Things You Probably Didn’t Know About the History of Jeans

Man Double Denim
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

There’s barely anyone without a pair of jeans in their wardrobe, if not several pairs of jeans. They are such a staple of our wardrobes that it’s hard to imagine a time before every other person was sporting a pair of these denim trousers. Let’s have a look at where these popular garments came from.

Denim Was Born

The origin of denim is often argued about, but the popular belief is that it first came into being in France, in a town called Nîmes. There was already a hard-wearing fabric called ‘Jeane’ which was named after the city of Genoa in Italy, and French weavers were attempting to replicate this.

The French weavers used two different threads on their looms; one died a dark blue, and one left white, which resulted in the classic blue on one side, white on the other that we see in jeans. The French weavers were unable to replicate the jeane fabric successfully, but in the efforts had made the first form of denim, which was originally named Serge de Nîmes, which meant, twill of Nîmes.

Levi Strauss

Levis Stauss had moved from his native Germany to San Francisco in 1853 and was importing a blue, hardwearing fabric – denim. One of Levi’s regular customers was Jacob Davis, who used the denim fabric for items such as tents and wagon covers. He started using metal rivets to strengthen weak points in his designs.

Davis brought his idea to Strauss, and they formed a partnership and received a patent in 1873. From there, they started experiencing further, producing overalls for the workforce of manual laborers, reinforced, of course, with the metal rivets.

The early 1890s saw them produce a pair of jeans, with the all-important metal rivets, and the first pair of Levi’s that we know and love were produced. We still had a long way to go until the more recognizable jeans such as freddy push up jeans would be seen.

The Twentieth Century

Denim
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

The turn of the twentieth century saw jeans starting to become the staple wardrobe item we know today. Levi Strauss was the original jean brand, but two other well-known names, Wrangler and Lee, also started producing these garments.

This was when jeans became more commonplace as workwear for manual workers such as miners and carpenters. They were also a big hit for cowboys due to their hand wearing abilities and comfort.

Jeans became common for workwear across America and became associated with cowboys, a connection that is still in many people’s minds today.

The 1940s

The 1940s saw the spread of the humble jeans across the world due to American GIs taking them with them when they were posted overseas. This greatly increased the jeans’ popularity, as they were seen as somewhat exotic, along with other ‘treats’ American soldiers could bring from home.

However, due to the restrictions of the war, denim production slowed right down and was no longer available as workwear; this meant that jeans were seen more as leisurewear but continued to be worn mainly by men.

The 1950s

The 1950s saw the rise of the teenager generation, and jeans became immensely popular. They were still mainly worn by men but were popularised by female stars such as Marilyn Monroe. James Dean and Marlon Brandon were also regularly seen in jeans, which gave the trousers a rebellious edge, which increased their popularity.

Straight legged jeans were the style of choice for these rebellious idols, and people faithfully emulated that. They became associated so much with delinquency that the straight-legged jeans were actually banned in many schools across the States. Despite their fame, and despite what we may think, jeans in the 1950s were not worn much by women, but that was all about to change.

The 1960s

Man Flared Denim Jeans
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

The sixties was the era of free love and anti-war protests, and a much freer dressing way. The embodiment of this era was no longer wearing the structured clothing of the last few decades, instead of embracing the comfort and casual style of blue jeans. Jeans were highly customized with fabric paint, rhinestones, and anything that could make them individual, usually on a low rise, flared jeans.

Double denim also came into style for the first time, which was often decorated with sewn-on patches, allowing others to know the wearer’s political stance.

The 1970s

The 70s saw flared jeans become even wider, and a move away from denim was associated with hippies and political movements. More people wore them as everyday wear in all walks of life. Women were now wearing jeans just as much as men, with them, often being highly customized and individualized as before.

The 1980s

The 80s was the first time that designer denim really became popular, and there was more available than the traditional Levi’s, Lee Cooper, and Wrangler jeans.

Calvin Klein was the most noticeable designer of the time, and super skinny jeans became fashionable, sometimes with added elastic in the fabric to make them easier to wear. Stone and acid wash was the decade’s style, with less people wearing traditional dark blue jeans.

1990s

Man Baggy Jeans
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

The 90s saw dungarees become fashionable, and an overall baggy look to jeans was preferred. Pop culture saw many icons such as the Spice Girls and TLC wearing denim, which lead to many people wearing this.

Hip Hop became much more mainstream in the 90s, and many of the popular artists wore baggy jeans, and so these became popular on the high street.

2000s

The 2000s saw a throwback to the 60s as personalised jeans became fashionable once again, with many people customising their jeans at home, in order to have an individual look. Jeans were very low rise in the 2000s and were either skinny or boot cut in style.

2010 and onwards

Skinny jeans remained one of the most popular styles in the 10s to 2020, and towards the end of the decade, flares were starting to make a comeback.

Jeans have been around for well over 100 years now, and continue to be an everlasting trend, with styles available to suit every person and every occasion.