Learning about the history of jeans will make you appreciate this piece of clothing better. Most of us, if not all, have jeans in our closets that we pull out when we can’t decide what to wear because you can pair them easily with various tops and footwear. With the different types of jeans available today, there is no doubt that they evolved from a simple piece of clothing to what they are now.
History of Jeans - The Important Facts
Since their discovery, jeans have come a long way, but one thing has stayed the same throughout the history of jeans: the material used in their production.
History of Jeans - The Infamous Denim Material
Before we start discussing the history of jeans, let’s have an overview of how denim came about since it played, and still plays, a significant role in the manufacture of jeans. It goes without saying that denim is still the most popular and widely available material used in manufacturing jeans worldwide.
Formerly known as Serge de Nîmes, experts claim that denim originated in Nimes, France. It’s creation was actually accidental thanks to the unsuccessful replication of jeane, a hard-wearing type of cotton fabric, by Nimes weavers. The final product was a unique, sturdy fabric type, which is, of course, the denim material.
How it's created is by using the twill weave technique, wherein the weft passes through below the warp threads. The warp threads were colored blue with the help of the natural dye, indigo. While the fabric was being dyed, though, the weavers made sure the weft threads retained their white color. That led to the popular two-colored style of denim, which is blue on one side while the other is white.
History of Jeans - The Pioneers
Although we now know a lot of jeans brands, there are two individuals we should be thankful for the creation of these versatile and universal types of pants we’re enjoying today. They are Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis.
If you’re into fashion, you’re most probably familiar with Levi Strauss. He was a German who immigrated to New York, USA, in 1851 to help his brother run their dry goods business. Two years later, he moved to California to open their business’ western branch and met Jacob Davis that started the history of jeans.
Davis is a tailor originally from Nevada, USA, specializing in rugged items such as horse blankets, tents, and wagon covers. In 1871, he bought Levis’ denim fabric to sew sturdy workwear for a gold mining company's employees. He included copper rivets in the bottom fly and pockets to make the clothing sturdier, which he called blue jeans.
He then decided to patent the rivets and asked Levi Strauss to be his business partner since denim was integral to creating blue jeans. Fortunately, the patent was awarded on May 20, 1873, leading to the creation of more denim overalls. Their company expanded, so the first pair of jeans were born in the 1890s.
History of Jeans - The Significant Changes
Thanks to the two pioneers, the long history of jeans has been colorful, an evolution ranging from workwear to casual wear. However, since it’s been more than 100 years since its discovery, we’ll only talk about the significant changes in the jeans industry. The specific details are discussed below and have been divided into different timelines.
1890 to 1930
The initial Levi’s jeans continued to become the number one work clothes option for miners, ranchers, lumberjacks, factory workers, farmers, and laborers because of their functionality, affordability, and durability. Jeans' popularity in the workforce was also because they were comfortable to wear even while working in tough conditions.
With such popularity, demand, and a wide range of markets, other companies that also contributed and continues to contribute to the history of jeans ventured into jeans or denim pants manufacturing and designing.
One is the Kansas-based company H.D. Lee Mercantile Company or Lee, which was established in 1898. The other is Western Garment Company (GWG), which started operating in 1911 in Alberta, Canada.
Around the 1930s, jeans became a trend among cowboys, thanks to Hollywood films that featured characters wearing fitting blue jeans paired with boots while horseback riding. In the fashion industry, Vogue magazine featured a model wearing Levi’s jeans that made the brand more popular. Another thing that made Levi's standout was their signature red tab placed on the jeans' exterior instead of inside.
1940 to 1950
The 1940s was quite a challenging time for the jeans industry because the war led to the shortage of raw materials. That said, the history of jeans didn’t stop here, as denim jeans became more of leisurewear rather than workwear.
In fact, around 1947, another manufacturer in the name of Blue Bell Company started producing “western-type” or cowboy-style jeans for men and women, specifically, Wrangler. Then in the 1950s, Lee Company started specializing in the production and design of casual-wear jeans.
