The history of jeans
The story of how a U.S. working man’s garment came to become a vital piece of clothing in the wardrobes of men, women and children around the world is a true story of American enterprise.
The man who started it all was Leob (later Levi) Strauss. He emigrated from Bavaria to join his brother at his dry goods store in New York and then headed out to San Francisco to open a second store when the gold rush boomed in 1853. He saw the need for some tough trousers to stand up to the extreme conditions and heavy duty labor the workers faced in the mines, so he started out making some no-fuss hard-wearing work trousers from some sturdy brown cotton tent fabric he had in stock. As the trousers became popular with the miners Levi started using denim.
The name denim comes from the French term “serge de Nimes” serge (a twill) from Nimes (a French town). The weavers of Nimes had tried to produce a cotton corduroy similar to that made in Genoa Italy. They failed, but thankfully they did produce the fabric which came to be known as denim, which has warp threads dyed originally with indigo, while the weft threads were left white. As the weft threads passed over two or more warp threads this created the characteristic blue on one side and white on the other, of denim.
By the 1860’s the popularity and reputation of Levi’s work trousers, which at that time were known as “waist overalls”, meant that not only miners but also cowboys and farmers all swore by them! In 1873 he incorporated the idea of an immigrant tailor from Russia called Jacob W. Davis, whom he met in Reno, to use rivets to strengthen the seams. This new style started to be called jeans probably because of the connection with Genoa. These two started working together and by 1880 Levi Strauss had patented his design, which now included the famous orange stitching, the decorative arcs on the back pockets, rivets, watch pocket, bar tacking, product codes, and the leather patch with the two horses, unable to rip a pair of Levi jeans apart. He had laid the firm bases of a highly successful company.
Since these guys started the whole jean business many other designers and manufacturers have jumped on the bandwagon. A whole myriad of design changes and innovations have come and gone. There have been trends and fads and fashion statements. The humble jeans has become a participant on high fashion runway and yet still remains standard wear for workers around the world.
This year fringed, raw-edged, and cropped jeans are in. The favored fabrics are optic white and deep distressed denim. There’s embellishment and embroidery. Flared and kick-flare designs. High-waisted, fitted jeans cropped at the ankles. Miniskirts and all in one shorts. Loose and cool raver specials made for free movement. Slightly distressed, high waisted, stiffer, skinny jeans and the traditional boyfriend jeans are now with a slightly fitted, ankle peg design.
So be part of a great American success story and get yourself a new pair of jeans ….soon.
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