Blue jeans are about as American as apple pie and this American tradition recently celebrated its 140th birthday. Originally created to provide durable pants for miners and other laborers, denim jeans are now a major component of every American’s wardrobe and a $13 billion dollar a year industry. Made from cotton, blue jeans combine durability, comfort, and style. To celebrate the one item of clothing that almost every American owns, let’s look back at where blue jeans came from and how they came to be one of the most recognizable symbols of America today.
- To trace the trail from start to end, we have to begin in the town of Genoa, Italy. This town was famous for making a specific type of cotton corduroy called jean.
- When textile producers in the city of Nimmes, France tried to copy this Italian fabric, they were unsuccessful. However, they did produce a new fabric, similar to jean that became known as denim because of the town where it was created.
- Both jean and denim were used in Europe to create work pants for laborers and sailors and both fabrics eventually made their way across the Atlantic to America in the late 1800’s.
- The first pair of blue jeans as we know them today grew from an idea hatched by two men who were in the business of selling dry goods, like clothing, to miners, laborers, and other workers.
- Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss formed a partnership to create a more durable pair of work pants that were reinforced with copper rivets at the points of highest stress. The rivet reinforcements added strength to these points making the pants last longer which was an important feature at a time where people may have only had one or two pairs of pants.
- In 1873, the two men patented their new pants and began selling them through the Levi Strauss Company, Strauss’s dry goods distributor.
- For most of their first 100 years, jeans were loose fitting work pants favored by laborers of every kind. They resembled bib overalls without the bib and were often marketed as “waist” overalls rather than as blue jeans.
- This all changed when actor James Dean made blue jeans cool for the rebellious youth of the 1950’s in the movie Rebel Without a Cause.
- Over the next four decades, jeans would move into the mainstream and become the go to casual clothing for many Americans.
- During this timeframe, manufacturer’s and wearers alike began to experiment with the traditional design of the popular pants. This experimentation brought us bell-bottoms, acid-washing, and even the skinny jeans favored by many of today’s teens.
There is no question that Americans love their blue jeans. On average, we each own about 7 pairs and we are buying new pairs all the time. This is good news for the economy and for the cotton industry. Here in Arizona, where cotton is a core crop, our cotton farmers grow enough cotton each year to make one pair of jeans for every person in the country. So the next time you slip into your favorite pair of jeans, thank the Arizona cotton farmers for growing such high quality cotton, Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis for creating jeans, and James Dean for making them cool!