Selecting Jeans : Clothing Industry Fact Sheet from Ohio State
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Selecting Jeans


Norma Pitts
Joyce A. Smith

Today, jeans are popular for all family members. They are worn for every aspect of daily life, from work to leisure to dancing. Available in a variety of styles, colors, fabrics and prices, jeans provide a real challenge to the comparative shopper.


Most jeans are made from 100% cotton or a blend of 50% cotton and 50% polyester. Other blends of cotton and polyester are available. Nylon is sometimes blended with cotton for reinforcement and durability. Sometimes spandex yarns are added for stretch and comfort. A new, cellulosic-based fiber, Tencel, is being introduced in denim blends with polyester.

The presence of cotton contributes absorbency and comfort. The fabric also tends to soften with wear and laundering, giving the feel of well-worn blue jeans. Polyester contributes durability, stability or shrink resistance, and wrinkle resistance. Ease of care in laundering, as well as shorter drying times result from the presence of polyester fiber. Many dyes used with polyester are very stable and retain the rich blue/black color through repeated washings, more so than dyes used for 100% cotton. Tencel fiber performs similarly to cotton in absorbency and comfort. It dyes easily. Tencel blended with polyester will make possible a variety of textures, but will cost more than other jeans products made of cotton/polyester blend denim.


Traditional blue jeans fabric is a tightly woven twill construction. Lengthwise yarns are dyed indigo or blue/black and crosswise yarns are white. The yarns have a very hard twist for durability, but this construction feature affects color also. The yarns are twisted so tightly that the indigo dye doesn't always penetrate, leaving the core of the fabric white. As the fabric abrades or wears away during use, the white cotton yarn surface appears, giving denims a lighter or medium blue color.

Contemporary or modern-day jeans are sometimes dyed in the fabric stage. These jeans have colored yarns in both directions and tend to retain their deeper color throughout the life of the garment.

yarns used in denim may vary in weight from 10 to 14 ounces/square yard of fabric. Normally, jeans with heavier yarns are expected to be slightly more durable. Some manufacturers use a variety of blend combinations, such as nylon reinforcement, as well as heavier yarns to increase durability. A combination of yarn weight, fiber content and finishes/finishing affects durability of the final garment.

Some denims have an extra layer of fabric fused to the inside knee area. The process, which is referred to as vulcanizing, adds reinforcement and durability to the knee area.

A variety of product treatments are available through modern technology. Among these are brushed denims and stretch denims. Brushed denims are napped on the surface for a softer look and feel. The fabrics may also be more flexible after napping.

Stretch denims contribute comfort while bending, "give" for general ease of movement, as well as smoother fit. Stretch fibers, such as spandex or texturized synthetic yarns, give stretch to the fabric.

Distressed Denim

The fashion look in jeans is distressed denim. Identified by several erms including acid washed, stonewashed, ravaged, aged, white washed, bleached, super bleached and simply prewashed, the resulting fabric features a pre-worn look. Treatments give softer hand, more texture, color variation from frosted, bleached light to faded looks, and distressed edges. Years ago consumers would break in their own denims by wearing and laundering. Now, the trend is to buy jeans already broken in.

Distressed denim, often identified by the terms "acid washed" or "washed," is achieved through chemical (bleaching), mechanical (rubbing or abrading), or a combination of both processes. Most distressed jean looks are achieved by some variation of tumbling denim fabric with special pumice stones soaked in a bleaching agent called potassium permagnate. Different sized stones create varying effects. In addition to the bleaching effect, both the pumice stones rubbing the fabric surface, as well as the laundry action itself soften the fabric and abrade or create a worn look on the fabric surface. A deep rinse is needed to remove excess bleach in the fabric. If not removed, fabrics can yellow when exposed to warm water, detergent, heat from the clothes dryer, or sunlight. The damage is permanent and cannot be removed. Although the term "acid washed" is sometimes used to describe this fabric, no acid is used in the process.

Stonewashing is time consuming and expensive, which is reflected in the cost of garments made from these fabrics. As a result, consumers will pay more for distressed jeans than similar jeans made from traditional denim fabric. Some manufacturers estimate that chemical treatments add $11 to the cost of a pair of jeans, while stonewashing adds an additional $3.

