What is Denim?

Niki Foster

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.

Blue jeans are linked to the California Gold Rush, where miners wore jeans as they dug for gold.
Blue jeans are linked to the California Gold Rush, where miners wore jeans as they dug for gold.

Levi Strauss is credited with making the first blue jeans out of denim in the 1850s, for gold miners in California. In the 1930s and '40s, commercially sold denim workwear became very popular, with new companies such as Dickies and Wrangler joining the trend. Comfortable, durable, and associated with blue collar culture, the fabric soon became fashionable among the working class youth throughout the United States. Denim jackets became a fashion statement in the 1950s along with jeans.

Some jeans are made of stretch denim.
Some jeans are made of stretch denim.

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Throughout the decades, denim continued to gain a wider market. By the 1970s, women were wearing it as often as men, and denim skirts and dresses could be found in numerous styles. In the '80s, designer jeans were the rage, and a style once associated with the working class was updated for affluent yuppies. Though denim is still considered a casual material and is not usually worn for more formal occasions, it is not unusual to see people sporting jeans at high end night clubs, and many designer garments cost in the hundreds of US Dollars (USD).

Denim clothing is considered a casual and is not usually worn during formal occasions.
Denim clothing is considered a casual and is not usually worn during formal occasions.

Denim was originally dyed blue with indigo — hence the characteristic color of "blue jeans." While blue remains a popular color, the fabric can be found today in nearly any color imaginable. It is also available in cotton blends, though it is traditionally 100% cotton. Some blends add a bit of Lycra® or spandex to create stretch denim. The earliest manufacturers, including Levi and Dickies, still dominate the market, though haute couture designers like Calvin Klein are also well-known for their denim garments.

In the 1950s, denim jackets became a fashion statement.
In the 1950s, denim jackets became a fashion statement.
Blue jeans are made of denim.
Blue jeans are made of denim.

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Discussion Comments


I caution everyone to check all rivets before buying denim jeans or what ever else. Some of my friends told me that. They had a very bad experience with them because they found sharp edges on the rivets and they were wounded. Otherwise denim is good and durable, but only indigo. Other colors of denim are junk. --Ahmed, Pakistan


My boss says that we cannot wear denim of any color. I have some pants that I honestly don't know if they are considered denim. Is there any way I can determine through the label that tells what the pants or made of, or by the way the seams are sown. I have some pants that have a Lee label. Does that automatically make them denim?


I may be opening a can of worms here, but for me, unless your denim is blue, then they're not jeans.

I really don't like all these other colors of jeans, especially the white ones -- I think they look awful.

What's wrong with a good old denim blue jean? Things become classic for a reason, you know.


Stretch denim jeans are great even for those with very fit bodies, because you can get the look of jeans without the stiffness.

Of course, they do have a few issues -- you have to be more careful about washing and drying them, and many times the stretch either loses its elasticity so that your pants balloon out, or the fabric gets really thin and weak.

However, for me, I think that having denim trousers without the stiffness is definitely worth the extra care in the wash.


I am all for denim -- my closet is stuffed with jeans, but one thing that I think just looks universally awful is denim shorts.

Very, very occasionally I see a man who can pull of the longer style of denim shorts, but for the most part, what you get is cheap looking, pleat-front "jorts" (jean shorts) that really just aren't flattering on anyone.

And those super-short shorts that girls wear? Frankly, they just look so uncomfortable that I can't even begin to think about whether they look nice or not.

So stick to the denim jeans people -- there's no reason to change a good thing.

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