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Why is colored denim not as comfortable as jeans? A well worn-in pair of jeans is very comfortable. However, a pair of colored denim pants never feels so super soft even when worn the same amount of times. Read why colored or white denim fail to achieve this softness and which role the dye plays.



Why Are Jeans a Wardrobe Staple?

Do you recall the 1976 song by David Dundas

When I wake up in the morning light,
I pull on my jeans and I feel all right.
I pull my blue jeans on, I pull my old blue jeans on.

Even though talking about old blue jeans seems like a tautology like saying a black raven or a white swan. Jeans are blue and best when old.

The unique chemical properties of the indigo dye made jeans so popular that they became the traditional American clothes. In contrast to other dyes, indigo only sticks to the outside of the threads. Consequently, washing causes the loss of some dye. Over time, the pair gets the soft, lived-in feeling.


different wash of indigo dyed denim
Denim dyed with indigo after different numbers of wash.


The Role of Pre-Washed, or Sand Blasted in Blue Jeans

Today, jeans are a wardrobe staple worldwide. They are an essential in Business Casual Style, for Casual Friday and the weekend. The thermo-physio properties are why denim so comfortable.

For those, who can’t wait that the indigo-dyed raw denim (dark wash, i.e., not pre-washed) looses its pigments, brands offer medium wash, light wash, stone wash, sand wash, and even distressed.

Sandblasting jeans to create a “worn‐out” look started in Turkey in the 1990. Sand blasted means that an employee treated the garment with a sandblaster. During this treatment, the person inhales a lot of fine silica particular matter. Over time, these harmful particles may lead to health problems (silicosis), and even death.


Alaskan fashion blogger in casual outfit blue jeans
Loft boot-cut jeans, turtleneck cashmere sweater, black booties, and Pavlova Russian scarf


Which Fabric Are Called Denim?

Typically, denim refers to a heavy 100% cotton twill fabric. This fabric comes in different weights per square yard of fabric. For instance, 6 oz means the fabric weights 6 oz Lightweight less than 12 oz, medium weight 12 to less than 16 oz, heavy weight or Alaska-weight 16 to less than 32 oz, monster-heavy weight 32 oz.

In the last decades, the textile industry started blending cotton with rayon and spandex to produce a stretchy fabric. However, technically spoken this blended fabric is not denim. The eco-friendly/sustainable trend has led to jeans with hemp for commerial reasons.


example of a white denim jacket styled with floral top and striped leather skirt
Example of a white denim jacket


scientist who explains Why colored denim is not as comfortable as jeans
Outfit details: Fossil white denim jacket over Cable and Gauge floral print cardigan with Oliveo striped leather skirt, Jaeger tote, Hermes collier de chien bangle, and studded pumps (all own)


What Is Colored Denim?

Colored denim pops up as a perennial trend every now and then. Coloring denim other than blue involves sulfur dyeing.  In contrast to indigo dye, sulfur dyes cover the thread thoroughly, i.e. also in the inside. Therefore, a colored denim feels stiffer than an indigo-dyed denim. This is the simple answer to the question

Why is colored denim not as comfortable as jeans?


The First Denim Pants Were Brown

Historically, Levi Strauss, who introduced the jeans, made first denim trousers cut and made exactly the same like jeans except they were dyed brown. These brown pants were called “ducks.” Despite brown also is a non-boring neutral, the ducks became less popular over time. The blue version was so much more comfortable on the skin than its brown twin. Therefore, colored denim fails to push the good old blue jeans off the market.


Alaskan fashion blogger in colored denim at Creamer's Field
Notations floral blazer dyed burgundy, Aerostrophal burgundy skinnies with sequin tuxedo-like stripe, Kieselstein Cord belt, graphic t-shirt, Seiko watch, Prada pumps


How Does Sulfur Dye Work?