New processes are being developed to achieve the same effect at lower costs. Sandblasting is a process which projects particles at denim fabric under controlled pressure settings. The treatment is more mechanical and abrasive than chemical. Another approach uses enzymes which break down cotton fibers used in denim, causing the highly twisted yarns to release indigo dye and soften.

Regardless of the method used to produce distressed denim, durability is decreased and the life of the garment shortened. Excessive bleaching and abrading weaken fibers and may cause holes to form and seams to break after a few wearings. It is estimated that "acid wash" processing is equal to 25 home launderings. Shrinkage becomes less of a problem in the purchased garment, however, since the "acid wash" or other processes also pre-shrink the fabric.

Several products or kits are now available to consumers who want to "distress" their own denim fabric. All systems use some type of mild bleaching action or mechanical abraders such as a pumice stone for rubbing, or emery boards. These processes may not be as harsh as commercial treatments, but still lower the garment's durability and wear life.

Denim producers also use special or irregular yarns and spinning techniques to give denim a cleaner appearance and softer, loftier hand than traditional denims. Some result in an "antique" look without distressed edges. Or, a variety of finishes, such as sandblasting and stonewashes, are used to enhance the antique or worn looks.


Shrinkage of more than 2% will result in a size change. Read labels carefully to determine if the jeans are shrink resistant and to what percentage. If no statements as to shrinkage are present, buying a larger size than needed is recommended.

Jeans made from polyester/cotton blends should be more stable or shrink resistant than jeans of 100% cotton. Special finishes, such as Sanforset, applied to some cotton jeans, control shrinkage as well as reduce puckering and wrinkling. Those which have received "acid wash" or other rinsing treatments or "washes" are preshrunk during processing. Consider these factors when determining the size to buy.


Jeans, jeans, and more jeans! Do you want basic cut jeans or jeans with special detailing? Do you prefer products made by a particular manufacturer or designer jeans? Do you prefer classic, full cut, or high fashion styles?

The leg width adds a fashion detail and influences garment fit. Straight leg, boot cut, flare, and soft slack silhouettes are choices available on the market, plus some novel styles. For instance, straight leg pants for men measure 20 inches at the knee and 20 inches at the leg bottom with a fitted seat and thigh area. The boot cut is a modified flare with a 19-inch knee to a bottom width of 21 inches. The flared silhouette is approximately 21 inches at the knee with a 23-inch bottom. The soft slack is fuller, with a 23 2/3-inch knee tapering to a 19-inch bottom. Thus, the jean leg style, such as straight or flare, and the amount of flare will vary.

Fashion and styling details are given more attention by designers, as reflected in market offerings with much styling variety beyond traditional jeans looks. Oversized, baggy models in various washes and with localized abrasion are newer offerings. Other looks are achieved in pleats, tucks, special yoke insets of contrast or shape, button treatments, and pocket designs.

Fashion detailing is evident in pockets, especially hip pockets. Pocket shape, top-stitching pattern and other trim ideas are varied to create interesting and distinctive garment detail; however, some companies promote plain pocket jeans. Four- and five-pocket styling dominate the jeans market.

Name clothing designers are creating jeans for all members of the family. In some cases there are special or subtle decorating details, such as designer initials on snaps or nail head reinforcements, embroidered signatures, or symbols on watch or hip pockets. Some designers make cuts for fuller figures or body builds while others cater to persons with slender bodies. New trademark names for various fit/cuts highlight focus on how jeans fit; including adjusting cut or offering more ease in menswear and womenswear. Consumers have cited satisfaction in fit as a reason why they select a particular brand or designer style. Designer jeans tend to be more costly. Evaluate features and make comparisons.

Other features are stretch waistbands for men's pants that give and adjust as the individual moves or bends. Also, styles may have half-elastic back or side elastic inset waistbands for children's smaller sizes and to contour Misses' and Women's jeans. Other details are self or decorative belts and decorative appliques.

Color choices include traditional indigo blue or black to frosted, washed, powdered lights or dark washes. More color interest in denim is seen in fashion colors: brown, tan, wheat, gold, brick red, olive, purple, and teal. A few companies offer vivid colors such as bright turquoise, fuchsia, and even orange. By the mid-nineties, manufacturers are expected to introduce tinted neutrals and soft hues such as straw yellow, terra cotta, and stone. Deep tones and overdyes add to the mix. The use of various color thread for top stitching can add decorative detailing. Instead of matching thread, orange, white, or light blue thread is used on blue denim.


