Time for FRIDAY FASHION FACT! Today we are talking about what is likely the single most popular piece
of clothing of our time- jeans! I can almost guarantee that everyone
reading this owns a pair. Most of you are probably even wearing them
now. Jeans span class, gender, age, and culture. So where did they come
from, and how did they grow to be so prevalent?
origins of jeans dates back centuries. In the 17th century, textile
workers in Genoa, Italy were well known for producing a sturdy cotton
fabric, though it may have originally been created much earlier. This
fabric was ideal for laborers or artisans who required durable, yet
affordable, clothing. Soon, textile workers in Nimes, France attempted
to recreate this fabric (sidenote- the French word for Genoa is “Gênes,”
likely source of the word “jean.”) The result was an even tougher
fabric, ideal for aprons, and other such outer-workwear. The fabric from
Nimes, or fabric “de Nimes” (denim!) spread across the globe thanks to
sailors who used the durable material to cover their cargo, protecting
it from the elements.
Throughout the 17th, 18th and
19th centuries, laborers in Northern Italy, Southern France, and beyond
did wear trousers constructed out of jean cotton, and possibly even
denim. Even at this time, they were blue. Why? It all comes down to
chemistry. Just like all cotton, jean and denim are naturally white.
Since these fabrics were used for work wear, though, it was only logical
to dye them a dark color to hide the dirt and stains. Without getting
deep into the science of it, before artificial dyes were created, indigo
was one of the most steadfast natural dyes, with a strong, rich color.
Additionally, while most dyes permeate the fibers, indigo clings to the
surface. When it is washed, bits of the fiber are stripped away along
with the dye. While this may sound like a bad thing, that is what causes
jeans to soften and become more comfortable the more you wash them.
Finally, it was a very affordable dye, despite the fact that it was
imported from India.
Many people believe Levi
Strauss created the first pair of denim jean pants as we know them
today. However, he did not create them alone, or really at all. Strauss
owned a prominent dry goods store in San Francisco, where, among other
things, he sold fabrics. One of his frequent customers was the tailor
Jacob Davis. Davis was asked by a customer to create a pair of
extra-durable trousers for her woodcutter husband. Davis used heavy
cotton fabric known as duck, and came up with the idea of reinforcing
the weak points with copper rivets. It was extremely effective, and the
design was an instant success among railroad workers. He made many pairs
out of both duck and denim, determining that, due to the way blue denim
softens and conforms to the wearer with washing, it was the more
desirable fabric. However, he could not keep up with demand.
approached Strauss to collaborate with him on his successful venture,
as Strauss could provide financial backing. Strauss agreed, and in 1873
the two men obtained a patent for “improvements in fastening pocket
openings” aka riveted trousers. They were a huge success. Strauss opened
a large tailor shop, followed by a factory, to produce the trousers,
among a few other items. Davis ran the shop. It was also Davis who
decided to add the bold orange double line stitching, created as a way
for his product to stand out from competitors.
how did denim jean pants, a workman’s pants, become so popular- even
high fashion? The simple answer: Hollywood. First, around World War I,
silent film actor William Hart starred as a jeans-wearing cowboy in an
incredibly successful string of westerns. He spurred many men to buy the
rugged style, though they were still seen as work-wear. John Wayne
followed suit when he starred in the 1939 smash hit Stagecoach. During
World War II, it became more common for women to wear jeans as many
women took up factory jobs. Jeans solidified a place in the fashion
world, though, in 1955 when James Dean wore a pair of blue jeans in
Rebel Without A Cause. His style in that film was instantly iconic,
though for some time the association with the film caused jeans to be
associated with delinquent behavior. Despite that fact, it inspired
designers to begin creating jeans purely for fashion, and within about
15 years, they were a common and acceptable style. The rest is history!
Want to learn more about the history of jeans? Check out these books:
Denim: From Cowboys to Catwalks: A History of the World’s Most Legendary Fabric, by Graham Marsh
Denim: An American Story, by David Little
Have a question about fashion history that you want answered in the next FRIDAY FASHION FACT? Just click the ASK button at the top of the page!
Cone Mills 10oz. Red Selvedge Denim, back pocket rivets, belt loop and cinch and suspender buttons. Classic “Two Horse’ leather patch and crotch rivet. National Recovery Act label and a single needle stitch Arcuate.
The company trademarked the name ‘Levis’ in 1927 because any pair of denim pants were being called 'Levis’ no matter who made them. Instead of reading, “This is a pair of them,” as seen on the original ticket from 1892, the new ticket read "This Is A Pair Of Levis.” Also under the leather patch was a small white cloth label printed with a blue eagle and the letters 'NRA’. This was the National Recovery Act logo, which Levi Strauss & Co. was allowed to use because the company abided by the labor rules of President Franklin Roosevelt’s National Recovery Administration during the Depression years of the 1930s