What is ‘Oz.’ and Why Does the Weight of Your Jeans Matter?
One of the first glossaries you learn when you enter the world of denim is “ounces” (usually abbreviated as ‘oz’ or ‘oz.’ in writing). This unit of mass is used to categorise denim fabric by weight. The higher the ounces, the heavier the denim.
That doesn’t mean a pair of jeans made from 14 oz. weigh fourteen ounces, though! The number refers to the weight of one square yard of the fabric.
INFOBOX: What’s an ounce?!
To all of us that live with the metric system, 1 ounce translates to 28.3 grammes. And 1 square yard is 0.84 square metres. In other words, that 14 oz. denim weighs around 475 grammes per square metre (also called ‘gsm’ or ‘g/m2’).
Still, while it may be confusing to some of us, ounces per square yard (oz./yd2) is the standard in the denim industry, so you just have to learn it!
(If you do insist on converting the oz./yd2 of your jeans to gsm, this tool is handy!)
But why do denim fabrics have different weights, you may be asking? It’s because different thicknesses of the yarn (known as ‘yarn count’) and different densities of the weave are used to create different looks and feels.
Quite simply, thick yarn weighs more. And the closer you pack it together, the more weight you cram into a square yard of the fabric.
Interestingly though, to my knowledge, there’s not a universal standard for denim weight categories. Brands that predominantly sell 10-12 oz. denim might consider 14 oz. heavy. (I’ve worked with a company that makes this distinction!) Others might see 14 oz. as a lightweight.
Still, most agree on the following categorisation of denim weights:
- Less than 12 oz. = lightweight
- 12-16 oz. = midweight
- Above 16 oz. = heavyweight
… I Never Graduated to Heavyweight Denim
Amongst denimheads, the weight of your jeans matters, a lot. It’s a macho thing, I guess; who has the heaviest and all that.
Maybe that’s why I’ve kept it a secret that I’ve never worn heavyweight denim jeans!? There, I said it, the cat’s out of the bag!
It’s not that I don’t like denim of heavier weights. But for years, I wore Levi’s Vintage Clothing jeans; classic midweight denim in the 14 oz. range. And since 2014, I’ve predominantly worn Indigofera’s 16 oz. shrink-to-fit denim (which is in all fairness almost a heavyweighter).
So, seeing that I might not be the most qualified denimhead to guide you about heavier denims based on experience, which is a premise for the Five Favourites series, I asked five retailers who truly know heavyweights to share their favourites.
Sascha Kampmeyer of Hamburg’s Vater&Sohn is a heavyweight denim aficionado if there ever was one. And I can’t say I was surprised to learn his favourite is Iron Heart’s famous 21 oz. signature selvedge denim, a true heavyweighter.
“I know there are plenty of heavyweight fabrics out there, and I do sell some of the best in my shop,” Sascha tells me via email, “but I was so sure about one thing: ‘everybody is picking this fabric, this jean’.” Turned out Sascha was the only one of the five guys I asked who picked it.
In my opinion it’s the best heavy fabric ever made,” he continues. “Not super fancy or slubby, just a piece of art.”
Being a cornerstone of Iron Heart’s success, the denim comes in several of their fits, ranging from the straight-fitted 634 to the ‘super-duper’ slim 555. “But the one cut that would make everybody happy is the 666,” Sascha argues.
The 21 oz. denim is sanforized and doesn’t shrink, but it stretches up to one inch in the waist, Sascha warns. The denim’s made from American long fibre cotton and the jeans are put together with poly-cotton thread for long-lasting durability.
Other features include a button fly, hidden copper rivets, a thick vegetable tanned cowhide leather patch and reinforced back pockets. Oh, and everything is naturally crafted in Japan.
“It’s really comfortable to wear from the beginning. Dyed to a very dark and stubborn indigo blue, this denim is known for its sheen and beautiful fading properties,” Sascha explains.
Talking about fades, Sascha points out that, at Vater&Sohn, they will tell you to wash your jeans:
I know that a lot of people don’t wash their jeans because of this and that. To be honest, that’s not how denim should be treated!” he argues. “It’s cotton folks! Cotton is a very flexible and soft. To keep this flexibility and softness, cotton needs water, it needs to be cleaned.”
Amen. I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Hand-picked further reading: How to Wash Jeans
“And for Christ sake, the look of an old washed jean is the look that we all love, right?!”
Go check out the jeans for yourself at Vater&Sohn’s website.
The pair we’d like to put on a pedestal when it comes to heavyweight denim is the 22oz-013 from Pure Blue Japan,” he writes to me. “They’re stiff as cardboard, like the weight suggests, but softens up quickly after the first soak.”
