The Dawson Denim Glossary

May 29, 2024


Blue Bell company now owned by Wrangler, is likely to have been the first to use a zip or zipper; they called this style the 13MWZ. Designed by “Rodeo Ben,” aka Bernard Lichtenstein, an infamous tailor in 1947, he worked with cowboys to create the jeans for rodeos.


Processes created by a laundry to make the garment look older than it is. The laundry uses various methods including the use of sandpaper, handheld grinding machines and pumice stones.

A.B. Elfelt and Co.

Augustus, Albert and Alfred Elfelt and Solomon Goldsmith, established 1866, selling dry goods. The company owned patents on many forms of double binding on pockets for strengthening purposes. Their jeans had one back pocket sewn over the yoke and into the waistband; more durable stitching is found on the opening of the front pockets and the jeans also feature a cinch back.


The Japanese name for indigo dye, from the fermented leaves of the native plant Polygonum tictorium.

Amoskeag Mill

Amoskeag Manufacturing Company opened in 1838 and was the most important denim mill in the US; industry declined and the mill filed for bankruptcy in 1935. Amoskeag production was once used solely for Levi’s, and created the original fabric referred to as the “XX”.

Arcuate stitch

It was apparent from the 1870s that the best way of advertising jeans was to do this on the garment itself. Many companies started adding a decorative stitch to the back pockets of their jeans. Levi’s used a “seagull”, also known as the “arcuate”. These companies also used a back patch positioned in the centre of the back waistband, a patch of printed canvas or heat-branded leather.

André family

Originally from Vivarais, France, the André family were landowners. David André settled in Nîmes in 1600 and was a merchant dyer. The family immigrated in 1677 to Genoa, where his sons Guillaume I and Jean III became bankers. Dominique, son of Jean I, turned the family business into a merchant bank. It was the André family investment and their heritage in dyeing yarn that created the first denim production. It’s clear that this French family was exporting a great deal of fabric from Nîmes to Genoa where local tailors would use it to make durable work trousers for sailors. The last of the Nîmes line in the family, Jean-Jacques, died in 1803; however, Marie-Jean and Ernest, Dominique’s sons, were born in Paris and managed the bank until 1893.


A Japanese term to describe specific areas of sharp fading. Atari can mostly be found along the side seams, at the back of the knees on the top of the creasing, at the seat at the hips and on the back pockets.


Laundries use this chemical to make denim jeans fade more quickly. Liquid bleach is usually an aqueous solution of sodium hypochlorite or dry powdered bleaches which contain chloride of lime (calcium hypochlorite).

Back pocket flasher

Sometimes also called a Back Pocket Rider. A piece of printed card attached to the back right pocket; some advertising for the brand including the fit and size might be shown on the back pocket flasher.


Made on one specialist machine; the bar tack is a stitch used to reinforce a stress point. Placed at the most likely areas for stress like the belt loops, fly and pocket apex. The machine runs right to left on the bobbin side and the top stitch is a zigzag up and down.

Belt loops

Until the 1900s, a belt was used only as decoration, so it’s easy to understand why many men were sceptical about the use of the belt. The belt loops were a post-1900 addition to the five-pocket western, strips of fabric made with a cover stitch are attached to the waistband for the purpose of passing a belt through in order to hold up the jeans. Only for a short period, between 1900 and 1911, would both a belt and brace buttons have been used simultaneously. The standard design on a pair of jeans has five belt loops, one either side but before the front pocket openings, two at the back on the sides and one in the centre back.

Bib and brace

A workwear staple, bib and brace overalls are sometimes incorrectly called dungarees, which are actually a similar garment made in India in cotton fabric. This garment, which predates jeans, is held up by two straps over the shoulders onto a bib or shaped panel of fabric across the chest which usually has a pocket. The bib is fixed into the trouser, which has a waistband and quarter pockets but generally no yoke.

Big E’s

Levi’s 501s made before 1971 which have a capital E in the word Levi’s on the red pocket tab. Highly collectable and carry quite the price tag.


