“Jeans represent democracy in fashion.”
– Giorgio Armani
“I want to die with my blue jeans on.”
– Andy Warhol
When asked friends about what they associated ‘blue’ with, I was surprised. Vast majority of them (all women) associated ‘blue’ with jeans, even that particular one, who I have never seen in ‘blue’ ones… There was only one, who immediately associated with wedding accessories… (she is about to get married soon, and can hardly talk about anything else than wedding arrangements…)
Had no more doubt what this post should be about… But to have a bit of a turnaround, let us start with some history…
Blue jeans have been around for more than 200 years, since the late 1800s. While 200 years is definitely a long time, it seems like they have been around much longer than that. They are just one of those things that we take for granted and do not really give much thought to; other than to decide what to wear with them.
Their history starts with a German emigrant, who goes to the U.S.. He, Levi Strauss cashes in on the Gold Rush by moving to San Francisco, to found a wholesale dry goods business, Levi Strauss & Co, in 1853. He does not mine for gold. At least, not directly …
He brings canvas, to use it for wagons and tents, but when facing demand for durable pants, he starts to making waist overalls. Miners like these pants but complain about that they tend to chafe. Levi Strauss substitutes the material then, with a twilled cotton cloth from France called “serge de Nimes.” The fabric later becomes known as denim and the pants receive the nickname ‘blue jeans’.
In 1873, the Latvian emigrant and tailor Jacob Davis and his fabric supplier, Strauss, patent and manufacture the “XX” pants, later dubbed the 501. The U.S. government grants the pair U.S. Patent No. 139,121 for rivet-reinforced pants under the heading, “IMPROVEMENT IN FASTENING POCKET-OPENINGS.” This day is considered to be the ‘official birthday’ of blue jeans, though, in those days jeans are mostly waist overalls.
The two-horse brand design was first used in 1886. The red tab attached to the left rear pocket was created in 1936 as a means of identifying Levi’s jeans at a distance. All are registered trademarks that are still in use. But see, what happened in between.
Silent film actor, William Hart stars in massively popular westerns wearing jeans, in 1914, pioneering the image of the blue-jean-clad Western hero. After world war the second, his celebrity explodes as the U.S. film industry — unlike that in war-torn Europe — flourishes.
He is followed by John Wayne, who stars in the western film Stagecoach wearing a pair of Levi’s 501s, in 1939. There are some things a man just cannot run away from… In the 1940s U.S. soldiers and sailors serving overseas act as ambassadors for jeans, introducing them as casual wear around the world.
In 1951, the extraordinaire singer-actor Bing Crosby is filmed when gets turned away from a fancy Canadian hotel for wearing all denim. Levi & Strauss sends him a custom denim tuxedo with a “Notice to All Hotel Men” declaring the outfit acceptable formal attire, thus allegedly originating the term “Canadian tuxedo.” (Richard Branson has ordered and worn a replica recently.) Two years later, Marlon Brando wears the 501s in the classic motorcycle gang film The Wild One.
Marilyn Monroe pumps up the sex appeal of blue jeans in River of No Return. A New York Times critic observes, “it is a toss-up whether the scenery or the adornment of Marilyn Monroe is the feature of greater attraction”. Guess jeans, later, recreates the pose in its ads.
In 1964 a pair of Levi jeans enters the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC.
Blue jeans become popular with the young hippie population. They wear them almost like a uniform. They practically become a sort of a symbol of freedom, take on a life of their own and really never quit.
Probably, it is not an overstatement, that Baby Boomers make it fashionable to wear blue jeans in all forms. Soon, new and hip styles are introduced and they become a craze. Styles include bell bottoms, hip huggers, fancy pockets, cut offs and even different shades of blue as well as other colors. The craze is blowing up the fashion magazines…
Heiress Gloria Vanderbilt launches her designer denim jeans in 1976. Scantily clad Catherine Bach wears ultra-short “Daisy Dukes” in The Dukes of Hazzard TV series in 1979. Celebrity Jessica Simpson later reprises the role on film in 2005.
From the 1980s, diversification makes a jump-start. From the baggy style worn by the hip-hop musicians, to the skinny versions favored by the rock stars, blue jeans are everywhere. Who can forget Bruce Springsteen’s 501-swadled buttocks stand guard in front of an American flag? Born in the USA …. You are right, he danced in the dark in those, too ….
Since then, it is worn by almost everyone from farmers to President Obama, and everywhere from the fields to the red carpet. I might not be wrong assuming that you all have at least one pair in your wardrobe …
Rebeka Knott: Blue Jeans As A Fashion Statement, Fads, 01 Feb 2018.
Robert Hackett: Brief History of Blue jeans, Fortune, 18 Sep 2014.