Does Anybody Remember Cotton?

Yes, does anybody remember cotton – that organic fabric which has been clothing the civilized world for nearly 3000 years? Lest we forget, cotton is the fundamental component of denim from which jeans, the most popular style of outer apparel in the history of the world is made. Of course, how could we possibly forget. But did you know, the amount of cotton in denim is increasingly being displaced by other fabrics such as lyocell, polyester, elastomer, rayon, elastane, lycra, polyurethane, tencel, and others? Is this a bad thing and will cotton’s role continue to diminish over time? No and not necessarily!

Where are we?

When trying to gauge what is going on in jeans, I often look to Levi’s. Why Levi’s? Yeah, I know they aren’t always the first to latch onto something BUT Levi’s breath is such that it covers low end to high end, has a global presence, and is far and away the largest jeans brand out there. By digging into the Levi’s US website, you can get a reasonable handle on where things are today. When analyzing the combinations of styles and washes, you find that an overwhelming proportion areย  stretch jeans.

Further more, Levi’s largest amount of offerings are skinny jeans.

And nearly all of the skinny jeans use a stretchy fabric.

How did we get here?

I believe it is pretty obvious. The denim technology that was required to make skinny jeans today’s pervasive jean style has also been applied to other styles. Skinny jeans required a soft comfortable, light, stretchy denim. The stretch was provided by the use of elastomer, elastene, lycra, and polyurethane among other materials. To provide a light soft fit, the weight of the denim was reduced resulting in thinner materials. To maintain strength, synthetic fibers such as polyester, lyocell, and rayon were adopted. In doing so, some skinny jeans on the market (not necessarily Levi’s) have a cotton content that is less than 25%.

What have we done?

It is clear that stretch is being introduced into styles other than skinny cleans. It is not clear, that what worked for skinny jeans will also work for the other styles as each style creates its own expectations on look and feel for that cut. For those of you who can remember, the use of stretch on early skinny jeans had a lot of challenges – holding their shape, size consistency, and material weight. Similar success with stretch for other styles is not guaranteed as developing trends for Vintage Jeans (as previously covered by Lorna) and Rigid Denim at Shopbop are starting to take hold. Both trends rely on high cotton content with minimal stretch denim. And as the days go by, you may find yourself trying high cotton content styles. If so, you may find the following styles all available at Revolve as worthwhile starting points.

Levi’s 501 – the classic style that started it all

Citizens of Humanity Campbell – 100% cotton relaxed straight jean

AGOLDE Hero – 98% cotton tapered slim jean

So, with that in mind and how cotton has diminished over the years in denim, but is now starting to make a comeback again, what’s your opinion on it? Do you prefer a high cotton content and a rigid denim or are you in favor of the super stretch, lightweight fabrics? Let us know!

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  1. Denim Dude
    January 27, 2019 / 8:48 pm

    I’m in a small minority I assume, because I hate stretch in jeans. 100% cotton for me.

    • January 28, 2019 / 2:48 am

      I think that’s fine if they’re a looser fit, but skinny jeans definitely need some!

  2. James
    January 28, 2019 / 11:52 am

    Skinny jeans are my favourite style and since I like a skintight fit they have to have an element of stretch. One thing I found is I always buy a size down or two down (depending on the brand) as I know they’ll eventually lose a little shape. Conversely some pairs I’ve tried stretch way too much and can end up looking like I’ve got concertina legs. If you wear a baggy style, then I’d imagine rigid 100% cotton will hold their shape better as jeans with Lycra do tend to look limp if they’re not skintight.

    I’ve got a couple of pairs of Gap “dead straight” style jeans which are rigid, but following the excesses of too much Christmas cake and loads of chocolate now have a really tight fit. They great look, but after they’re not the most comfortable after a few hours wear. So, do I diet, suffer in silence or go back to my skinnies?

    • January 28, 2019 / 2:46 pm

      Ha ha! I am with you on that, a lot of my older styles which are more rigid I can’t fit into, and they’re so uncomfortable when I try and walk or sit, it’s not good, so I literally can’t wear them for more than an hour before I want to go back to my stretch skinnies. Oh how times have changed! I used to endure the pain for hours when I was younger, sometimes I didn’t even know if I needed the toilet or not as they were that tight pressing on my bladder. Shocking!

      • James
        January 28, 2019 / 9:00 pm

        Blimey Lorna, you’re so right about the pain, but we’ve gotta suffer for our fashion, right ๐Ÿ˜‰

        I used to wear a brand called FU’S back in the day, they only had one fit and that was skintight! They were categorised by the width of the ankle hem and were unisex. I don’t ever remember them having style names like jeans do today. Even though they were rigid they’d quickly mold themselves to your shape though I’d help them by sitting in the bath or showering in them, then wearing them wet until they dried. The things I did lol

        • January 28, 2019 / 10:05 pm

          LOL! I did that too with wet stretching my jeans! It was a crazy time ๐Ÿ˜€

  3. Cat
    September 18, 2023 / 3:27 am

    They used to use just cotton and spandex in stretch jeans. There was none of this polyester bullshit.

    I’m allergic to polyester. Clothing that contains polyester makes my eczema flare. Then my skin breaks apart, and what’s intact will be COVERED in hives and bruises from inflammation. These rashes take a while to heal, and if I get lucky then I don’t need oral steroids to stop the reaction. I’ll still need steroid and immunosuppresant creams for a couple weeks to force it to heal, thout.

    Putting polyester in EVERYTHING is ridiculous. I know I’m not the only one out there with this allergy. And it was illegal to run around naked in public last time I checked. I can do spandex just fine. Cotton? Rayon? Shiny lycra? Hell yeah, sign me up. But I NEED jeans with NO polyester in them and simply can’t find them anymore.

    • September 19, 2023 / 11:07 pm

      Hi Cat, what’s your budget for denim? And what cuts do you like? There are jeans out there without polyester in them, I own quite a few ๐Ÿ™‚

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