History of the Fabric
Denim was invented in the French city of Nimes, where tailors began weaving cotton together in a unique way, in which the weft passes under two or more warp threads, resulting in a reinforced fabric. The outer warped threads were dyed blue or indigo and the inner weft thread was left in the original white colour. This is why jeans and denim jackets are blue on the outside and white internally. Denim’s iconic ageing process, where the hidden white begins to push through the original blue, is a direct result of this weaving method. The name ‘denim’ derives from “de Nimes” meaning “from Nimes”.
Levi Strauss' Journey to the States
In 1851, in an endeavour to escape antisemitism and pursue financial prosperity, Loeb Strauss left his hometown Buttenheim, Germany to head for New York, where his brother owned a dry goods store (textile shop). After learning the trade for a couple of years and changing his name, Loeb, (now Levi) headed West to San Francisco during the California Gold Rush to set up his own branch of the family shop in a more profitable environment. ‘Levi Strauss & Co. Wholesale House’ had been born. During this era in San Francisco, most men were miners due to the lucrative promise of gold in the area. This resulted in a surge in demand for workwear that could withstand daily damage to the cloth.
Foundation and Innovation
In 1872, a local tailor known as Jacob Davis purchased some denim strips from Levi Strauss to craft high strength trousers for his own client. However, as strong as the fabric was, the trousers fell apart at the seams after a few weeks of wear, which was especially problematic for workers who were storing gold ore in their pockets. To solve this problem, Davis had the idea of installing copper rivets on the pockets and the base of the fly, to make sure the pieces of fabric were firmly bound to one another. This was the lightbulb moment that set Levi’s on the road to global success. Because Davis couldn’t afford to patent his invention, he wrote to Levi Strauss and requested that he fund the patent so the two could go into business together. Strauss liked the idea and they took the patent out together. Levi became responsible for manufacturing the jeans in his San Francisco factory, employing Jacob Davis to oversee production and design. All Levi’s jeans once had a metal rivet at the bottom of the fly but they removed it after receiving complaints from cowboys that it would heat up and burn them. Levi’s blue denim jeans then surged in popularity, primarily amongst workers at first, but by 1920, the trousers were the leading item in men’s workwear. However, it was the next 30 years which would cement the rise of denim in mainstream industry as they began to sell their product nationwide.
Denim In Culture
The first catalyst for the rise of denim was Western style movies, from around 1930 to 1980. Men saw gunslinging cowboys such as John Wayne taking names, riding horses and saving lives in blue jeans (although films were in black and white to start with) and before long, blue jeans went from the clothes of working men to the high streets of most American cities.
World War Two then broke out in 1939. Denim jeans and jackets became very popular amongst returning or off duty American GI's. These soldiers shocked the system as instead of settling down in the suburbs with a family, they wore jeans and rode motorbikes around the US. This rebellion was attractive in the eyes of the American consumers, cementing their position in male fashion as they were viewed as the clothes of rebellious heroes. Actors such as Marlon Brando helped further popularise jeans 1953 through his role in ‘The Wild One’ The trend soon picked up in Europe, where people were eager to buy into the comfortable post-war prosperity lifestyle that blue jeans represented.
Jeans also acted as a bridge in social disparity. Gone were the days where the rich wore only suits and finery and the poor wore workwear and rags, jeans were now worn by everyone. They were made from a sturdy cloth, they didn’t need ironing, they couldn’t get dirty and when they aged, they looked even better. From the 60s onwards, almost every cult and subculture, from extreme to passive have worn jeans. From hippies to skinheads, skaters to football casuals and from bikers to ravers, denim has been a universal piece of almost all social rebellions since the 60s. Levi’s didn’t actually call their trousers “jeans” until 1960, they were previously known as “waist overalls”. The name ‘jeans’ originates from the Italian city of Genoa, where the cotton used in denim was originally sourced from.
Today, Levi’s Strauss & Co. sell the world’s favourite denim. Whether it’s a pair of jeans, jacket or a shirt, you can always rely on their quality. Denim jeans are the ultimate example of form following function. Their strength, versatility, durability and comfort are what have made them the most popular item of clothing ever. They can be worn in almost any environment and used for any activity.