If you are shopping for jeans right now, you have probably noticed that old-fashioned 100% cotton jeans are becoming more and more difficult to locate. Most jeans produced these days have added spandex or elastane to provide the oh-so-comfy stretch we have all come to love! The prevalence of stretch in jeans begs the question, “Are 100% cotton jeans stretchy?” The simple answer to that is “no,” but a more complete answer is, “No, but they do stretch.” This frustratingly oxymoronic answer can be explained, I promise, and we are here to help you understand the difference between stretchy jeans and jeans that can stretch out, as well as what type of jeans are best for you, your aesthetic and your lifestyle.
All-cotton jeans are not “stretchy.” When you put them on for the first time, they are likely to feel tight and rather unforgiving. New 100% cotton jeans may constrict your movement, and some people even say that they are “painful” to wear at first. They say at first, because full-cotton denim can be broken in, which is its own process. As you wear 100% cotton jeans, the cotton threads themselves will stretch out—it’s a breaking down of the individual fibers—permanently. With wear, the knees and seat will become baggy, the hips and thighs may relax, and the pockets may become saggy. This is the cotton fiber being stretched out and damaged. If you wash and dry them, they will seem to snap back at first, but it won’t last long. There is an actual physical change to the fabric that can’t be undone. That’s not “stretchy,” that’s “stretching out.” If finding 100% denim jeans is important to you, look for jeans from heritage brands, and consider wearing them in relaxed or boyfriend cuts. They will be more comfortable from the beginning and sustain less wear and tear in the long run.
Jeans with elastane in the fabric were introduced in 1978 by British fashion designer Peter Golding. It took a while for them to reach the mainstream, but by the 90s, nearly every brand and style of mass-market jeans were made with two or three percent stretch in them. Stretchy denim is now ubiquitous, and it’s finding 100% cotton jeans that presents a challenge. That’s not a bad thing!
There are numerous benefits to denim with stretch added. Stretch denim jeans are comfortable from the moment you buy them; putting on a well-fitting pair of stretch denim jeans should feel almost as comfortable as putting on leggings or your favorite jeggings. You may still experience a pinch point at the waist button, but if you shop carefully you will probably find a pair that offers you a perfect, and perfectly comfortable, fit. Denim containing elastane will fit snugly and smoothly without binding and will make the most of your figure. Every derriere looks great with the little boost a hint of spandex provides, and stretch jeans have that! Thanks to the added stretch, the cotton fibers sustain less permanent damage with each wear and look newer, longer.
There are some drawbacks. Stretch denim is slightly less durable than 100% cotton denim. It tends to be a bit thinner, and if your thighs touch, for example, your jeans will pill and eventually wear through at the touch-point. Full-cotton denim wears out, too, it just takes a little bit longer. If your aesthetic is rock’n’roll or edgy, 100% cotton may feel more authentic for you. These are minor considerations compared to the comfort and versatility of stretch denim. Stretchy denim jeans can be styled up or down, are available in literally every cut and style of jean, feel great on the body, and are almost universally flattering. That’s a lot for a simple enhanced denim fabric!
Think it over, perhaps try on some different brands of jeans, and decide for yourself. We encourage you to go for a stretch denim because of its myriad benefits, but only you can decide what is truly your best look and fit. There are times when 100% cotton jeans will feel right to you, and there are times when only the comfort and polish of a smooth, sophisticated stretch denim will do. Perhaps a bit of both is right for your wardrobe needs! The important thing to remember is that now that you understand the properties of 100% cotton denim and how it stretches out, you can make an informed choice that you will be happy with in the long run.