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The Romance of Denim & its Elements

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Different elements like rivets, pockets, back pockets, buttons and threads not only make a denim complete but also set it apart from other items of clothing. Dr. Sanyogietaa Chadha, HOD, Fashion Design, of Fashion discusses the essential elements of a jean.

Jeans are perhaps the only clothing article to have attained an iconic status. Loved and worn by almost everyone – young and old; male and female; famous or not – jeans are a favourite among all. What was once considered clothing for rough use, worn by the miners for protection and durability, is today donned by celebrities and corporate honchos. Needless to say, jeans today are at the forefront of fashion.

Denim jeans have certain characteristics that tell them apart from other items of clothing – rivets, pockets, branding patches at the back of the waist, logo on the back pocket, swing tags, seams, etc. The differentiator in most denims is the trims and the branded trims that also add to the cost of the product.

RIVETS

Copper was the fi rst material to be used as rivets. However, as time progressed, brands moved to different materials. Today, we have almost anything used for pocket reinforcement be it steel, brushed steel, brass, Swarovski, stones (both precious and semi-precious), different coloured threads, embroidery, bimetal, silver, leather, crystals, carbon steel, fashion metal, vitreous alloy, nickel, ceramic, shell and retro metal.

BUTTONS

Most of the materials used for rivets are also used for buttons barring the embroidery and threads. Usually the buttons and rivets match; but in case for women’s jeans, the rivets are replaced with embroidery or just coloured threads while the buttons are made of different materials. Shank buttons add to the play factor in a pair of jeans. Most brands have their logo or name on the rivets as well as the buttons but that does not take away the popularity of plain unbranded buttons and rivets. Most of the trims are now being customised with designs as per the customer’s requirements. Logos are making way for polka dots, checks, fl owers, etc. Of late, a plethora of materials like steel, brushed steel, zinc and zinc alloys, mixed metals, wood, brass, leather, ceramic shell, retro metal, Swarovski and others stones are being used for buttons.

Traditionally, the rivets and buttons would be made of the same material. Today, however, brands are considering embroidered rivets for making women’s denims while they are playing around with various materials for use as buttons. The most preferred are the metallic buttons as they are sturdy.

PATCHES

Most denims have a branding patch on the right side of the back of the jeans, just above the pocket. In earlier days, branded leather was used. Now, due to various reasons like cost, etc., paper leather, faux leather and PVC patches are being used.

Metals, pig skin and rawhide have also been considered by many brands for making the patches. Brands that swear by natural materials use fabric, canvas, linen and materials that are nonleather for the back patch. Most of the back patches are branded and are the highlight of the denims. Many designers who are anti-leather are working on vegetarian alternatives. As with other trims, even with leather that is used as back patch labels, there is vintage or antique leather that is used. Paper leather with vintage finish is also a popular option. Cardboard and wood tags are other options that are being used these days by brands that want to stand out from the crowd.

BACK POCKETS

The shape, size and the logo design on the back pocket are what make a denim brand stand apart. So if you look at a pair of Levi jeans, the design on the back pocket is really unique. Similarly, other brands have developed back pocket designs to highlight  their brand identity.

The unique feature of the trims on denim jeans is that each of them adds to the identity of the brand and reinforces the brand image. From the small rivet to the buttons and zips, and even the patch on the back to the back pocket design – every trim that is on a pair of jeans is usually branded and unique.

THREAD

Thread makes up a small percent of the overall cost of the finished product but shares 50 percent of the seam responsibility. A typical pair of adult size jeans will have 200 to 250 yards of thread depending on the seam construction. Major jean manufacturers experiment with different thread types to reduce cost but most have found that core spun threads give the best overall performance. Most jean manufacturers put their products through rigorous wash processes post manufacturing. The thread must be able to withstand all of these processes and hold the seams together. Threads also come in various colours, from the traditional golden yellow to orange and rust. The thread used is coarse and thick so as to give the seams a puckered look.