In the same decade, boxy and cuffed jeans made famous by celebrities such as Marlon Brando and James Dean became a trend. Marilyn Monroe also gave the denim jeans a moderately sexualized and empowering style. American servicemen in Japan and Europe also started wearing trouser jeans when they were off-duty, making the popularity of jeans global.
In 1954, trouser-type jeans with zippers also became common leisurewear for teens. It was also the exact year when people actually started referring to jeans as “jeans”, which were commonly called denim, denim overalls, or waist overalls.
A turn around in the history of jeans came about in the late ‘50s. Jeans became a symbol of rebellion because students wore them during protests and other social activities. Thus, wearing these pants weren’t allowed in schools, restaurants, and theaters.
1960 to 1970
Bold changes in the history of jeans started in the 1960s. It paved the way for low-rise and bell-bottom jeans with embellishments that help individuals express their creativeness and styles. Jeans for women that helped them express their sexuality, such as slim-waisted and bell-bottom jeans, also became a trend.
While these changes in the history of jeans were happening, GWG also started manufacturing denim garments meant for all family members. In 1963, though, Levi’s bought 75% of the GWG company.
Came 1970, actresses and models like Lauren Hutton and Farrah Fawcett began sporting slim-fit, straight-cut jeans that gave them a chic and sexy look. Hence, these jeans became common for women of almost all ages.
Jeans popularity also spread throughout Europe, and flared and bell-bottom jeans were no longer associated with the hippie movement. Jeans with sequins, paint, embroidery, beads, and more also became a trend. These changes in the history of jeans made more women wear jeans, casually and semi-casually, pairing them with their high-heels, sneakers, and other footwear.
1980 to 1990
The 1980s was the pivotal point in the history of jeans, specifically their popularity, especially since denim entered the rock, punk, and grunge market. Skinny, ripped, stonewashed, and acid-washed jeans became the forefront of the fashion industry and among teens and young adults.
The '80s was also known as the “Designer Jeans Era” because brands such as Jordache, Calvin Klein, and Gloria Vanderbilt entered the jeans or denim industry. They introduced an excellent collection for both men and women.
In the 1990s, jeans designers and manufacturers also introduced baggy, straight-cut jeans, ripped or plain, as well as dungarees. This time was also when carpenter jeans loaded with tabs and pockets and denim shortalls and overalls became a trend. There was also a significant rise in the popularity of bootcut and wide-legged JNCO jeans as daily wear.
2000 to 2010
With more brands entering the jeans or denim market, the popularity and evolution of jeans continued. It was in this decade in the history of jeans when low-rise jeans, especially for females, became the most famous. That is all thanks to female pop stars Christina Aguillera, Britney Spears, and Destiny’s Child. It was also this time when bootcut, flared, and retro capri jeans became a wardrobe staple.
In 2010, festival wear was a thing all thanks to music festivals such as the famous Coachella. Vintage-inspired types of denim, including jumpsuits, overalls, and rompers, invaded the market. The most popular turn of events for the jeans industry, though, was denim stretch technology. It gave way to the favorite go-to denim style, skinny jeans that’s wearable for date nights, workweeks, and just about any day!
2011 to Present
As manufacturers continue to please their users, there are now many old-style and new-style jeans available in the market. You can find cropped, ankle-length, capri, and jogger-style jeans, whether baggy or body-hugging. You can even find jeans made of eco-friendly types of denim materials.
History of Jeans - In Conclusion
The 100+ years history of jeans, thanks to the pioneers, celebrities, and denim discovery, has been full of ups and downs, but mostly ups because the love for these pants continues until today. Not only because they're versatile and durable, but also due to the fact that the popular styles in the past continue to make a comeback.
And even if a specific style of jeans isn’t trendy, there is no doubt that you can turn them into fashionable pieces of clothing by pairing them with the right tops, footwear, and accessories. Not to forget, giving them a DIY look if you want to!
From being common workwear and a symbol of rebellion to handy-dandy fashion wear, denim jeans are definitely great pants full of history that won't go out of style in the coming years or even centuries!