A garment similar to bib and brace overalls, this garment however has the addition of sleeves, a favourite of mechanics.


A Japanese garment made from vintage pieces of indigo woven fabric quilted together and often worn by workers.

Boss of the Road

Manufactured by Neustadter Brothers, established in 1852, these best-selling jeans were developed around 1880. The design featured an extra piece of fabric attached to the inside of the pocket openings.

Broken twill

Designed by John Neil Walker in 1964 to reduce twist, often used by Wrangler. Broken twill is a style of weaving where the weft thread is reversed after no more than two passages of the warp to create a zigzag design obvious on the reverse of the fabric. This design also creates a natural stretch.

Buddy Lee

A sales mascot for the H.D. Lee Mercantile Co. It was Chester Reynolds, a sales manager for the company, who invented the doll to “model” miniature versions of the company's clothes for store displays. The doll is twelve and one-half inches tall and was produced between 1922 and 1962. In 1949, Buddy Lee was produced as a thirteen-inch hard-plastic doll. The Buddy Lee dolls were discontinued in 1962 because they were no longer profitable. By then, Buddy Lee had become the second-highest-selling doll in the US. In 1998 Lee reintroduced the doll for a TV commercial along with the 1940s Lee tagline “Can't Bust 'Em".

Bull Denim

Bull denim should refer only to undyed natural cotton twill over 14 oz in weight; however, today’s use covers all twill fabrics over 14 oz


One of the preparations made to cotton in its raw state, the cotton is brushed repetitively to smooth and clean it in order to produce sliver.


A term that describes indigo shading in denim; most denim is likely to come in red or green caste, but can have a black, brown, grey or yellow caste to it. It only really becomes apparent when the goods have faded, but a trained eye can tell in its raw form.

Chain Stitching

A stitch that creates a chain-like pattern on the reverse; used on hems, waistbands and the yoke. Union Special is still the most revered machine manufacturer of chain stitching machines. Often found on the waistband, inside of the legs, yoke and hem on a pair of jeans.


A lightweight plain-weave fabric; fabric mills usually use a medium depth indigo warp colour and natural weft.


Used until 1911 before the use of the belt; the cinch was an additional way of holding your jeans up. Made up of two strips of fabric that are then held together by a metal buckle and sewn to the back yoke to pull in any excess fabric around the waist. This method may have also have been used on the French trousers of the same name – “gênes”.


A cardboard cone-shaped device for holding greige yarn.

Cone Mill

American denim mill founded in 1891 by brothers Moses and Caesar Cone. The last surviving mill from the end of the Gold Rush is now located in Greensboro, North Carolina. This particular plant called White Oak has been weaving denim since 1905. The mill has expanded over the years and now has plants in China and Mexico.


A term used to describe how indigo dye transfers from the denim onto other surfaces. Indigo is dyed in fermented baths in a series of dipping and oxidising. The colour doesn’t penetrate all the way through the yarn but instead builds up a depth of colour on top, which means the colour is never totally fixed. Denim is often called the living colour because, as a result of this, it fades with age.


A type of denim created by combining uneven yarns; called slubs, in both the weft and warp directions. This creates a grid-like appearance on the surface of the fabric.


An indigo-dyed, cotton twill fabric in which the indigo-dyed weft passes under two or more natural warp threads. Originally thought to be based on a serge fabric from Nîmes, France – “serge de Nîmes”.


Also known as a “Denim Purist” or “Denim Geek”. A special breed, interested in dyestuffs, origins and weights. The Denimhead is most likely to be seen in selvedge jeans and often top to toe in denim that is rarely, if ever, washed, only hung out to air – priding his- or herself on the items worn and how long between washes one has gone. Often heard muttering the word “rare”.


A rinse process used to soften denim.


The term used to describe fabric or yarn; in this case rope, when immersed in dye. In a standard dyeing process the rope is dipped eight times; denim is also available in double-dip (sixteen dips) and up to thirty-two dips. The fabric appears darker the more the rope is dipped.

