We see them everywhere, almost every day. A wardrobe staple for almost everyone, our precious pair of denim’s have come a long way since the 1700s from being a work attire to having a cult clothing item status in current times. No other clothing item has been worn for as long as the blue jeans. The versatile, durable yet humble jean continues to be one of the most complex but common garments.
A good denim jean is more than something we wear, it’s often an accomplice, a mood lifter, with which we have a strong emotional connection.
Each jeans style and shade is unique because of the dyeing, stitching, and its cut. The denim cloth originated in Europe and fast gained popularity in the 1700s France and Britain due to its durability and comfort while Italy was making jeans and topcoats for working men. The main component of the jeans, the denim fabric, is believed to take origin in the French town of Nimes. The sturdy twill cotton fabric was being used in the 19th century in manufacturing trousers which were worn by Italian sailors of Genoa, called Genes in Italian, which is said to be the origin of the word jeans.
But it was America and the American brand Levis which brought jeans to the forefront and until this day the story of the brand remains connected with and etched in the history of the denim jeans.
The year was 1873 and the place San Francisco, when Claude Levis Strauss, a successful salesman, met Jacob Davis that the face of jeans gained national fame. When news broke in the east about the gold rush in California, Levis immigrated to San Francisco to make a fortune. Soon he learned to trade and started his own company that sold denim items and fabric. It was stores like Levis that clothed miners from the gold rush and the increasing population that followed in the western region. In the next few decades, Levi’s company did very well and became a recognized name of the area.
Davis, a tailor who buying bolts and cloth from Strauss, was using metal rivets to increase the strength of the pants he made as he had started receiving complaints from the miners about the fabric tearing off during the hard labor for gold. He came up to Strauss with a great business proposal that resulted in the legendary Levis jeans.
He wanted Strauss to partner with him so that he could bear the costs of patenting the rivet’s idea. Metal rivets were like a breakthrough in jeans, as they provided strength in the high strain areas of the garment like pocket corners, the base of the button fly etc. Rivets were a hit which is why the patent was necessary and accepted by Strauss. In 1873, Strauss received a patent for an improvement in fastening pocket openings. Together they created the first pair of waist overalls also known as work pants. After obtaining the patent, the company became the only retailers of riveted clothing until the patent went into public domain some 17 years later.
However, 17 years were enough to give them massive popularity and customers which got the company off to a great start. The company continued to make metal riveted pants made in denim which became an asset for the miners and workers in California. The high strength material of the jeans made them last long and its thickness kept workers away from injuries. Throughout the late 1800s, these pants were called overalls as the term blue jeans had not been created yet.
The jeans continued to change with different rivets, patterns, buttons and pockets as per the changes in fashion and consumer requests. In 1890, the riveted jeans idea went to public domain which resulted in many companies like Wrangler, American Eagle, Ambercrombie and Fitch emerged with their own variations of the rivets and its placement in different areas of the item. However, these new competitors of the original jeans brand were only able to reach success in the last 50 years.
In the early 1900s, rules set by the war production board for both the world wars dictated many changes in the jeans style and design for the conservation of raw materials. However, by the 30’s, American cowboys had also grown fond of this apparently imperishable pant. Soon the jeans caught the public eye and became famous, thanks to the surge in the popularity of western movies. Every man and boy desired to dress like their on-screen idols by wearing a pair.
However, women were not far behind, in 1934, Levis curated the lady Levis jeans made especially for women. Initially curated for western jeans wearing women on farms and ranches, the new line was also aimed at women vacationing at dude ranches, working with cattle or horse ranches which welcomed guests gathering from eastern states and Europe. The rough and tough lifestyle of the initial jean wearers gave the apparel a unique and cool identity which still stays with it.
In the 50’s, new and varied versions of the jeans came out as its popularity spread throughout the country which included the zipper fly as easterners were not familiar with the button up style. With the beginning of the 60s, the word overalls got replaced by the word jeans both in advertising and packaging as teenagers popularized it to a great extent. During the 60s and 70s, blue jeans reached a remarkable level of popularity and were considered a “statement” item when worn. This era saw the reinvention of the pants with its casual look becoming a symbol of the carefree times and generation.
Bell bottomed and decorated jeans emerged in the 70s too with beading, motifs and paint work on them. Such jeans became a statement of non-conformity. Then the rock era of the 80s emerged and with it came the acid wash, holed, ripped and cut off styles of jeans in high-waist designs which made famous by celebrities, especially rock stars. On the other hand, the 90s jeans rocked a neater and more classic look different hues of blue, gray and teal.
In 00’s, jeans hit the bottom albeit only literally! The pants were pulled down to an all-time low spot at the end of the navel both for men and women. It was a look where jeans swept the floor as the wearer walked and many times got ripped by itself at the bottom seam. If the 2000s jeans were not doing that, then they were capris; a style of pants until the mid-lower leg.
Today the impact that jeans have made to our culture is not less than astonishing. Jeans are the ultimate American fashion item proving itself to be a consumer favorite time and time again. Today, all styles of jeans are not only available but also fashionable from high waist loose cutoffs to skin fitting slim fits and the staple straight cut. Because of this, wearing jeans fashionably is as much important to personal style as is the little black dress for women or a nice jacket to men.
Nonetheless, as always, jeans are much more than just a fashion item, they have been worn playing professional sports, taking long treks and lounging around in the park as much as they have been used for strutting down the runway. In modern times millions of people around the world wear this style to work, and not just in the mines, but also in the most hi-tech of the studios.