Woman wearing blue denim jeans.

Fabric focus: denim

What denim is, where it comes from and how to keep it looking good for longer.

What is denim and where does it come from?

The term ‘denim’ originates from the French town, Nîmes, where the fabric is said to have first been produced. As the fabric was tough and hard, it was nicknamed “serge de Nîmes” (serge being French for “sturdy”), this was later just shortened to ‘denim’.

Denim is a sturdy cotton fabric that is woven with the weft threads (horizontal) passing under two or more of the warp threads (vertical). This produces a diagonal rib effect. Only the warp threads are dyed, the weft threads are left white. Therefore as a result of the warp-faced weaving, one side of the textile then shows the coloured warp threads and the other side shows the white weft threads. Denim is generally dyed with indigo (although many other colours are also used). During the indigo dyeing process the core of the warp threads remain white, creating denim's unique fading characteristics.

Types of denim

Cotton Serge Denim: Serge denim is made with 100 percent cotton serge. Serge is a fabric which has a diagonal pattern. It is known for being sturdy and resilient.

Organic Denim: Manufactured with 100 percent organic cotton. All chemicals are excluded from the process of making organic denim.

Poly Denim: A mixture of polyester and denim. It is easy to wash, lightweight and resistant to wrinkles.

Ramie Denim: A blend of ramie (a member of the nettle family) with other fabrics such as cotton, polyester and spandex. The blend makes it resistant to wrinkling and shrinkage and it keeps its shape. It is resistant to mildew and other types of micro-organism.

Raw Denim: Raw denim is dark in colour, it is not washed after the dyeing process, it is stiff and very durable. The fabric feels rough when new. The more you wear it, the more it softens and the more the deep colour fades.

Selvedge Denim: The shaped panels of the jeans are woven on a shuttle loom which gives the edges a selvedge (a self-finished edge of fabric which stops it from unravelling or fraying). It has a tight weave and is more expensive than other denim as it takes longer to weave.

Stretch Denim: Stretch denim is very comfortable to wear as it allows you to move more freely than other denims. It contains spandex (a type of stretchy polyurethane fabric).

How to care for your jeans

Did you know it's actually better not to wash your jeans? Try our advice for freshening up jeans between washes, and washing and drying your jeans in ways that make them look good for longer.

We've also curated some great upcycling, mending and alteration ideas and tutorials for jeans from across the web.