A Quick-Guide to 22 Denim Glossary Terms Everyone in the Denim Business Must Know

Every business has its own vocabulary. A specialised language made up of technical terms that outsiders often don’t understand but is expected to be mastered by anyone who’s in that particular business.

Of course, there’s a denim dictionary as well. And if you work with denim, you would be doing yourself a big disfavour if you didn’t learn at least the essential terms in it.

That’s how I got sucked into the business myself; I studied what specialised terms like ‘selvedge’ and ‘raw denim’ mean. And, naturally, such terms are used extensively throughout my book, Blue Blooded.

Like the quasi-textbook it is, of course, Blue Blooded features a denim glossary that, in the simplest way possible, explains 22 of the most commonly used terms in denim. My advice is that you learn them by heart.

Denim glossary - arcuate
The most iconic (and copied) arcuate is Levi’s’ “seagull” or “batwing” design.


The pattern of stitching on the back pockets of jeans. More decorative than functional, it sometimes secures the pocket lining but mainly functions as a branding element.

Denim glossary - bartack
The bartacks on Indigofera jeans made from their sulphur black Gunpowder denim are yellow, which really make them stand out.


They sound like something you would not want to sit on, but the reinforced stitches that replaced rivets on back pockets were added for just that purpose. A way to secure pockets without scratching things up.

Denim glossary - chain stitch
The pull of the three layers of folded fabric that infamous chain stitching on hems creates is what results in beautiful roping.

Chain Stitching

Stitching with one continuous thread that loops back on itself. Hems sewn with vintage chain-stitching machines develop the desired roping effect after washing because the hem twists around itself.

Your can read more about chain stitching here.


A natural fibre from the fruit of the cotton plant—this is denim’s foundation. When spun, it yields a smooth and durable yarn that is easy to dye and weave. The longer the fibres, the higher the quality.


A special breed of (usually male) connoisseur who is passionate about indigo, selvedge and raw denim. Engaging in obsessive behaviours to get great fades, many denimheads rarely wash their jeans.


A cotton twill that traditionally features an indigo-dyed warp and a white weft. Its name comes from “serge de Nimes,” a French denim-like fabric that became popular in England in the 1600s.


The process of adding colour to fibres, yarn, or fabric by dipping it in dyestuffs. For large-scale indigo dyeing, yarns are bundled in ropes or spread out as sheets and run through several dyebaths.

Denim glossary - fading on back pocket
Fading is when denim loses its colour. These Japanese-made Edwin jeans are a great example of how fading makes the denim’s colour comes to life.


What a denimhead wants. Most evident in raw denim, fading is part of its natural ageing. The indigo wears and washes out of the most stressed or used parts of the denim, revealing (beautiful) patterns of use.

Garment Finishing

Also known as distressing or washing. Industrial processes using water, chemicals and abrasive techniques to imitate or exaggerate the natural fading of denim.

A common ‘dry process’ garment finishing method is spraying potassium permanganate (often referred to as PP spray) onto the jeans. Like the more time-consuming manual hand-scraping process that it replaces, this oxidising agent is used to create local abrasions. A more environmentally friendly alternative to PP spray is laser, which also yields better and more consistent results from an aesthetic standpoint.

Denimheads prefer the DIY approach.

Denim glossary - honeycombs and whiskers
Left: Honeycombs on the back of the knee. Right: Whiskers on the thigh.

Honeycombs and Whiskers

Fades such as whiskers on the thigh and honeycombs around the knees are like game trophies for denimheads. The terms refer to fades that occur based on the way that the fabric creases in those areas.


What makes denim blue. Indigo molecules only bind externally to cotton fibres. This is why indigo is known as a “living colour”: it gradually fades and, as it does, it uniquely retains a beautiful hue.


The word derives from the name of the twill trousers that Genoese sailors wore. Today, all trousers featuring the iconic five-pocket styling are called jeans, even if they aren’t made from denim.

Raw (or Dry) Denim

The purest form of denim and the primary choice for denimheads. Until the 1960s, all jeans were sold as raw, meaning crispy stiff, without any garment finishing, and ready to be faded by the wearer.

Denim glossary - rivet
It was the riveting of workwear trousers, invented by Jacob Davis and patented by Levi Strauss & Co. in 1873, that created the legend, which gave blue jeans their iconic and enduring status.


The little yet iconic metal bits on jeans. Made by pressing or hammering a washer or disk onto a metal stud poking through the fabric. Their original purpose was to strengthen parts that could easily tear.

Denim glossary - roping effect
Roping is one of the most sought-after parts of the fade for many denimheads.


A repeating fade pattern that develops along the hem at the end of each leg, particularly after washing. It is the sought-after result of what is technically an error in vintage chain stitch sewing machines.


The process of pre-shrinking fabric before it is made into a garment. Some denimheads prefer unsanforized denim because they enjoy the sometimes ritualised process of shrinking their jeans themselves.

Denim glossary - selvedge denim
Cone Denim in North Carolina has been supplying Levi’s with denim since 1915. This selvedge denim is a reproduction of the denim used for the 501ZXX in the mid-1950s.


The woven edge of shuttle-loomed fabric. Shuttle-woven fabric is softer, and its natural imperfections add character. The selvedge in denim is usually white and often has a coloured yarn in the middle.

Denim glossary - slubs
Indigofera’s No.2 shrink-to-prima-fit denim has a lot of lovely slubs.


Lumps or nebs in the cotton yarn. Desired imperfections, slubs give an uneven appearance. If denim is slubby, then it has a lot of slubs and thus a lot of character.

Denim glossary - stonewashing
These 80s-jeans were originally raw but washed many times. Stonewashing imitates the look that several, or even hundreds of, domestic washes.


It really is what it sounds like—washing jeans with stones to create wear and tear before they are sold. Usually done on an industrial scale, often with pumice stones, which yields the best results.

Warp and Weft

In weaving, there are two types of yarn: the warp running lengthwise and the weft running crosswise. In denim, the warp is usually dyed blue, producing the distinctive twill pattern.

While these 22 terms are the most essential ones, complete denim dictionaries like the one on Heddels include over 200 terms!

Want to Learn More About Denim?

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This glossary is a text excerpt from Blue Blooded, © Gestalten, 2016. All pictures © Denimhunters.


Hi, my name is Thomas, I'm a storyteller. I started Denimhunters in 2011. Today, I help companies in the denim industry market themselves with stories that excite, engage and convert customers.

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