Cotton-wrapped core spun threads have excellent needle heat resistance. When wrapped with a polyester wrapper, core spun threads show good resistance to chemicals and colour fastness. The fi brous surface on either thread reduces the shiny look and also contributes to superior frictional characteristics as the  thread passes through the sewing machine.

Some designers prefer the thread to wash down during the wash processes and in this case, they opt for a cotton-wrapped core thread. Degrees of colour fastness vary with particular shades. With this known factor, a user of cotton-wrapped core should look at all wash codes to ensure that the thread colour will  be appropriately maintained. It is also recommended to go for pre-production wash testing to ensure that the wash-down look will be acceptable.

On the other hand, many jean designers want the thread to maintain its colour through multiple washes and offer a signature look. If colour fastness is key, it is advisable to select a polyester-wrapped core thread. Also with polyester-wrapped products one has the option of picking the desired colour from a colour palette to obtain the desired look after the wash procedures. This will allow greater shade control, which will be maintained after continual washes by the consumer. Doing pre-production, wash testing prior to sending the article into production is recommended. Cotton-wrapped and polyester wrapped core threads offer excellent abrasion resistance to the varied wash codes that the denim garments may be exposed to.

THREAD SIZE

Two thread types are available to meet the variety of denim fabric weights. From a Tex 40 to a Tex 120, one can achieve the desired performance throughout the sewing fl oor and after the varied fi nishing processes.

Thread size can be indicated with a ‘T’ followed by a number. Also, there are other ways to indicate size but the ‘T’ indicator is fairly common. The smaller the number, the thinner the thread will be. A T-40 thread will be much thinner than a T-80 thread, and the scale can go up to T-600 or even higher. The letter T stands for Tex, and is also referred to as Tex followed by a number. The Tex size of a thread is actually a  measurement; it indicates the gram weight per 1,000 metre of the thread before it is dyed. The purpose of having really thick thread is to make it visible when making decorative stitches, like on the back pocket or on the hem of the pants.

Journey Through the Memory Lane:

