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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Everything You Have to Know About Jeans


all about jeans

Jeans. They go by so many names. Be it denims, overalls, working pants, blue jeans, or plain Levi's; jeans has taken the world of fashion and popular culture by storm. 

One of the most versatile pieces of clothing, jeans has been a part of many closets for more than a hundred years from the time it was first conceived in 1873. The blue jeans, or overalls, is one of the most successful fashion trends which has taken a life of its own. It even has its own history intertwined with the history and culture of the country where it was originally from, the United States of America.


The blue jeans or denims that we have today didn’t have a glamorous past. In fact, it was invented as an accident and out of necessity. More than a hundred years ago, at the time of the American gold rush, the need for durable clothing rose in the American west. Levi Strauss, the man behind today’s world-famous Levi's brand of jeans originally made pants out of canvass and tarp material - as popular lore says. One day in 1873, he used some denim fabric to make overalls . The precursor to the blue jeans was thus born!

The first jeans did not look like the ones we have today although it was an instant success with the miners because of its flexibility and durability. Life in the mines was very hard, and the denim fabric held up really well to the rigorous demands of the job.


Everyone who owns a pair of jeans knows how much stress and use the fabric can beautifully hold up to. Speaking of history, the denim and jean fabric has been in use for a few centuries even before Levi Strauss came up with his world-famous blue jeans (see end part of this article).


history of jeans

Jeans would not be jeans without rivets. Rivets are the metal reinforcements which are attached to the parts of the jeans where the seams meet, usually around the pockets. The first jeans did not have rivets in them. As a result of this, the pockets would get torn off when the miners would fill them with heavy gold nuggets. Here is where Jacob Davis became a significant persona in the history of clothing.

Jacob Davis thought that adding rivets would significantly improve the strength of the existing overalls at that time.  Unfortunately (or fortunately as most would say), he did not have the 68 U.S. dollars needed to register a patent, so he contacted Levi Strauss with his idea by sending a letter. Levi Strauss agreed to pay for the patent in exchange for having equal rights with Jacob Davis on the resulting product. This is how the blue jeans we know today came to be born on May 20, 1873 upon the issuance of U.S. patent No. 139,121.

For the next 35 years, these two enterprising men held the exclusive right to manufacture blue jeans – which is why their product’s brand name has almost been synonymous with the term ‘jeans’.


As mentioned earlier, the miners loved the resulting riveted pants which they called overalls. With the addition of rivets, the overalls became the garment of choice for miners and soon became a favourite as well amongst workers from the cattle industry, the cowboys. The western states of the United States became known as the denim country, with cowboys, miners, and farmers donning the jeans as their everyday garment.


During the first world war, the materials for making jeans became scarce, since the metal for making rivets were needed to produce bullets and other weapons. This caused a reduction in the number of rivets in the patented version of jeans. Rivets from the back pockets, watch pocket, and the crotch was taken out to comply with the government issued restriction on the use of certain clothing materials.

The first and second world wars also introduced the use of jeans by women workers who have taken over the manual labour in factories and farms as the men were fighting in the war.


In the 1950s, wearing jeans became synonymous with having a 'bad boy and bad girl' reputation. Popularised by James Dean in the 1950s movie Rebel Without a Cause, wearing jeans became associated with motorcycle gangs and being involved in rebellious behaviour. As a consequence of this, wearing jeans became a prohibited act in schools, churches, restaurants, and theaters. Levi Strauss and Co. had to repopularise the use of denim garments and jeans by aggressive marketing ploys. We all know how that went, as we won’t be using jeans today if that campaign did not go successfully.


The first jeans was not called jeans. Thy went by the name bib overalls or waist overalls. These overalls were loose fitting and were designed to cater to factory workers and miners.

Before 1890, jeans only had one back pocket. This information is very useful in ascertaining how old a pair of jeans truly are; just like how it came in handy to authenticate one of the oldest pair of jeans which was sold in an eBay auction for more than $43,000.

A vintage Levi's jeans would spell the brand's name in all caps, while modern ones would spell the brand’s name with the letter E in lower case.

Before the 1960s, men’s jeans have the zipper in the front whilst women’s jeans have the zipper on the sides.

People these days pay a premium price for distressed jeans. The distressed look can be naturally achieved by at least 3 years of regular and frequent wear. This process can be replicated in the factory within just a few hours using abrasive tools to simulate years of use.

The first jeans were blue because the dye used to make the denim and jean fabric is one of the cheapest when it was first invented.

Modern jean and denim fabric are not pure blue but are made with an interlocking of blue and white thread at a ratio of 3:1.

Prior to 1963, people would have to buy a pair of jeans which are larger than their frame. This is because pre-shrinking was not introduced until that year by Levi's.

The 1960s was the decade the term ‘overalls’ was replaced by the term ‘jeans’ in popular culture.


styles of jeans

Speaking of styles, jeans are often categorised according to cut and shape. The colour of the fabric used can also be used as a categorising factor by some makers. Still, jeans may also be categorised according to the styles of their waistbands, shape of the legs, or the type of pockets. The most common parameter for categorising jean styles is the leg shape.


Best cut for winter wear jeans, boot cut or boot leg jeans  are cut in such a way that the fabric skims the legs but is slightly flared at the lower portion to accommodate the bulk which wearing boots may add to the leg.


The characteristic style of jeans during the late 60s and the 70s, flared leg jeans are narrow at the knee and feature an extra wide flare at the leg. This style is often paired with a low rise waist.


Wide at the legs, slouch jeans are the preferred style of jeans for those who often wear the garment while performing manual labour. The fit is very comfortable.


Also known as the traditional cut, straight leg jeans has a narrow straight leg. There is no flaring at the ankles or at the knee. This style of jeans has stood the test of time and is a fashion classic. The best part is the fact that it flatters many body shapes and can make the wearer appear taller.


A narrower version of the straight leg jeans, tight jeans or skinny jeans is well-loved by stylish men. Worn properly, skinny jeans can make the wearer look slimmer and taller. The major disadvantage would be comfort but with modernised versions of the jean and denim fabric, today’s skinny jeans are very comfortable indeed.


Today’s jeans are usually made of either denim or jean fabric with some iron or copper rivets. Some brands may use leather and cotton as an additional material along the jeans’ pockets.


The jean fabric is not an American invention but a European one. As early as the 17th century, working people has been using the jean fabric to make work clothes and other items.  It is believed that the jean fabric originated in Genoa, Italy. It was initially called gene (not to be mistaken for biological genes) which on later date became jean.

As for the denim fabric, the fabric originated from Nimes, France. The word denim is derived from ‘de Nimes’, which means ‘from Nimes’. It was shortened to denims or denim on a later date and became known as the name of the extremely strong blue fabric we now call as denim. The term can be interchanged with jean fabric at present time.

The denim and jean fabric may look alike to the untrained eye, but denim is actually coarser than jean. The denim fabric was fabricated by weavers from Nimes to copy the jean fabric made by Genoese weavers. What they came up with is a twill version with a coarser weave. Both types of fabric gained popularity, with denim becoming a favourite for making overalls and smocks and jean being used by Genoese sailors as a tarp to protect their goods from the sea. Nowadays, jeans can be made using either types of fabrics.


Excuse the nerdiness everyone! I love jeans and so I thought writing about it would  be fun for a change of pace :) Feel free to link to this article!

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