They are the unisex symbol of Western fashion and almost everyone owns a pair. From the gold mines to the fashion runways, it’s been a versatile hundred years for blue jeans. Hardwearing denim pants were worn in nineteenth century Europe, and their name can be traced to the fabric’s beginnings in France. The word denim literally means ‘from Nîmes’ (de Nîmes), which is the French town where the fabric originated. The word ‘jeans’ comes from ‘bleu de Gênes’, which in French means blue of Genoa.
But blue jeans as we know them were born on exactly May 20,1873 in San Francisco when Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis received patent no.139,121 from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Their vision was to create a durable product, strong enough for the workers in rugged environment of western America. By riveting the most stressed areas of the pants with copper, they had solved the most difficult problem with work wear – durability. This unique innovation has withstood the test of time, and the most popular style is the Levi 501. All pants had a numbering system identifying their different styles, and 501 was the mark of highest quality. Those blue jeans quickly became popular with cowboys, farmers and ranchers who wore them everyday to work.
In the 1950s, blue jeans turned from the work outfit to a symbol of revolution. Inspired by silver-screen idols, such as Marlyn Monroe in Clash by Night (1952) and James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause (1952), teenage rebels took to wearing jeans as a radical way of defining themselves. The European youth caught on and Levi’s, Lee, and Wrangler jeans became the emblem for prosperity and youthful identity.
By the 1970s, blue jeans transformed from the uniform of the youth to a branded designer product. Fiorucci, Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein were the first to include denim in their collections. Important public figures like Bianca Jagger and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis started wearing them and elevated their status. The 1980s saw the most memorable blue jean campaign, when Richard Avedonad directed a 15-year-old Brooke Shields for Calvin Klein. The controversial tag line: ‘You wanna know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing,’ increased Calvin Klein’s business from a 25 to a 180 million dollars in just a year. In 1988, Anna Wintour’s first cover for Vogue as its editor was a pair of Guess? stonewash jeans and a Christian Lacroix top.
The next decade created an explosion of denim fashion styles. Western bootleg, born-to-be-torn grunge jeans, baggy hip-hop jeans – jeans were everywhere. New brands appeared on the market such as Earl Jean, 7 for All Mankind and True Religion Brand Jeans. Jeans also made an appearance as truly luxury product. Gucci’s feathered, beaded, beat-up, torn-knee jeans designed by Tom Ford sold out instantaneously at $3,715 a pop.
Today is no different. Coming in all kinds of shapes and colors. jeans are the most popular piece in everyone’s closet. It’s important to remember that no item of clothing is more American than those original blue jeans made by Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss over hundred years ago. These two visionaries turned cotton thread and pieces of metal into the most well-known clothing item in the world.