The 'Blue' jeans history

Denim and jeans ' the origin' © 1998:

Denim is a rugged cotton twill textile, in which the weft passes under two (twi- "double") or more warp threads. This produces the familiar diagonal ribbing identifiable on the reverse of the fabric, which distinguishes denim from cotton duck. Denim has been in American usage since the late eighteenth century.[1] The word comes from the name of a sturdy fabric called serge, originally made in Nîmes, France, by the Andre family. Originally called serge de Nîmes, the name was soon shortened to denim.[2] Denim was traditionally colored blue with indigo dye to make blue "jeans," though "jean" then denoted a different, lighter cotton textile; the contemporary use of jean comes from the French word for Genoa, Italy (Gênes), where the first denim trousers were made.

18th century- original dark blue's

At first, jean cloth was made from a mixture of things. However, in the eighteenth century as trade, slave labour, and cotton plantations increased, jean cloth was made completely from cotton. Workers wore it because the material was very strong and it did not wear out easily. It was usually dyed with indigo, a dye taken from plants in the Americas and India, which made jean cloth a dark blue colour.

19th century – the Gold Rush

In 1848, gold was found in California (not too far from San Francisco) and the famous Gold Rush began. The gold miners wanted clothes that were strong and did not tear easily. In 1853, a man called Leob Strauss left his home in New York and moved to San Francisco, where he started a wholesale business, supplying clothes. Strauss later changed his name from Leob to Levi.

Invention of 'rivets'

A big problem with the miners' clothes were the pockets, which easily tore away from the jeans. A man called Jacob Davis had the idea of using metal rivets (fasteners) to hold the pockets and the jeans together so that they wouldn't tear. Davis wanted to patent his idea, but he didn't have enough money, so in 1872, he wrote to Levi Strauss and offered Strauss a deal if Strauss would pay for the patent. Strauss accepted, and he started making copper-riveted 'waist overalls' (as jeans were called then).

In 1886, Levi sewed a leather label on their jeans. The label showed a picture of a pair of jeans that were being pulled between two horses. This was to advertise how strong Levi jeans were: even two horses could not tear them apart.

Jeans became 'fashion craze'

1930: wild wild westDude ranch

In the 1930's, Hollywood made lots of western movies. Cowboys - who often wore jeans in the movies-became very popular. Many Americans who lived in the eastern states went for vacations on 'dude ranches' and took pairs of denim 'waist overalls' back east with them when they went home.

1940's: world war II

Fewer jeans were made during the time of World War 2, but 'waist overalls' were introduced to the world by American soldiers, who sometimes wore them when they were off duty. After the war, Levi began to sell their clothes outside the American West. Rival companies, like Wrangler and Lee, began to compete with Levi for a share of this new market.

1950's: the punk era 'REBEL'

In the 1950's, denim became popular with young people. It was the symbol of the teenage rebel in TV programmes and movies (like James Dean in the 1955 movie Rebel Without a Cause). Some schools in the USA banned students from wearing denim. Teenagers called the waist overalls 'jean pants' - and the name stayed.

1960's: 'psychedelic' the hippie culture

In the 1960's many, many university and college students wore jeans. Different styles of jeans were made, to match the 60's fashions: embroidered jeans, painted jeans, psychedelic jeans...

In many non-western countries, jeans became a symbol of 'Western decadence' and were very hard to get. US companies said that they often received letters from people all around the world asking them to send the writer a pair of jeans

1970's: Sweatshops

As regulations on world trade became more relaxed in the late 1970's, jeans started to be made more and more in sweatshops in countries in the South. Because the workers were paid very little, jeans became cheaper. More people in the countries of the South started wearing jeans.

1980's: Designer Jeans

In the 1980's jeans finally became high fashion clothing, when famous designers started making their own styles of jeans, with their own labels on them. Sales of jeans went up and up.

1990's: Recession

In the worldwide recession of the 1990's, the sale of jeans has stopped growing.

21st century : japanese denim ;-)


  • wikipedia, The global encyclopedia
  • The blue jeans story, in the New Internationalist, June 1998. (Information sources: Encyclopaedia Britannica; No Sweat 1997 Andrew Ross (ed) Verso, London; A History of Denim Lynn Downey.)

Suggested Readings:

Beagle, Peter. American Denim: A New Folk Art. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1975.

Berger, Arthur A. Reading Matter: Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Material Culture. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1992.

Davis, Fred. Fashion Culture and Identity. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

Gordon, Beverly. "American Denim: Blue Jeans and Their Multiple Layers of Meaning. Dress and Popular Culture, editors Patricia A. Cunningham and Susan Voso Lab. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1991.

Histoires du Jeans de 1750 a 1994. Palais Galliera, Musee de la Mode et du Costume, 25 Octobre 1994. Paris: Les Musees, 1994.

Joseph, Nathan. Uniforms and Non Uniforms: Communication Through Clothing. New York: Greenwood Press, 1986.

McCracken, Grant. Culture and Consumption. Bloomington, IN: Indianna University Press, 1988.

Rubinstein, Ruth P. Dress Codes: Meanings and Messages in American Culture. Boulder: Westview Press, 1995.


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