  • The word denim comes from the French ‘serge de Nimes’ – a fabric typical to the French mill town of Nimes. While there is some controversy regarding this, denim has been important to the cotton industry and the cotton industry vital to the economy of America. The word ‘jeans’ comes from the cotton workpants worn by sailors from  the port of Genoa Italy, who were themselves known as ‘Genes’.
  • In 1838, the mighty Amoskeag Mill was built in Manchester, New Hampshire just 51 years after the establishment of the country’s first mill in Beverly, Massachusetts. By the time the mill shut down in 1936, it was the world’s largest textile producer. The pair of 1880’s Levi’s blue jean from a mine in Nevada that was auctioned in 2001 in was made of denim produced in the Amoskeag Mill.
  • Denims are synonymous with Levi’s! In 1847, a young man of 18 named Levi Strauss left Bavaria for New York. At the age of 24, he became an American citizen and in 1853 he sailed to San Francisco to start the West Coast branch of his brother’s dry goods business. He sold bedding, innerwear, raincoats and clothing. While duck canvas was lighter than canvas, denim quickly eclipsed canvas in popularity. It was sturdy, did not rip and the tough twill weave made it light enough to prevent excess sweating. Jeans evolved from workpants and the waist overalls.
  • In 1872, Jacob Davis, a tailor in Nevada, proposed that copper rivets be attached to stress points in the garment and the fly to prevent ripping. As he could not afford to patent it on his own, he partnered with Levi Strauss in 1873 and received the US patent for riveted blue denim waist overalls. Even though the patent expired in 1891, they became the industry standard.
  • In the same year, on the East Coast two brothers – Moses and Caesar Cone – sensing an opportunity in textiles, founded the Cone Export and Commission Company and soon opened a mill in North Carolina. In 1922, the Cone Mills produced the fi rst plain selvedge denim that was used in the Levi 501 pants, which were high waist and wide legged.
  • In 1904, the Hudson Overall Company was formed. The Big Ben Manufacturing Company and the Blue Bell Overall Company merged in 1926 to establish the Wrangler brand.
  • In 1911, the H.D. Lee Mercantile Company of Salina, Kansas, began producing its own denim workwear. In 1913, Lee Mercantile offered one-piece overalls that became staple workwear for the labourers.
  • The denim overalls and workwear had button fly fronts. In 1926, zippered fl ies were introduced by Lee on their denim cowboy pants when a cornfi eld worker noted that his gloved hands were always fumbling with his button fly. In 1927, Lee introduced the zip-up version of the ‘Union Alls’, which was given the name ‘Whizit’ due to the zipping noise it made.
  • With the advent of the war, things changed dramatically. . scrapped suspender buttons and cut down on rivets to save copper. However, denim jeans became extremely popular with men around the world, who travelled with their denim jeans wherever they went. Jeans became an immediate object of desire and unwittingly American G.I.s had created a global market for them.
  • With every passing decade, jeans have also undergone change. In the 1930s, the cowboys and movie stars started the trend of donning roughed-up trousers. In the 1940s, the WWII veterans gave denim a relaxed image when they wore them off duty. The Levi 501 jeans became slimmer with a straight leg in 1947. By the 1950s, the baby boomers were jean crazy, fuelled by James Dean in ‘Rebel without a Cause’ (1955).
  • In the 1960s, the youth continued to fuel the craze, which carried on through the 70s. ’s jeans got tighter and so did the rest of America’s. Destructed, worn-in and frayed jeans became synonymous with the bad boy rock-and-roll look.
  • In 1980, used Brooke Shields to do an ad campaign for CK jeans. Though the campaign itself was controversial, it catapulted ’s stature to super designer status. In 1982, Karl Lagerfeld designed a denim suit, thus reinforcing denim’s sex appeal and selfexpression.
  • By this time denim had been washed with stones, making stone-washed jeans a rage among the youth. Stone washing made the fabric softer and smoother besides altering the look in terms of the colour of denim. By 1987, acid-washed jeans had appeared.
  • In the 1990s, hip hop music icons like Usher and P. Diddy wore loose denims without a belt ushering the look of baggy jeans. The bigger and baggier the jeans were, the cooler the wearer looked. > From the late 80s until the 2000s, many jeanswear premium brands had appeared. People perceived denims as premium and manufacturers began demanding premium prices for them.
  • Today, while the silhouettes range from boot cut to slim and skinny, the look of the denims ranges from washeddown to rip and tear; to clean denims and now back to ice-washed look with some amount of tear.
  • So what are the important criteria that drive denim apart from trend? The most important is the fabric. Earlier, the open-ended yarn was used until the 1970s. This was inexpensive but not strong and was subject to pilling and unraveling. The ring spun yarn was commonly used till the late 1970s, and continues to be used in premium denims. It is used only in the warp and gives the denim fabric the uneven character. It is softer and more durable. The ring spun yarn used in warp and weft is expensive and is used only in premium range denims.
  • The weight of the denim fabric is important. Denims are spoken in terms of ounces. The weight ranges from 4–5 oz. super light summer weight denims to heavier selvedge denim in the 14 to 19 oz. range. The Japanese mills specialise in making heavy-weight  denims. Today, with the advent of technology, lighter weight denims are in demand, but connoisseurs of denim still appreciate the heavy weight of denims for the way they wash and the characteristics they show.
  • With the skinny look, Lycra denims have scored in the popularity charts. They are easy to wear and really comfortable. Technology has today ensured that Lycra denims wash as well as non-Lycra and still maintain the characteristics of the denim fabric.
  • Fashion gurus are of the opinion that yoga pants and tights are gradually replacing the blue denim jeans as we know them. However, jeans will continue to be worn for the comfort that they offer and the versatility they lend to the wearer!