Draper loom

Draper Northrop Corporation in Hopedale, Massachusetts, made most of the looms used for American selvedge denim. The first was the Northrup loom developed in 1870 by James Henry Northrup. Northrup was born in Keighley, West Yorkshire, in 1856. This loom had an automatic bobbin change, which allowed an operator to oversee more looms. Northrup took this design to America, where the Draper cooperation bought and produced it. By 1894 Draper automatic looms had became the industry standard.


Once a fabric lighter than canvas with a similar weave, today duck is considered to be a synonym for canvas or plain-weave cotton. The first American jeans were made using duck.

Enzyme Wash

A more efficient and environmentally sound way to create a stone washed effect on jeans. Rather than using pumice stones, organic enzymes that eat away at the indigo are used, which also helps to retain the durability of the fabric.

Felled seam

A manufacturing process made on a specific machine which sews two seams together by way or wrapping one over the other.


The techniques or processes performed on a garment which give it its unique appearance.


Denotes the cut of the garment: regular, wide, tapered, high-rise, skinny, boot, loose, drop crutch etc.

Five-pocket western

The styling used on American jeans from the 1870s by most mercantile companies of the time, is still used for the basic structure of jeans today, the 501 by Levi Strauss being the most successful. The specifics are: two scooped front pocket openings, two back pockets – which are “spade” shaped – and a “match pocket” placed on the front right pocket bearer.

Greenebaum Brothers

Moses and Jacob Greenebaum, established 1851, San Francisco. Original manufacturers of jeans and dry goods, Greenebaum owned the patent of leather triangles attached to the apex or corners of each pocket to avoid destruction at stress points.

Genoa, Italy

The likely birthplace of jeans. The imported fabric from Nîmes, serge de Nîmes, was used in the early 1800s by sailors who had trousers tailored from this durable fabric dyed with indigo. They used these trousers for their manual work of loading and unloading cargo from ships. The trousers would have had formal styling with quarter pockets and suspenders, all made by local tailors.


A way to describe the way a fabric feels; for example, a fabric can have a warm hand, dry hand or cool hand. Finishing and garment wash will affect the final hand of a fabric.

Hickory Stripe

Refers to a strong twill fabric woven in stripes and was used mainly in workwear shirts and the pockets of jeans.

Hidden Rivets

Referring to the rivets on the back pocket apex. Previously rivets would have been exposed and visible, but in 1937, due to a huge amount of complaints about torn furniture, Levi’s attached their rivets before sewing the pockets onto the garment. This didn’t solve the problem as the hidden rivets eventually worked holes in the jean, producing the same problem, so they were eventually removed. Most of today’s premium denim comes with hidden rivets in homage and to show off the high quality of manufacture.


A Japanese term, the literal meaning is “whiskers”, which on jeans are found at the top of the thigh and down the thigh in places where the wearer creases the jeans.


Referring to the natural creasing at the back of the knee.


The blue dye used for denim, initially taken from the Indigofera tinctoria plant (variants like Persicaria tinctoria and Polygonum tinctorum were also used). The dye is admired for its colourfastness to water and light but also its gradual fading, hence it being called the “living colour”. Due to high demand most jeans today are dyed with the chemical variant developed by Adolf von Baeyer, which won him the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1905.


A Japanese term relating to the long fade areas on jeans, for example around the knee, thigh and seat.


A Japanese term referring to dyeing with indigo, ito means “thread”, so ito-zome refers to dyeing thread in rope form before it is woven into fabric. This method is similar to rope dyeing: the ropes are laid in baths of indigo (ai); when taken out of the bath the excess dye is removed; squeezing by hand, the rope is then left to oxidise and the process is then repeated.


Derived from the French word for the Italian manufacturing town Genoa (Gênes), originally used to describe the type of pants worn by sailors from Genoa. It was thought that all jeans were tailored trousers made from denim. Today jeans can refer to trousers that have a standard five-pocket western styling with back yoke and scooped pockets, regardless of what fabric they may be made from.

