Thursday, November 16, 2017

Origins: Denim and Jeans

  • Denim is a sturdy cotton warp-faced textile in which the weft passes under two or more warp threads. 
  • The most common denim is indigo denim, in which the warp thread is dyed, while the weft thread is left white. As a result, one side of the textile is dominated by the blue warp threads and the other side is dominated by the white weft threads. This causes blue jeans to be white on the inside. The indigo dyeing process, in which the core of the warp threads remains white, creates denim's signature fading characteristics.

  • The name "denim" derives from the French “serge de Nîmes”, meaning “serge from Nîmes”.
  • Denim was traditionally colored blue with indigo dye to make blue jeans, although "jean" formerly denoted a different, lighter, cotton fabric. The contemporary use of the word "jeans" comes from the French word for Genoa, Italy (Gênes), where the first denim trousers were made.
  • Denim has been used in the United States since the mid 19th century. Denim initially gained popularity in 1873 when Jacob W. Davis, a tailor from Nevada, manufactured the first pair of rivet-reinforced denim pants. 
Jacob Davis (1831-1908), photographed in 1905
  • At this time, clothes for Western labourers, such as teamsters, surveyors, and miners, were not very durable. His concept for making reinforced jeans was inspired when a female customer requested a pair of durable and strong pants for her husband to chop wood. When Davis was about to finish making the denim jeans, he saw some copper rivets lying on a table and used the rivets to fasten the pockets. Soon, the popularity of denim jeans began to spread rapidly and Davis was overwhelmed with requests. He soon sold 200 pairs to workers in need of heavy work clothing. Nevertheless, because of the production capacity in his small shop, Davis was struggling to keep up with the demand. 
  • Davis wrote a proposal to dry goods wholesaler Levi Strauss & Co. that had been supplying Davis with bolts of denim fabric. Davis's proposal was to patent the design of the rivet-reinforced denim pant, with Davis listed as inventor, in exchange for certain rights of manufacture. Levi Strauss & Co. was so impressed by the possibilities for profit in the manufacture of the garment that they then hired Davis to be in charge of the mass production in San Francisco.
  • Because of the popularity of the jeans manufactured by Levi Strauss & Co , the term “levi’s” became a generic term for jeans, later being limited to jeans from Levi Strauss & Co.
  • Levi Strauss was born in Germany in 1829 into a Jewish family. At the age of 18, Strauss, his mother and two sisters travelled to the United States to join his brothers Jonas and Louis, who had begun a wholesale dry goods business in New York City called J. Strauss Brother & Co.
  • The family decided to open a West Coast branch of the family dry goods business in San Francisco, which was the commercial hub of the California Gold Rush. Levi was chosen to represent the family and he opened his dry goods wholesale business as Levi Strauss & Co. The business imported fine dry goods—clothing, bedding, combs, purses, handkerchiefs—from his brothers in New York. He also made tents, a business which enabled him to branch out into manufacture of jeans.
  • Levi Strauss died in 1902, in San Francisco at the age of 73. He never married, and left the business to his four nephews. His estate was estimated to be around $6 million[($164 million in 2014 dollars), with large amounts having been left to charities.

Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis received their patent for copper riveted jeans in 1873. The above image ge of two horses straining to tear apart a pair of pants is from 1886.  With their patent to run out in 1890, Strauss and David rightly surmised there would be cheaper competitors.  The above image was designed to emhasise the strength of the product as well as creating a recognisable image for people unable to read. Indeed the company was known as the Two Horses brand until 1928.

A young Levi Strauss

Death of Levi Strauss

Levi's first miner's pants, worn by miners in Placer County, California, in 1882

In the 950s people who wore jeans were seen as street punk or rebellious teenagers. Above: James Dean and Marlon Brando. Slowly this image changed over time and today we see people with different ages comfortably wearing jeans. It is still big thing in fashion industry that does not get old or out of trend.

Marilyn Monroe helped popularise blue jeans by wearing them in her 1954 film “River of No Return”

Marilyn Monroe with co-star Robert Mitchum

The original pair of blue jeans, Levi’s 501 jeans, were actually called ‘waist overalls’, or just ‘overalls’, when they were first created. This was traditionally the name for men’s workwear.

The Red Tab was first placed onto the right back pocket of the jeans in 1936 as a way to identify Levi’s from their competition. 

Levi’s are also the creators of the denim jacket. The earliest denim jacket dates back to the late 1880s and was originally referred to as the Blouse. The jacket that we know today came into existence in 1962. Above: Miley Cyrus with denim jacket and denim shorts.

Ever wondered what that tiny useless pocket in your levi’s is for? The answer is that originally it was for watches for watches for cowboys in the 1800s. The Levi Strauss website suggests modern uses: "Originally included as protection for pocket watches, thus the name, this extra pouch has served many functions, evident in its many titles: frontier pocket, condom pocket, coin pocket, match pocket and ticket pocket, to name a few."

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