Jeans are trousers made from denim (a robust textile originating from Nimes in the south of France) or dungaree cloth (a similar cloth used in England since the 17th century, possibly derived from Dongri, a dockside village near Mumbai).

Often the term ‘jeans’ refers to a particular style of trousers, called ‘blue jeans,’ which were invented by Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss in 1873. Starting in the 1950s, jeans, originally designed for cowboys, became popular among teenagers, especially members of the greaser subculture. Historic brands include Levi’s, Lee, and Wrangler.

Jeans come in various fits, including skinny, tapered, slim, straight, boot cut, Narrow bottom, Low waist, anti-fit (baggy rear), and flare. Jeans are now a very popular article of casual dress around the world. They come in many styles and colors; however, ‘blue jeans’ are particularly identified with American culture, especially the American Old West. However, the story of jeans begins in the city of Genoa, in Italy, famous for its cotton corduroy, called either ‘jean’ or ‘jeane’; the jeans fabric from Genoa (at that time) was in fact very similar to corduroy.

During the Republic of Genoa, jeans were exported by sailors of Genoa throughout Europe. In the French city of Nimes, weavers tried to reproduce the fabric exactly, but without success. However, with experimentation, and through trial and error, they developed another twill fabric (diagonal parallel ribs in the textile weave) that became known as ‘denim,’ literally ‘de Nimes’ (‘of Nimes’). Only at the end of the nineteenth century did jeans arrive in the United States.

Levi Strauss emigrated in 1851 from Germany to New York to be with his older brother, who ran a dry goods store. In 1853 he moved to San Francisco to establish his own dry goods business. In 1872, Jacob Davis, a tailor who frequently purchased bolts of cloth from the Levi Strauss & Co. wholesale house, wrote to Levi asking to partner with him to patent and sell clothing reinforced with rivets. Davis’ idea was to use copper rivets to reinforce the points of stress, such as on the pocket corners and at the bottom of the button fly. After Levi accepted Davis’s offer, the two men received U.S. Patent 139,121, for an ‘Improvement in Fastening Pocket-Openings,’ in 1873.

An oft-told ‘attractive myth’ is that Levi initially sold brown canvas pants to miners, eventually dyed them blue, turned to using denim, and after Davis wrote to him, Levi added rivets to his blue jeans. However, this story is false and probably due to the discovery of jeans made of brown cotton duck (a type of bottomweight [heavier] fabric), which was one of the early materials used by Davis and Levi Strauss after 1873. Finding denim a more suitable material for work-pants, they began using it to manufacture their riveted pants. The denim used was produced by an American textile manufacturer, but popular legend states the denim was obtained from Nimes, France.

North America accounts for 39% of global purchases for jeans, followed by Western Europe at 20%, Japan and Korea at 10% and the rest of the world at 31%. Initially, jeans were simply sturdy trousers worn by factory workers. During this period, men’s jeans had the zipper down the front, whereas women’s jeans had the zipper down the left side. Fewer jeans were made during the time of World War II, but ‘waist overalls’ were introduced to the world by American soldiers, who sometimes wore them when they were off duty. By the 1960s, both men’s and women’s jeans had the zipper down the front.

Historic photographs indicate that in the decades before they became a staple of fashion, jeans generally fit quite loosely, much like a pair of bib overalls without the bib. Indeed, until 1960, Levi Strauss denominated its flagship product ‘waist overalls’ rather than ‘jeans.’ After James Dean popularized them in the movie ‘Rebel Without a Cause,’ wearing jeans became a symbol of youth rebellion during the 1950s. Because of this, they were sometimes banned in theaters, restaurants and schools. During the 1960s the wearing of jeans became more acceptable, and by the 1970s it had become general fashion in the United States for casual wear.

In 1987, Michael Belluomo, editor of ‘Sportswear International Magazine’ wrote that in 1965, Limbo, a boutique in the New York East Village, was ‘the first retailer to wash a new pair of jeans to get a used, worn effect, and the idea became a hit.’ He continued, ‘[Limbo] hired East Village artists to embellish the jeans with patches, decals, and other touches, and sold them for $200.’ In the early 1980s the denim industry introduced the stone-washing technique developed by GWG also known as ‘Great Western Garment Co.’ Donald Freeland of Edmonton, Alberta pioneered the method, which helped to bring denim to a larger and more versatile market.

Acceptance of jeans continued through the 1980s and 1990s to the point where jeans are now a wardrobe staple, with the average North American owning seven pairs. Currently, jeans may be seen worn by people of all genders and ages. Levi Strauss first marketed preshrunk jeans, which did not shrink further after purchase, allowing the consumer to buy his or her correct size, in 1963. These jeans were known as the 505 regular fit jeans. The 505 are almost identical to the 501s’ with the exception of the button-fly. The Levi’s corporation also came out with a slim bootcut fit known as 517 and 527. The difference between the two is 517 sit at the waistline and the 527 sit below it.

The ‘acid wash’ look is created by means of abrading the jeans and/or treating them with caustic soda, acids etc. Consumers wanting jeans that appear worn can buy jeans that have been specially treated. To give the fabrics the worn look, sandblasting or abrading with sandpaper is often used. Sandblasting and treating with sandpaper has the risk of causing silicosis to the workers, and in Turkey, more than 5,000 workers in the textile industry have been stricken with this disease, and 46 people are known to have died. Some companies have announced they are banning the use of sandblasting.

Despite most jeans being ‘pre-shrunk,’ they are still sensitive to slightly further shrinking and loss of coloring from being washed. The Levi Strauss company recommends avoiding washing jeans as much as possible. Carl Chiara, Levi Strauss director of brand and special projects, has a credo: ‘The less you wash your jeans, the better your jeans become.’ These and other suggestions to avoid washing jeans where possible have encountered criticism. Cory Warren, editor of ‘LS&Co. Unzipped,’ clarifies in a response to such a criticism: ‘Our advice is to wash less often, but clearly, you have to judge for yourself what’s appropriate. Hot day, dirty job? Wash your jeans. Please! Cold day, office job? Maybe you can wear them twice or more before they go back to the washing machine. Personally, if I wear a pair of jeans to work on Friday — cool climate, office job — I tend to wear them on Saturday. And if Saturday is spent indoors and I’m not spilling food all over myself, I might even wear them on Sunday.’

Jeans were introduced to the USSR in 1957, during the ‘World Festival of Youth and Students.’ Moscow and Leningrad were the first cities where jeans showed up, appearing before any foreign students or tourists came along. (These two capitals have always been visited more often by foreign delegations.) From here, jeans appeared in some port cities, such as Odessa and Kaliningrad. It was in these cities that jeans began to appear in 1964 for the first time. In the same timeframe, jeans started being mentioned in Soviet Russian novelist Vasily Aksenov and Soviet Russian poet Evgeny Evtushenko’s works. In 1962 during Khrushchev’s famous meeting with some creative intellectuals, Iconic Russian poet Andrei Voznesensky gained some notoriety because he came to the meeting in jeans.

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