Everywhere you look, nowadays people are using the words denim and jean interchangeably but they, in fact, have different meanings. To start off let’s look at the definitions of each word. Denim is pretty straight forward, but the confusion arises with the word jean as it has two meanings.
A warp-faced fabric with a twill weave. It is typically made of cotton or a cotton polyester blend. The cotton is yarn-dyed before the weaving process.
A medium weight warp faced fabric with a twill weave. It is usually piece dyed or printed.
A trouser made of denim, usually woven with a warp-faced twill.
I used to call practically anything made out of denim jeans. I could be forgiven for thinking this as it has become part of our shared language that jean can refer to all things made out of denim. I own a jean jacket and have referred to my numerous denim shirts as jean shirts, so I see where the confusion could come from. But from their definitions, we learn that both can refer to a type of fabric, but jean also refers to a style of trouser.
So both denim and jean can refer to fabrics. How they are dyed is one way they are often differentiated. Denim is yarn dyed, and jean is piece dyed. In denim, the warp yarns are dyed blue and woven with white filling yarns. Jean, on the other hand, is typically piece dyed which means after the fabric has been woven it is dyed. Why is this important? These fabrics have a warp-faced twill weave. In denim, this means that as the warp threads (dyed blue) have more floats on the right side of the fabric than the white filling yarns that the right side of the fabric is much bluer than the wrong side of the fabric. This also means that there are more filling floats (white) on the wrong side of the fabric and that the wrong side appears whiter. As jean is piece dyed, there is not as much of a marked difference between the right and wrong sides of the fabric.
Not sure what warp or filling yarns are? Want to more about the twill weave of denim and how it helps to make denim one of the most popular fabrics? Brush up on your Denim knowledge in my previous post, The Skinny about Denim.
Why is the way denim is dyed so important? Who cares if it is lighter on the inside than the outside, right? Denim’s distinctive fade patterns are due to the way it is dyed and its warp-faced twill weave. Through normal wear, you will notice different fade patterns in the denim develop. The indigo blue dye fades in areas like the back of the knees, across the front of your hips and other areas that receive more friction. The amount of fade and its pattern depends on how often the garment is worn and washed. You can buy denim pre-treated with fade lines, creases, and even tears but I prefer to customize mine the old-fashioned way by wearing them far too often and washing when needed.
Want to learn more denim terms like whiskering, honeycomb and knee bursts check out this cool A to Z of Denim slideshow. I am not affiliated with Refinery29 I just thought the slide show was fabulous.
Jean vs. Denim – Weight
One of the other differences between denim and jean fabrics is that denim is typically made in a much heavier weight. Jean is medium weight fabric and feels a lot lighter to the touch and more pliable (depending on the treatments and distressing involved.) Jean is used in a variety of goods like clothing, housewares, and work shirts. It is not usually used in heavy “work weight” jeans. Denim’s thickness in comparison limits the appropriate uses for it.
Hmmmm, no wonder a lot of us get mixed-up. Think you have it straight? Here is a test for you. Does this paragraph now make sense to you?
I find it easy to find cheap jeans made out of jean but find it hard to find jeans made of denim. I love the crisp feel of denim and how it last a long time and feel jeans made of jean just do not last as long or have the that I feel like. Although jeans made of jean are comfortable the first time, you put them on, unlike denim jeans (especially raw denim) which take a while to soften and mold to the body.
Want to be inspired for your next denim project? The Duelling Designs Pinterest Boards have a lot of ideas to get your creative juices flowing.
So moving forward I will call the thicker version of the twill fabric denim, the lighter-weight twill fabric jean, and my favourite trousers jeans.
I talked about the progress of the denim challenge this month and the differences between denim and jean on Periscope. Thanks to everyone who commented on the broadcast and who took the time to vote for your favourite.
So moving forward I will call the thicker version of the twill fabric denim, the medium-weigh twill fabric jean, and my favourite trousers jeans.