weave pattern that runs from the top right corner of the fabric to the bottom left. Most denim is a Right Hand Twill.

Broken Twill

This denim switches between the Right Hand Twill and Left Hand Twill weave every two warp turns, creating a distinct zigzag pattern. This fabric was designed to reduce the twisting of the fabric after being washed.

An example of a Left Hand Twill.

Why should I consider denim weight when buying a pair of jeans?

The weight of your denim affects five factors: comfort, drape, break-in time, fading and durability.

Comfort and Drape

Lighter denim (around 10-12 oz) falls on your legs more naturally from the get-go and is better in terms of breathability. Heavier denim (anywhere from 13 to a whopping 32 oz) definitely feels more rigid and requires some breaking in before it feels like a well-worn pair of jeans.

Break-in Time

The heavier the denim, the longer the break-in time. That is, the heavier the denim, the longer the period of discomfort.


There’s a reason people stick it out with mid to heavyweight denim, however—the fades are incredible. You will definitely see more contrasted fading with heavier denim. This is because…


Heavier denim can take more of a beating than lightweight options. So if you’re using your jeans daily or for hard labour, 16 oz denim and up are your best bet. But for casual wear in the warmer months, you’ll want to go with a lightweight pair.

How do I make my jeans fade faster?

The simple answer: Wear them and wash them. It’s worth noting, however, that you’ll lose indigo evenly by washing your jeans. So if you’re looking for high-contrast fades (that is, a more distinct difference in colour between the faded and not-faded parts of the jeans), we advise waiting longer between washes. If you would like your jeans to be lighter everywhere, lots of wear and washing will do this.

How do I keep my jeans from fading?

To keep your jeans from fading follow these steps:

    Turn your jeans inside out and soak them in a tub of cold water with around a cup of vinegar for 30 minutes to set the dye. Lightly rinse the jeans in cold water. There will be a slight vinegar smell for a few days! Hang to dry again

*We recommend only washing your jeans with dark colours in case the dye bleeds onto the rest of your laundry.

What’s a chainstitch hem and what makes it special?

During the golden era of denim production, jeans were generally hemmed using a chainstitch machine, rather than a more common lockstitch one, and the operation was performed on machines manufactured by Union Special. Beyond its contribution to the coveted roping effect, a chainstitched hem recalls the craftsmanship of the 50s and 60s and can be prominently displayed by cuffing one’s jeans.  We are proud to be one of the few denim shops in Canada to offer this classic hem.

A chainstitched hem recalls the craftsmanship of the 50s and 60s.

Why do some women’s jeans lack front pockets?

A fair question; after all, from a utilitarian standpoint, it makes no sense that a pair of jeans would not have front pockets (or, as is equally common), have uselessly small front pockets. No self-respecting Denim 101 Guide can ignore this question.

A lot of women’s jeans have very sleek, tight silhouettes—particularly skinny jeans. The thin, lining fabric of front pockets can create unwanted wrinkles and lines in the denim. To avoid this, select brands have sewn the front pockets shut and removed their lining to give their jeans smoother, more streamlined looks. Fortunately, more and more brands (see: Nudie, N&F’s ‘Classic’ and ‘Max’ fits, Levi’s ‘Wedgie’ fit) are responding to feedback and creating jeans that come with functional front pockets.

Is it possible to find ethical and eco-friendly jeans?

Definitely. Several denim brands are committed to only using sustainable materials and practices to reduce the denim industry’s ecological footprint. Look for jeans that are made in Canada, the U.S., Japan, and Europe – these regions tend to have extensive laws surrounding the ethics and environmental practices involved in making a pair of jeans. Additionally, buying jeans produced closer to home will lower your carbon footprint.

I still have a denim question – who should I ask?

Don’t be a stranger—reach out to