DENIM NOSTALGIA

a quick history of denim & jeans 

Italian textile workers were producing a durable, hard wear fabric called ‘jeane’ (named after the city Genoa) which was highly popular among the working class, especially sailors. All sorts of workwear was produced with it; from trousers to overcoats.

 

Meanwhile, weavers in Nimes, France, accidentally made the first modern denim - a sturdy, durable cotton fabric that is similar while actually intending to produce another popular fabric of the time - serge. They called it “serge de Nimes” which literally translates as “twill from Nimes.” The name got shortened to “denim” as it became widely used in time.

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late 17th century

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mid 19th century

In America, jeane fabric was popularly used - usually in block colors of indigo, olive, or brown. Denim spun from white & indigo yarn was used exclusively in workwear for miners, mechanics, cowboys, and farmers who required the most durable materials also became highly popular.

In 1848, Levi Strauss emigrated to the US from Bavaria & began working with his brothers in New York. He later moved to San Francisco to open a store selling many products including buttons, threads, canvas for tents and denim.

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1848

1853

Denim became very popular during the Californian Gold Rush in 1853. Strauss began making durable pants for miners who needed pants that could withstand months of heavy wear with big pockets for storing gold. It was the right place, the right time. The denim pants were a hit.

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Miners in jeans, Getty Images

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1873

One of his customers was Jacob Davis, a tailor commissioned by a gold mining company who improved the strength of the jeans even further using metal rivets. After years of successful business, in 1873, they officially became partners, got the design patent and modern American denim blue jean was born.

20th century

When Strauss and Davis’s patent ended in 1890, other manufacturers were free to reproduce the style. OshKosh B’Gosh entered the market in 1895, Blue Bell (later Wrangler) in 1904 and Lee in 1911. 

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Blue Bell Wranglers flyer
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1920s Denim Jeans

1920s

By 1920s jeans became a staple in wardrobes of the American West, the main customer was the working class - cowboys, lumberjacks, railroad workers. 

Cowboy wearing jeans

From The 501® Jean: Stories of an Original, Full Documentary

It’s thought that Levi’s jeans were first introduced to the East during the dude ranch craze of the 1930s. Fashion magazine Vogue gave their seal of approval, calling jeans “Western chic”.

1930s

Levi's Flyer
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1940s

1940s Women in Jeans

A new chapter unfolded during World War II in 1940s. The American GIs brought their denim pants with them overseas. Nothing new was being produced due to shortage of the raw materials, so they were limited in number while the demand was rising. The end of the war marked a change in how they were perceived - jeans were now less associated with workwear and more with leisure wear. 

Women wearing jeans

In 1950s denim exploded in American culture - the rise of Hollywood and celebrities including James Dean, Marlon Brando, and Marilyn Monroe wearing denim pants on the silver screen and rock’n’roll stars owning the style fueled the fever. Films like Rebel Without a Cause, The Wild Ones, and The Misfits quickly convinced the consumer that denim is what you wear if you're a badass. Seen by many as a form of rebellion, denim was banned from schools, theatres and restaurants.

1950s

Brigitte Bardot in jeans
Marlon Brando, The Wild Ones Movie
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James Dean, Rex Features

Brigitte Bardot, Getty

Marlon Brando, The Wild Ones

1960s & 1970s

As rebelliousness became the dominant theme of youth, fueling the counterculture hippies and anti-war protestors wore jeans in the 1960s and early 1970s as a way to show support for the working class; while feminists and women’s rights organisers used blue jeans as a tool to highlight gender equity.

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Denim wear Hippies

From The 501® Jean: Stories of an Original, Full Documentary

late 1970s & early 1980s

By late 1970s & early 1980s high fashion began to take interest in denim. Fiorucci’s Buffalo 70 jeans were skin-tight, dark, expensive and hard to buy – the opposite of all the things denim signified for the younger crowd. Calvin Klein was the first designer to let blue jeans walk the runway in 1976.

Fiorucci 70 Jeans
Calvin Klein, 1976, Vogue Encyclopedia Denim Jeans, Credit Rex

A Calvin Klein show in 1976 Rex Features

Fiorucci

From The 501® Jean: Stories of an Original, Full Documentary

In 1980s, jeans defined a new kind of seduction with Brooke Shields’s provocative Calvin Klein campaign and Claudia Schiffer’s ads for Guess. In November 1983, Yves Saint Laurent told New York Magazine “I have often said that I wish I had invented blue jeans. They have expression, modesty, sex appeal, simplicity — all that I hope for in my clothes.” 

1980s

Brooke Shields Calvin Klein Ad

Bon Jour Jeans Commercial

By 1990s, fashion houses such as Versace, Dolce & Gabbana and Dior had also entered the jean market. The decade of freedom ushered another era in denim culture with baggy jeans & dungarees as well as a rise in boot cut. Celebrities including Spice Girls and Destiny’s Child helped boost the looks.

Spice Girls in Denim
Spice Girls

1990s

Spice Girls

Destiny's Child - No, No, No Part 2 Official Music Video ft. Wyclef Jean

Paris Hilton in Jeans
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2000s

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In 2000s, DIY jeans were officially in - customized denim became a hot trend as it enabled wearers to express themselves creatively through their style, a big part of the Millennial mind-set. High-rise styles gave way to low-rise ultra-skinny models, favored by many including JLO, Britney Spears, Paris Hilton & Nicole Richie.

britney spears justin timberlake iconic denim look

Paris Hilton, Getty

Jennifer Lopez 

Britney Spears & Justin Timberlake Iconic Red Carpet Look,

2001 American Music Awards

The 2010s saw a return of raw selvedge denim while environmental sustainability became a big part of the conversation. Utility & workwear were major trends but also price and comfort for value became a demanded attribute. While most mass market fashion brands now had their own denim range, Levi’s, Wrangler and Lee remained iconic household names.

2010s

Boyfriend Jeans 2010
Raw Selvedge Denim

today & future of denim

Today & the future of denim - having recently welcomed a new decade; we can see denim has been mirroring - perhaps even leading - the social and environmental sustainable production focus of fashion. Witnessing what a versatile fabric it is and how it evolved over the years with culture, denim no doubt will be the fabric of tomorrow as well.

Disclaimer:

as denim lovers enthusiastic about sharing transparent information about the industry, we prepared this page as an archive of the past for inspirational purposes only with no commercial goals. the imagery, videos and the content used were sourced from public domains. if you own any of them and would like to change / alter anything, please contact us at communications@future.possibilities.com at any time.