The way jeans are cut, put together and finished will influence their appearance and durability. Since you will wear jeans often, the garment must be made well. In general, check for smooth, straight stitching, even stitch length, and threads secured at ends of stitching. Extra stitches, bar tacks, or rivets serve as reinforcements at places of stress - belt loops, at pocket openings and below the zipper. Consider these details:

Waistbands - The band should be cut in one piece and securely stitched with ends enclosed, rather than overcast. Check to be sure belt loops are securely attached and of ample size and number to hold a belt in place.

Placket - The fly area, whether with zipper or buttons, should be faced or of a double fabric thickness. Look for straight, secure stitching and at least one bar tack to reinforce the bottom of the placket. The fly facing or shield should be tapered and reinforced with tacking or fabric tape. The zipper should be sturdy enough for the garment fabric and of adequate length to easily put on jeans. Be sure the zipper has a secure lock feature. That is, the zipper glide should remain in place at the top when stress is applied.

Seams/stitching - Flat fell seams with double or triple stitching provide flat, firm, enclosed seams. Check to be sure they are smoothly constructed. This seam construction encases the seam allowances so there is no raveling during wear or laundering. If seams are not flat fell, be sure the seams are serged (overcast) to cover the raw fabric edges and thus prevent raveling.

Check the joining of seams at crotch and yoke areas. The joining should be accurate and seaming properly finished for a smooth garment appearance and durability.

Other details - Decorative detailing, such as embroidery, contrasting pocket insets, or piping, should be evenly and smoothly applied. Buttonholes should be stitched closely, with no loose threads or exposed edges. Quality pockets have edges carefully turned under and have been placed evenly and securely on the garment. Lining or pocket fabric should be durable, with edges finished. Hems should be even, flat and securely stitched.


Jeans are available in sizes for everyone - men, women, misses, juniors, boys, girls, little boys and girls, and special sizes or cuts for the tall, petite, slim or large person. What size and type to buy will be influenced by:

  • Your measurements
  • Your body build
  • Your body or figure contour - male vs. female
  • Styling details

Generally, men's and boys' jeans are sized and purchased by waist size and inseam measurement. Boys' jeans may be sold by size number, such as 8 to 18. Misses' and women's jeans are sold by garment size, such as Misses 8, 10, 12, etc., or women's sizes 36, 38, 40, 42, and so forth. In some instances, you buy by waist size. Girls, little boys, and little girls size categories are also sold by size number.

Jeans are cut to fit various body shapes, too. For example, some men's jeans have full-cut styling and are available in regular and extra or big sizes. Jeans with full-cut styling are cut wider in the seat and thigh and longer in the rise (crotch area) for a more comfortable fit. In fact, the major jeans companies now have trademark names for cut of jeans, such as Levi's "Silvertab," which is a baggier fit with tapered ankle, or Levi's "Looser Fit," which is cut fuller in the seat, thigh, and knees. Lee's "Relaxed Fit" is cut for loose fit in seat and thigh. Other general terms used may include "cowboy cut," "relaxed fit," "full cut," or "loose fit." Boys' jeans are available in regular, slim, and husky cuts. Girls size pants are offered in three size types to accommodate slender, average, and fuller body types. Junior girls sizes accommodate the slim silhouette. Misses sizes are available in a wide range, and in proportioned lengths.

If gals want to purchase men's jeans, refer to special conversion charts available at stores, in retail catalogs, or on some product charts. Use women's hip measurement to compare with men's waist measurement on the chart. A general guide is, if female measurements fall between, go to smaller size for close fit and larger size for fuller fit. Remember, a female's waist-hip contour and proportions differ from a male's. Men's jeans still may not fit close to the waist without alteration, and the jean's waist will not be at the natural waistline of a female.

Special styling, such as contour waistlines and extra leg width at knee or calf, influence your choice. You may prefer jeans cut and sized by one manufacturer.

It's best to try on jeans whenever possible. Make use of size/measurement information and consider if regular, full, or slim would be comfortable. Remember to allow for shrinkage.

The information found on the pages in this section are provided by Ohio State University for educational purposes.  Apparel Search is not associated in anyway with Ohio State University.  Apparel Search is simply providing viewers of the fashion industry with easy access to the helpful educational material that has been developed by Ohio State University.  Please visit the Ohio State University web site to learn more about the wonderful educational opportunities that they provide. 

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