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History of Jeans

The word "jeans" comes from the French phrase bleu de Gênes, literally the blue of Genoa. Jeans fabric, or denim, originated independently in two places:

  • The French town of Nîmes, from which 'denim' (de Nîmes) gets its name.
  • From Dongari Killa in India, from which the word 'dungarees' came.

Denim trousers for sailors

Denim trousers were made in Chieri, a town near Turin in Italy, during the Renaissance and were popularized in the 19th century. These trousers were sold through the harbor of Genoa, which was the capital of the independent Republic of Genoa which was long an important naval and trading power. The Genoese Navy required all-purpose trousers for its sailors that could be worn while swabbing the deck and the denim material met this need. These trousers were laundered by dragging them in nets behind the ship, and the sea water and sun would gradually bleach them to white.

Jeans (at the time known as "dungarees"), along with light-blue stenciled "cambric" shirts, became part of the official working uniform of the United States Navy in the first part of the 20th Century. A working uniform was selected to protect traditional uniforms from becoming soiled or torn in the ship's rugged working environment, leaving them for ceremonial occasions. They were first issued in 1901, and were originally straight-legged but by the mid-20th century the trousers became Boot-cut style to permit ventilation in the ship's hotter working environments and to ensure sailors could shed their dungarees if they fell overboard or had to abandon ship.

The same type of uniform consisting of jeans and chambray tops was issued as prison uniforms in some correctional facilities mainly because of the durability and low-maintenance of denim which was deemed suitable for the rugged manual labor carried out by inmates. A popular example of the use of denim as prison wear can be seen in the film Cool Hand Luke.

Riveted jeans

Dry goods merchant Levi Strauss was selling blue jeans under the "Levi's" brand to the mining communities of California in the 1850s. One of Strauss' customers was Jacob Davis, a tailor who frequently purchased bolts of cloth from the Levi Strauss & Co. wholesale house. After one of Davis' customers kept buying cloth to reinforce torn pants, he had an idea to use copper rivets to reinforce the points of strain, such as on the pocket corners and at the top of the button fly. Davis did not have the required money to purchase a patent, so he wrote to Strauss suggesting that they both go into business together. After Strauss accepted Davis's offer, the two men received U.S. Patent 139,121, for an "Improvement in Fastening Pocket-Openings," on May 20, 1873.

The cost of jeans

In 1885, jeans could be bought in the US for $1.50 (approximately $37 today). Today, an equivalent pair of jeans can be purchased for around $30 to $50, but more stylish pairs can cost much more. On the other hand, many brands of jeans are currently available for much less. In the United States, there is a robust resale market for used jeans, and the prices obtained for these pre-owned jeans vary tremendously. As the price of cotton rises, the cost of blue jeans is expected to rise, as well.

Americans spent more than $14 billion on jeans in 2004 and $15 billion in 2005.

Evolution of the garment

Copper rivets for reinforcing pockets are a characteristic feature of blue jeans.

The blue denim fabric of jeans

Initially, jeans were simply sturdy trousers worn by workers, especially in the factories during World War II. During this period, men's jeans had the zipper down the front, whereas women's jeans had the zipper down the right side. 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 by teenagers and youth and/or young adults became a symbol of youth rebellion during the 1950s. Because of this, they were sometimes banned in theaters, restaurants and schools. Nowadays, however, jeans are worn to many types of venues and events, even some events that ostensibly require formal attire.

During the sixties the wearing of jeans became more acceptable, and by the seventies it had become general fashion in the United States for casual wear.

In the 1970s 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

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