John Kay

John Kay, born in 1704, Lancashire, was the inventor of the flying shuttle, which he called the wheeled shuttle, a key contribution to the Industrial Revolution. The flying (wheeled) shuttle is a wooden device which held cotton on a spike used to propel the weft thread through the warp at speed and then return. This invention dramatically reduced production times in fabric manufacturing. The patent was dated 1733.


Japanese denim mill, established in 1893; the original producers of kasuri in Hiroshima Prefecture. Kaihara started producing denim on Toyoda looms in the 1970s.


A form of ikat dyeing, the yarns are masked in specific places before dyeing to create a pattern.


The Klondike Quest was the last surge of the Gold Rush. In 1896 gold was discovered in a creek near Dawson City, Yukon, Canada. Between 1897 and 1899 over 100,000 miners are said to have travelled (most from San Francisco) to Dawson. Only 30,000 are said to have actually survived the dangerous journey.


Established in 1888, this Japanese denim mill has expanded into the manufacture of chemicals, machine tools and electronics.


Japanese denim mill, established in 1950 in Okayama Prefecture.


An industrial unit specialising in washing jeans; the unit uses dry and wet processes to create an aged look to a garment.

H.D. Lee Mercantile Co. (Lee Jeans)

Established in 1889 by Henry David Lee. First operated as a wholesale grocer. In 1911, due to unreliable deliveries from their suppliers, H.D. Lee Mercantile was prompted to produce their first line of workwear garments, including the now famous vintage Lee bib overall, made of 8 oz denim with a button fly. Other successes include the 1913 “coverall”, a combination of jacket and jeans stitched together to create one garment. This product, dubbed the “Union-All”, was commissioned by the US Army and was the official fatigue uniform during World War I. In 1921 Lee produced a jacket called the “Loco jacket”, designed and tested on railroad workers. The use of a zipper closure in a jacket was first used at the end of the 1920s and was called the “91”. The year 1922 saw the Buddy Lee doll, highly collectable and at the time the second-best-selling doll in the US.

Left-hand twill (LHT)

Also known as an “S twill”, this is a weave in which the grain lines run from the top left-hand corner of the fabric to the right. Left-hand twills have a natural soft hand.

Levi Strauss

In 1853 Levi Strauss moved from New York to San Francisco to set up a mercantile store. He moved to 14–16 Battery Street, San Francisco in 1866 and prospered from the sale on men’s dry goods. In 1873 he was approached by Jacob W. Davis for money to pay for a patent for his “riveted jeans”. From 1873 to 1890 Levi Strauss owned this patent, designed by Jacob W. Davis, who he promoted in his company to oversee the manufacture of these new jeans. At this time there were many other “dry goods” retailers in San Francisco, but Levi Strauss was the one company to survive.


Denim straight from the loom, left in its natural state with no finishing processes. This type of denim became less popular after the 1920s as it was unstable and had huge problems with shrinkage.

Match pocket

The fifth pocket, also called a watch or coin pocket. However, it is unlikely a watch or money would have been held in this pocket during work; it was originally intended for matches. Purely functional, it sits inside the right front pocket and justifies the term five-pocket jeans. On the original Levi’s it was placed in the middle of the waistband, which dropped towards the end of the 1800s onto the pocket bearer.

Neustadter Brothers

Louis and Henry Neustadter, established early 1860s, San Francisco. Owned the Boss of the Road overall brand and patent for the “one piece” zip guard double backed pocket openings usually held together with decorative floral embroidery.

Open-end denim

Open-end (O/E) spinning was introduced in the 1970s; the purpose was to reduce cost. Unlike ring-spun denim where the fibres are twisted together, the cotton fibres are blown together. Open-end denim looks wider and less compact than ring denim; the yarns appear hairy.

Ounce (Oz)

All denim is weighed after weaving in ounces per square yard. Denim up until the 1960s was often around 9 to 12 oz, but today we prefer 14 oz and above. The weight of denim today can be a selling point; the heavier the denim, the more desirable.


