How American Denim saved the World
Posted on 04 May 2016
Denim might be the standard uniform of youth around the world today, but did you know that this wonder fabric has its origins in Italy, and shot to fame in America during the cowboy era of the “Wild West?” Read ahead to learn all about the history of your humble blue jeans. And, today's continued obsession with Denim in America.
Denim’s origins in Genoa
The word denim first emerges in 1795 in Italy. A Swiss entrepreneur named Jean-Gabriel Eynard and his brother Jacques relocated in Genoa and started a large garment factory. In 1800 they received a massive commission from the Italian army – Jean-Gabriel debuted a study new fabric that he titled “bleu de Genes," named for the French word for Genoa. This is where we get the common term ‘blue jeans’ to this day.
A Bavarian- American Connection
In 1853, a Bavarian entrepreneur named Levi Strauss made the long journey to San Francisco – but not to work as a gold panner! He operated a dry goods shop and was inspired to create clothing solutions for the miners of the American gold rush. This taxing physical job saw miners going through trousers, shirts and jackets at breakneck speed – no matter how thick, the typical cloth fabrics could not stand up to the demands of the men.
Strauss was inspired by a letter from a Reno tailor named Jacob Davis. Davis detailed how he used strong metal rivets at stress points in order to reinforce the cloth and make trousers last longer. The two men agreed to work together, and in 1873 the Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss & Company enterprise was born. Their reinforced denim “waist overalls” were instantly popular, and were soon regularly seen on working class men, farmers and others with demanding professions.
The trousers fit loosely, more like overalls without the bib, and had two pockets in the front and one on the back. Over time, they were redesigned to have a standard zipper in the front (rather than the side) and five pockets secured with copper rivets (including a watch pocket).
Jeans come into fashion
“Waist overalls” were a key part of the serviceman’s uniform during World War Two, and soldiers liked to wear these trousers even when off duty. For many people around the world, this was their first introduction to denim.
At this point, they were still most likely to be seen on farmers, mechanics, workers and soldiers, but by the 1950s the style was popular with bikers and young men, emerging as one of the most recognised fashion trends of the ‘50s. This is most clearly demonstrated in the success of films such as “Rebel Without A Cause” and “The Wild One.”
Throughout the ’60s and ‘70s jeans became the unofficial uniform of the ‘counter culture’ and became popular amongst men, women and children all around the planet.
Present Day – Jeans are a Global Fashion
In the 2010s, it is clear that jeans have staying power. They come in countless styles, colours, shapes and patterns and are worn by people young and old. Denim has come a long way from its origins in Genoa – and is sure to continue to evolve. Denim Jeans come in a variety of styles; distressed, flare, skinny jeans, culottes and cut-outs and different washes and hues. Today, denim jackets worn by both sexes can be seen over a formal dress or a pair of slacks. Denim is sexy, trendy and cool and continues to be "go-to" piece for every generation.