The History of Jeans

18th Century

At first, jean cloth was made from a mixture of things.  However, in the 18th century as trade, slave labor, and cotton plantations increased, jean cloth was made completely from cotton.  Workers wore it because the material was very strong and it did not wear out easily.  It was usually dyed with indigo, a dye taken from plants in the Americas and India, which made jean cloth a dark blue color.

19th Century

1848:  gold was found in California and the famous Gold Rush began.  The gold miners wanted clothes that were strong and did not tear easily.   

1853:  a man named Leob Strauss left his home in New York and moved to San Francisco, where he started a wholesale business, supplying clothes.  Strauss later changed his name from Leob to Levi.  A big problem with the miners' clothes were the pockets, which easily tore away from the jeans.  A man called Jacob Davis had the idea of using metal rives to hold the pockets and the jeans together so that they wouldn't tear.  Davis wanted to patent his idea, but he didn't have enough money. 

1872:  Davis wrote to Levi and offered Strauss a deal if he would pay for the patent.  Strauss accepted, and he started making copper-riveted "waist overalls" as jeans were called then.  


1873:  The first riveted clothing was made and sold 

1886:  Levi sewed a leather label on their jeans.  The label showed a picture of a pair of jeans that were being pulled between two horses.  This was to advertise how strong Levi jeans were: even two horses could not tear them apart.

1891:  Levi Strauss & Co.'s patent for riveted clothing goes public and dozens of companies begin to use the idea.

20th Century

1930's:  Hollywood made lots of western movies.  cowboys, who often wore jeans in the movies, became very popular.  Many Americans who lived in the eastern states went for vacations on "dude ranches" and took paris of 

denim "waist overalls" back east with them when they went home.

1940's:  Fewer jeans were made during the time of World War II, but "waist overalls" were introduced to the world by American soldiers, who sometimes wore them when they were off duty.  After the war, Levi began to see their clothes outside the American West.  Rival companies, like Wrangler and Lee, began to compete with Levi for a share of this new market.

1950's:  Denim became popular with many young people.  It was the symbol of the teenage rebel in TV programs and movies (like James Dean in the 1955 movie Rebel Without a Cause).  Some schools in the USA banned students from wearing denim.  Teenagers called the waist overalls "jean pants" and the name stayed.

1960's:  Many university and college students wore jeans.  Different styles of jeans were made, to match the 60's fashions (embroidered jeans, painted jeans, psychedelic jeans).  In many non-western countries, jeans became a symbol of "Western decadence" and were very hard to get.  US companies said that they often received letters from people all around the world asking them to send the writer a pair of jeans.

1970's:  As regulations on world trade became more relaxed in the late 70's, jeans started to be made more and more in sweatshops in countries in the South.  Because the workers were paid very little, jeans became cheaper.  More people in the countries of the South started wearing jeans.

1980's:  Jeans finally became high fashion clothing, when famous designers started making their own styles of jeans, with their own labels on them.  Sales of jeans went up and up.

1990's:  In the world wide recession of the 1990's, the sale of jeans stopped growing.  The Youth market wasn't particularly interested in 501s and other traditional jeans styles, mainly because their parents: the generation born in "blue" were still busy squeezing their aging bodies into them.  Since no teenager would be caught dead in anything their parents were wearing, the latest generation of rebellions youth turned to other fabrics and styles.  They still wore denim, but it had to be in different finishes, new cuts, shapes, styles, or forms.  Jeans were named the "single most potent symbol of American style on planet earth".