All yarns are single ply, unless twisted with another yarn. Yarns can be twisted together – two or three ply – to increase strength. It’s this process at the mill that will determine the overall appearance of the fabric.

Pocket bags

Originally in the same quality as the exterior fabric of the trouser or in a pillowcase ticking stripe or hickory, now more commonly lightweight twill.

Power loom

The first power loom was a failure; the second was the Roberts loom, a cast-iron power loom introduced by Richard Roberts in 1830. It was easily adjustable, reliable and became popular in the Lancashire cotton industry. Later this would be improved upon by the Northrup, Draper and Toyoda looms.

Pocket bearer

The piece of fabric behind the front pocket openings cut in the same fabric as the main garment.

Pumice stones

A pumice stone is a light porous volcanic stone used in the process of washing garments. This stone can be soaked in bleach or used as is to speed up the ageing process of jeans in the laundry.


Originally all jeans were sold in their raw state. Today it’s an option – jeans are sold raw or washed. Raw selvedge jeans are the most respected in the market as these jeans are the closest to the original jeans worn at the start of production. The best fades are achieved starting from a pair of raw jeans to create a unique appearance.

Right-hand twill (RHT)

The standard practice in weaving twill, this weave produces a diagonal line that runs from the top right to the bottom left.

Ring-spun denim

An original spinning process in which the individual fibres are twisted together, which creates a very strong yarn.

Ring-ring denim

Ring x ring, ring ring, or double ring-spun denim uses ring-spun yarn for both warp and weft. A traditional yarn used to produce denim.


A metal fastener that is used to reinforce stress points, a copper washer or disk is forced onto a nail through the fabric with a die set and ratchet press or a hammer. The use of rivets was invented by Jacob Davis and patented by Levi Strauss in 1873. The patent lasted for seventeen years, after which all other dry goods suppliers and manufacturers were able to use the design.

Rope dyeing

A rope is twenty or more yarns twisted together. These ropes pass through a sequence of dipping baths of indigo dye. This is considered the best possible method to dye indigo yarns.


A process at a laundry used to increase the ageing process of denim. Fabrics are rubbed down by hand with sandpaper to create whiskers or long fades on a mock inflatable leg.

San Francisco

San Francisco, home to the “forty-niners”, the name given to those who had settled there in 1849 for the Gold Rush. This influx had a huge effect on the town; what was once a quiet settlement became a booming industrial city. It was here that Levi Strauss and Co. began alongside many competitors such as A.B. Elfelt and Co., Heynemann and Company, Neustadter Brothers and Greenebaum Brothers, all specialising in dry goods. These companies all made work clothing in duck and later in denim. These overalls had a specific design feature patented to each company. The mine owners often bought in bulk and rented these overalls out to the miners who often couldn’t afford their own workwear. A devastating earthquake in 1906 destroyed much of the city, and along with it many of these businesses went bust, with patents lost and garments burned forever. Today collectors are able to match up the fragments with the patents through educated guess work.


Invented by Sanford L. Cluett and Jared C. Fox in 1928, sanforization is a process of stretching and manipulating the cloth to reduce shrinkage.


Self-edge or selvedge (aka selvage) is the narrow and tightly woven band on either edge (pick) of the denim and runs parallel to the warp. Historically this was available on all denim and was woven in plain white; in the 1930s mills added red to the selvedge so they could recognise the best quality at a glance. On modern wide looms the weft yarn is cut on every pick creating a fringed selvedge.


Serge is a type of twill fabric that has diagonal lines on both sides. Varieties include denim, worsted and silk. Worsted is used in military uniforms and suits and was popular in the UK. French serge is a softer, finer variety and serge de Nîmes is likely to be the original cloth we now call denim.


A Japanese term which means “to squeeze”; in one example, shibori is an act of squeezing fabric with the use of threads to create interesting patterns on greige cloth before dyeing with indigo.