The proprietary 22 oz. fabric produced for PBJ is unsanforized. The jeans do come in a raw (meaning unwashed) version, but there’s also a onewash for those that want to skip the size guessing game.
The fit of the 22oz-013 is a slim tapered, based on the PBJ’s classic XX-013 fit. It’s not as tapered as some of the newer offerings like the 019 relaxed tapered fit, which has an even tighter leg opening.
A bit surprisingly, Merv’s experience with PBJ appeals to a broad consumer group. “We have business executives well into their 50s buying and wearing this pair, while the newbies to the world of raw denim love the idea of a heavier weight denim of PBJ quality.”
Apart from the denim, the jeans have all the bells and whistles of a great pair of selvedge denim jeans, including raised belt loops, tucked back pockets, hidden rivets, original PBJ hardware, a variety of stitching and branded leather bags.
It’s been a while since PBJ did a pair of jeans of this weight. Back in 2009-2010, they did a couple runs of 24 oz. denim, in a few colour wefts. But since then they stuck to their standard 14 oz. offerings until the last two years where we’ve seen a surge in heavier weights from them,” Merv explains when I asked why this particular denim is so successful.
Pick up a pair while they last here. (Merv is expecting a restock, but can’t put a date on it yet.)
As far as we’re concerned, Momotaro is on top of the fabric game!” Menno writes to me. “This crazy double indigo has an indigo warp and weft, which gives it a beautiful, shiny look.”
With wear and tear (and washing, if you’re on that side of the fence), the white core of the yarn will pop up, though, Menno assures. “The true denim destroyer will eventually create a distinctive fade in the jeans.”
“We sell this kind of jean to the real denim aficionado,” he tells me. “You have to be a brave dude to step into this kind of weight. Also because it’s a dense fabric that can be a true pain in the ass to break in!”
Like all Momotaro garments, the jeans are made in Japan with the best possible ingredients available.
But the important USP, the fact that it’s tapered, might also be its biggest challenge, Menno speculates. But why would that be a problem?
It’s tapered the Japanese way, which means it’s very narrow,” Menno elaborates. “Combine that with an 18 oz. fabric and you have a tough nut to crack for the first weeks of wear.”
If you think you can crack it, click over to Tenue de Nîmes’ website.
When I sent out the pitch asking retailers to pick their favourite heavyweight denim, I was kind of anticipating that the same brand would appear more than once. But, like Sascha, I was putting my money on Iron Heart.
The 17oz-011 is the follow-up to the popular 14 oz. XX-011 in a heavyweight 17 oz. denim,” he writes. “With an indigo rope dyed warp and a grey weft, this denim was developed to look dark off the peg, with the weft coming through in the fade.”
On top of the quite special indigo-grey combo, the denim is a left hand twill, which means you can expect it to get soft with wear, and fade with a bit less contrast than right hand twills. “The denim will also develop a streaky fade, typical of left hand twill,” Alfie says.
“The 17oz-011 is finished with darkened hardware throughout, sheepskin leather patch and black pockets bags to finish off the dark indigo look,” he adds. The fit is slim tapered with a mid-rise.
Lastly, Alfie points out that the fit was in fact developed with input from Blue in Green.
The pocket bag on the left side is printed with the words ‘a Syoaiya and Blue in Green design collaboration’, Syoaiya being the official international trading name for PBJ”.
The jeans come in both raw (unsanforized) and a onewash. You can get both here.
It is worth remarking, though, that 5 out of 5 jeans in this guide are made from Japanese denim. Not that I’m surprised, really. But unlike the four others, Indigofera jeans are sewn in Portugal—and, in case you didn’t already know, the brand is based in Sweden.
The sanforized 18 oz. denim made by Shiroyama Mills is the heaviest in their line-up. It was introduced in the Clint fit under the ‘Iconic’ sublabel that Mats and his team developed together with Shane Brandenburg of Burg&Schild.
It’s perfect for anyone who wants a heavy ounce denim jean that’ll fit over boots without being baggy,” Jeremy argues.
Personally, I haven’t tried the 18 oz. denim (yet), but Jeremy explains that the weft yarns are heavier than the warp yarn, which creates a unique texture. “It’s low-tension, as well, so it’ll break in to be very soft.”
Next to the denim, one of the main reasons I wear the Clint myself is the fit. Jeremy agrees.
The fit is universally great. You can go true to size for a slim-straight, or size-up for an anti-fit, and they still look great. We sell a lot of engineer boots, and the Clint has just enough leg opening to work with those.”
“The combination of fit and fabric makes them an easy sell for anyone after a heavyweight slim-straight jean,” he continues. “Even with all the heavyweight denim out there, it’s hard to find a really excellent 18 oz. denim, especially sewn to Indigofera’s standards.”
You can pick up a pair from Standard & Strange here.
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