Sulfur dyes are non-soluble in water. At temperatures around 80oC, and alkali pH-values, the dye particles disintegrate when a reducing agent (e.g., sodium sulfide, sodium hydrosulfide) is in the solution. Under these conditions, the dye particles become soluble in water and can be absorbed by the fabric. Salt facilitates the absorption. After removing the fabric from the dye solution, the dye oxidizes in air. This oxidation makes the color insoluble in water when washing the garment. Hydrogen peroxide or sodium bromate are alternatives to create the oxidation in mildly acidic solutions.


Environmental Impacts of Dyes

The high solubility of the dyes, especially the reactive, direct, basic and acids ones, in water pose a challenge to remove them. Thus, they become an environmental problem for waterbodies. The color reduces the penetration of light thru water. Consequently, the photosynthesis rates of water plants goes down. Since photolysis produces oxygen that dissolved in the waterbody, the reduced concentrations affect the aquatic biota.

Textile dyes also act as toxic, mutagenic and carcinogenic agents (see references for more information). They accumulate in the bodies, especially of those species that are at the end of the food-chain. Since sulfide agents are toxic, they are (slowly) substituted in the Western World by applying glucose in basic solution.

Did you know that white denim also requires treatment because raw cotton is greige?

This bleaching treatment also ansers the initial question “Why is colored denim not as comfortable as jeans?”.


How To Wear Colored Denim

My first pair of denim pants were cream with a floral Laura Ashley like print! In my opinion and those of my classmates, they looked like PJs. My Mom prohibited me to dye them because the color could rinse in the laundry. As 12 years old girl I fought a fashion battle me to get my first pair of jeans. Ironically, those colored pants served as an argument: “You didn’t wear your printed pair.”

The outfit inspiration photos below show some outfit ideas with “colored” denim. See this post on how to look great in denim-on-denim.


stylist in white denim boyfriend pants, blue sweater and pearls
Back view of look with white denim trousers


style blogger in denim trousers, silk scaf, top, layering top, heels
Front view denim pants


fashion blogger in casual posh winter style with pants, down jacket, layered tops, scarf, necklace, belt
London Jean white BF, Fendi booties, GNW Luxe sweater, Kieselstein Cord 3 horses belt, unbranded silk scarf, vegan luxury bag c/o JORD, pearl necklace c/o Pearl Clasp


See also this guide for how to look stylish in denim.


March Stylish Monday IG Party

My blogging friends Nina Bandoni, Suzanne Bell, Andrea Schwartz, Nancy Baten, Cynthia Scurry, Emma Peach, Julie Augustyn, Robin Lamonte, Michele Clark, Hilda Smith and I are hosting the March Stylish Monday linkup.

Hostesses of the March Stylish Monday linkup party
Hostesses of the March Stylish Monday party: How we style colored denim


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Ryan F. Hoy, Daniel C. Chambers, 2020. Silica‐related diseases in the modern world. Allergy. doi: 10.1111/all.14202

Bruno Lellis, Cíntia Zani Fávaro-Polonio, João Alencar Pamphile, Julio Cesar Polonio, 2020. Effects of textile dyes on health and the environment and bioremediation potential of living organisms. Biotechnology Research and Innovation. doi: 10.1016/j.biori.2019.09.001

Independent Fashion Bloggers featured this post on the Links à la Mode fashion roundup.

Photos of me: G. Kramm

© 2013-2023 Nicole Mölders | All rights reserved

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Mr.Rios

    WOW! That was an incredible piece on denim, dyes, and pure, lovely chemistry at work!
    Loved how you broke the process down to tangible bits, as well as clearly explaining to us why salt helps with dying (which is one of those questions raised when dying fabrics at home!).
    Your red denim outfit with the ‘meteorologist’-tee is intoxicating! It was a fantastic use of color as it was broken up with the plaid and using skinny jeans was pure genius because you used the color sparingly by keeping it close to you.
    You looked great in the blue denim getup, and I am amazed how you can pose with those white jeans without getting them dirty!
    Keep making us want to read and see more, Nicole!

  2. It’s interesting to read about the history of jeans and how they’re made. I love your burgundy and white jeans!

    Emma xxx