Side seam security stitch

This stitch reinforces the stress point of the hips against the side seam. The side seam security stitch starts at the waistband and runs alongside the pocket bearer and down an average of eighteen centimetres towards the knee. The stitch holds the internal seams back, creating an additional strength at the hip area, which creates pressure against the seam.


The dyed indigo threads used in weaving denim are treated with starch, which adds strength during the weaving process. When raw denim is washed for the first time the starch is removed and the yarns constrict, causing the denim to shrink.


Refers to the twisting that happens when denim shrinks, caused by the removal of the starch that is added to the indigo-dyed warp yarns and not to the weft, which creates differential shrinkage. As a result you will often find authentic vintage jeans with one or both of the side seams twisted towards the front of the jean.


Refers to the random thicker areas on the length of the yarn created during spinning.

J.L. Stifel & Sons

Owned by Johan Ludwig Stifel from1835 to 1956 in Wheeling, West Virginia. Stifel was a garment and fabric manufacturer producing various indigo-dyed calicoes, which was a smoother fabric than denim and woven with spots, flowers or dotted lines. The brand logo was a boot, the translation of the German word Steifel.


Developed in the 1970s, stonewashing is a laundry process that removes colour and adds contrast. Here the garment is put into a washing machine with pumice stones and rotated together with water to achieve a lighter non-uniform colour quickly.


A wooden instrument used to carry cotton in between the yarns for weaving. See John Kay.


Suspenders (braces) were used to hold up jeans; they strap over the shoulders and attach to the waistband of the jean fixed by two buttons. At the bottom of the straps would be a piece of leather with two buttonholes. Suspenders became unpopular around the First World War, eventually being replaced totally by the belt around 1930.

Sulphur bath

A sulphur bath is used during the rope-dyeing process to increase the speed of dyeing.


Japanese term referring to the long fade from the thigh to the calf.

Toyoda Loom

Sakichi Toyoda made his first loom in 1924. This power loom was popular worldwide and was produced in a licenced version by the British company Platt Brothers. Toyoda shuttle looms are used by most of the major Japanese mills. This loom was the only kind to have an automatic stop, which meant if there was an error in the middle of weaving the machine would stop. The Toyoda Company expanded into car production under the name Toyota in 1937.

Union Special

Assumed to be the best industrial sewing machines for the manufacturing of denim garments, the Union Special Machine Company was manufacturing sewing machines in Germany until 1948, when the offices and the manufacturing units merged at a plant in Chicago. The leading US manufacturer of commercial sewing machines, certain models are now highly prized with premium denim brands.


The vertical yarns on the loom; the warp is stronger than the weft due to having more twist. In denim the warp is dyed indigo.


A combination of warp and weft yarns. The weft yarns are woven into the warp to produce individual fabric designs.


The yarns running from left to right which weave in and out of the warp to create a fabric; in denim this yarn is undyed.

Wide goods

A modern invention in which the fabric is woven on a wide loom to create fabric of 150 centimetres or more. It is fabric made specifically for mass manufacture, much cheaper and quicker to manufacture and with no selvedge either side of the width. The increased width makes it possible to cut more jeans from the same length, reducing the cost by almost half.


The panels at the top of the back legs which when sewn together create a V-shape. The yoke adds curve to the fit; the deeper the yoke, the more the curve.

Zip (aka Zipper)

A fastening device made using a strip of fabric with specially shaped metal or plastic teeth attached which lock. In denim only a brass alloy should be used, as this is the strongest of the metal alloys. Designed in 1851 by Elias Howe, who also owned the patent to the first sewing machine. Largely forgotten and unused for manufacture, it was Gideon Sundback who revived the zipper, updating and improving it in 1913. It wasn’t until the 1930s when tailors started using it for men’s trousers. The first reported use in jeans wasn’t until Wrangler used it in 1947 (see “13MWZ”). The original manufacturers are Talon (est. 1893) in the US and Riri (est. 1923) in Switzerland.


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