The earliest known pre-cursor for jeans is the Indian export of a thick cotton cloth, in the 16th century, known as dungaree. Dyed in indigo, it was sold in the vicinity of the Dongarii Fort near Mumbai.
Jeans were first created in Genoa, Italy when the city was an independent Republic and a naval power. The first were made for the Genoese Navy because it required all-purpose trousers for its sailors that could be worn wet or dry, and whose legs could easily be rolled up to wear while swabbing the deck. These jeans would be laundered by dragging them in large mesh nets behind the ship, and the sea water would bleach them white. The first denim came from Nîmes, France, hence de Nimes, the name of the fabric. The French word for these trousers was anchored around their word for Genoa. The French bleu de Gênes, from the Italian blu di genova, literally the "blue of Genoa" dye of their fabric, is the root of the names for these trousers, "jeans" and "blue jeans", today.
Research shows that jean and denim were two very different fabrics in 19th century America. They also differed in how they were used. In 1849, a New York clothing manufacturer advertised topcoats, vests or short jackets in chestnut, olive, black, white and blue jean. Fine trousers were offered in blue jean; overalls and trousers made for work were offered in blue and fancy denim. Other American advertisements show working men wearing clothing that illustrates this difference in jean and denim usage. Mechanics and painters wore overalls made of blue denim. Working men in general, including those not engaged in manual labor, wore more tailored trousers made of jean.
Denim, then, seems to have been reserved for work clothes, when both durability and comfort were needed. Jean was a sturdy fabric, but it did not offer the added benefits of denim, such as durability and comfort. Denim was stronger and more expensive than jean, and though the two fabrics were very similar in some ways, they did have one major difference: denim was made of one colored thread and one white thread; jean was woven of two threads of the same color.
Levi's jeans, of course, are named for the founder of the company that invented them: Levi Strauss, born as "Loeb" Strauss in Bavaria in 1829. He, his mother and two sisters left Germany in 1847 and sailed to New York, where Loeb's half-brothers ran a wholesale dry-goods business (selling bolts of cloth, linens, clothing, etc.). For a few years, young Loeb worked for his brothers, and by 1850 had changed his name to Levi. In 1853, he obtained his American citizenship and decided to make a new start and undertake the hazardous journey to San Francisco, a city enjoying the benefits of the recent Gold Rush. His mission was to open the West Coast branch of his brothers' wholesale dry- goods business, which he started as soon as he got off the boat.
He sold common dry-goods products to small stores all over the West. These products included pillows, blankets, underwear and clothing whose manufacturers are no longer in business. Levi worked hard, and acquired a reputation for quality products over the next two decades.
Levi was often found leading a pack-horse, which was heavily laden with his merchandise, directly into the mining camps found throughout the region. The story goes that both prospectors and miners, often complaining about the easily torn cotton "britches" and pockets that "split right out" is what gave Levi the idea to make a rugged overall trouser for the miners to wear. They were fashioned from bolts of brown canvas sailcloth with gold ore storing pockets that were nearly impossible to split. Levi exhausted his original supply of canvas, as the demand grew for his hard-wearing overalls, and so Levi switched to a sturdy fabric which was called serge, that was made in Nimes, France. Originally called serge de Nimes, the name was soon shortened to denim.
In 1872, Levi received a letter from Jacob Davis, a Reno Nevada tailor. Davis who was one of Levi Strauss' regular customers; who purchased bolts of cloth from the company to use for his own business. In this letter, Davis told Levi about the interesting way in which he made pants for his customers: he placed metal rivets at the points of strain - pocket corners and on the base of the fly. As he didn't have the money to patent his process he suggested that Levi pay for the paperwork and that they take out the patent together.
On May 20, 1873, Strauss and Jacob Davis received United States patent #139121 for using copper rivets to strengthen the pockets of denim work pants. Levi Strauss & Co. began manufacturing the first of the famous Levi's brand of jeans in San Francisco.
Levi Strauss died in 1902, at the age of 73. He left his thriving manufacturing and dry goods business to his four nephews — Jacob, Louis, Abraham and Sigmund Stern — who helped rebuild the company after the big earthquake and fire of 1906. The following year, Jacob Davis sold back his share of the company.
By the 1920s, Levi's waist overalls were the leading product in men's work pants in the Western states.
In the 1930s, Western movies as well as the West in general captured the American imagination. Authentic cowboys wearing Levi's jeans were elevated to mythic status and Western clothing became synonymous with a life of independence and rugged individualism. Denim was now associated less often with laborers and more with the rugged American now symbolized by John Wayne, Gary Cooper and others.
During World War II, American GIs took their favorite pairs of denim pants overseas, guarding them against the inevitable theft of valuable items. When the war was over, massive changes in society signaled the end of one era and the beginning of another. Denim pants became less associated with workwear and more associated with the leisure activities of prosperous post-war America.
Levi Strauss & Co. began selling its products nationally for the first time in the 1950s. Easterners and Midwesterners finally got their first chance to wear real Levi's jeans. By 1960, the company had changed the name of its most popular product. Until the 1950s, the famous copper riveted pants were referred to as "overalls." When you went into a small clothing store and asked for a pair of overalls, you were given a pair of Levi's jeans. After World War II, however, Levi Strauss & Co.'s customer base changed dramatically from working adult men to leisure-loving teenage boys and their older college-age brothers who called the product "jeans." By 1960, Levi Strauss & Co. decided that it was time to adopt the name, since these new, young consumers had adopted the product.
The most famous jeans are still probably those produced by Levi as Levi 501s. Pre shrunk jeans had been introduced in the 1960s. 501s traditional button fly jeans designed in the Victorian era need to be shrunk to fit. They were a huge hit again in the 1980s when reintroduced to a new generation.
Before 1942 all Levi's 501 jeans had an extra rivet at the center of the crotch where the main seams come together. Trouble was, as cowboys squatted next to the campfire that little copper rivet tended to heat up making getting back in the saddle a bit painful!
By the 1980s ripped, frayed and torn jeans were a normal sight. Colored jeans from white through to pastels were also popular as were stonewashed blue jeans. In the 80s, designer jeans with names like Gloria Vanderbilt, Calvin Klein and Armani among so many fashion designers, became the designer label jeans to be seen in. Stone washed jeans became a must.
By the 1990s black jeans were very popular for a while and jeans in general were seen a lot in the early 1990s. But shades of blue are always loved and sometimes the darkest shade is high fashion and sometimes the most washed out faded pairs become the hottest. Colored jeans of all shades made an appearance.
In 2000 designers were crystal beading and silver or gold spraying jeans amid tears, frayed slashes, fur and feather decoration. Denim was hot yet again and used to make everything from footwear, jackets, bags, basque corsets to jeweled cuffs.
Lycra in Jeans
The 1990s saw some changes such as denim with an added percentage of Lycra to enhance fit and comfort. Jeans are most definitely here to stay as 50% of us under 60 like to wear them, easily preferring them to combat trousers which are now considered very passé. Jeans with lycra are so much more comfortable. They fit and cling around the butt in a way that accommodates less than perfect figures.
If you are large you will almost certainly be able to get the size you want from the Internet.
Denim is a shade of blue that resembles the shade of indigo used in Denim. This color is an official Crayola color.
RGB 21, 96, 189 CMYK 89, 49, 0, 26