Product History

Denim Jeans, a classic staple in American Fashion, but jeans got their start far from the fashion world. In 1853 German immigrant Levi Strauss created the first denim jeans. His first creation was created with a new blended fabric, something later called denim. These jeans were not your typical low rise pair of pants, but rather overalls.1) Harold Evans and others.They Made America: From the Steam Engine to the Search Engine: Two Centuries of Innovators. (New York: Little Brown, 2004)

 

Levi Jeans, worn by miners in San Francisco

 

These overalls were worn by workers, those who found themselves in need a pair of pants suitable for working in mud, mines, and in factories. They were able to withstand the harsh conditions that workers had to face.2)Ibid., Though the material was extremely durable, it wasn’t always considered comfortable. In 1873 Levi Strauss branched together with tailor Jacob Davis to find a way to make the jeans more comfortable. With the collaboration of the two, they were able to come up with brass rivets. These rivets allowed for the material to be even stronger, but most importantly it allowed for a lining to be held in place causing for a more comfortable wear. Though the invention was already set in motion, they still needed to legally own all the rights. “May 20, 1873, marked a historic day: the birth of the blue jean. It was on that day that Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis obtained a U.S. patent on the process of putting rivets in men’s work pants for the very first time.”3)Levi Strauss & Company, Our Story, accessed March 31, 2017, http://levistrauss.com/our-story/#heritage-timeline . The company was growing, growing faster than most expected. Even though there was a high demand for Levi Strauss and his denim jeans ” Levi was still involved in the day-to-day workings of the company. In 1890 — the year that the XX waist overall was given the lot number “501®” — Levi and his nephews officially incorporated the company.”4)Ibid.,

This Advertisement shows the patent strength of the rivets on Levi Jeans

 

Levi Jeans were popular amongst the working class, but it wasn’t until Hollywood started using them in their films that they grew popularity as a fashion statement. In 1910, Hollywood dressed its favorite icon in Levi Jeans–The American Cowboy. When William S. Hart, a famous actor in western’s, started wearing Levi’s America was able to see jeans in a new light. What had been originally reserved for those working jobs in the mines, factories, and farms was now being seen as an American staple. True Americans were being depicted as wearing jeans, and that meant everyone needed a pair.

Poster for American Western Starring William S. Hart. Hart is seen wearing Blue Jeans.

 

 

American Westerns dominated the American heart, telling the classic tale of the hard working American and the classic look that comes with it. This image of blue jeans did not deter until the 1950’s when the movie Rebel Without a Cause hit the silver screen. In this movie, James Dean is seen wearing bright blue denim jeans, a white shirt, and a red jacket. This look sparked the interest of those wishing to look like the “heartthrob.”5)JP, TSY Style Hall of Fame: James Dean Cultural Giant of the Rebel Set, accessed March 31, 2017, https://selvedgeyard.com/2010/07/26/tsy-style-hall-of-fame-james-dean-cultural-giant-of-the-rebel-set/ .  This look was a staple of the era that modern 21st-century songs, such as Blue Jeans by Lana Del Ray, are still writing lyrics about him. In the song Blue Jeans one lyric states “Blue jeans, white shirt.Walked into the room you know you made my eyes burn
It was like James Dean, for sure.6)Written by Daniel Law Heath, Elizabeth Grant, Emile Haynie • Copyright © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group, Songs Music Publishing After this movie, teens began calling the overall denim with a new name, officially starting the reign of denim jeans. 7)JP.,

After James Dean’s white shirt and blue jeans, another star took to the look. The only person who could top Dean’s look was the equally as famous Marilyn Monroe. In 1962 America’s favorite leading woman showcased a pair of high wasted blue denim jeans in the movie Misfits.

Marilyn Monroe posing for the movie “Misfits” in 1962

 

Though Monroe’s look was similar to Deans with the pairing of blue jeans and a white shirt, Monroe was opening up the genre of jeans of women. Jeans and denim had been reserved for men, typically those who needed the tough material, but when Monroe was pictured wearing denim it was a signal to women that denim wasn’t just for the working man anymore. As the company, Levi Strauss & Co. said “In the years following the movie, blue jeans became a signature garment for teens, rebels, and others. The film’s title also became a prolog to another group of 1960s “misfits” who would feature prominently in San Francisco’s drug and hippie scene also dressed in Levi’s® jeans. By the end of the decade, jeans were the preferred garment of counter culturists, musicians, and even rock fans at mass gatherings like Woodstock in 1969.”8)Tracey Panek, Uncovering the Levi’s Legacy in Marilyn Monroe’s Final Film, accessed March 31, 2017, http://levistrauss.com/unzipped-blog/2015/10/uncovering-the-levis-legacy-in-marilyn-monroes-final-film/ .  Sadly as this was Monroe’s last film, she was unable to continue to promote the wear of Levi Jeans, but that didn’t mean the death of jeans. In 1967 another famous lady took to the silver screen wearing blue jeans.

In 1967, the movie Two for the Road made its way to American hearts and theaters. Starring as the lead female role was Audrey Hepburn. Hepburn, a feisty, stylish, young actress plays Joanne Wallace. Wallace is seen wearing jeans, but a different cut, one that really hadn’t been seen before. Hepburn wore ankle cut jeans. The jeans stopped right at her ankles instead of continuing the entire length of her leg. The new cut created a new style of jeans, one that is still popular today.

Audrey Hepburn in the 1967 movie Two for the Road. The scene shows Hepburn in the ankle cut jeans.

 

Once ankle cut jeans became popular, different lengths of jeans became popular. Jean cuts varied from ankle to boot cut to flare jeans. Flare jeans or bell bottoms became popular with the rise of the 1970’s. Bell bottoms were unique to the hippie or counter culture movement.

Group of friends spotted wearing Bell Bottoms in the 1970’s

 

 

By the end of the 1970’s denim jeans took a complete 180 from the long bell bottoms. In 1979, the movie Dukes of Hazzard aired and the world was shocked by the female character Daisy Duke. Daisy is shown wearing very short cut-off jeans. These jeans were considered so short that they were nicknamed “shorts.” These revealing shorts took the era of long jeans revamped it to introduce the idea of homemade shorts. Shorts took the old, worn out pair of jeans and turned them into a new stylish look.

Character Daisy Duke showing off her legs in the new cut-off denim jeans.

 

 

After the movie Dukes of Hazzard, denim jeans were versatile. Jeans were worn different ways, and the options were endless. High wasted, boot cut, bell bottoms, shorts, ankle cut, and classic overalls were all styles that were available to the everyday person. When the late 1980’s rolled around a new style of denim arrived. When the rock and roll subgenre grunge became popular so did a new trend of jeans. One of the most popular bands at this time was Nirvana. Nirvana was a grunge band formed in the late 1980’s and gained popularity in the 1990’s. The lead singer in the band was Kurt Cobain. Cobain was known for singing in ripped and patched jeans. This old tattered look gained an interest from Cobain followers.9)Chioma Nnadi, Why Kurt Cobain Was One of the Most Influential Style Icons of Our Times, accessed March 31, 2017, http://www.vogue.com/article/kurt-cobain-legacy-of-grunge-in-fashion . This led to the emergence of ripped jeans with patches and holes. Cobain became the face of grunge and a new style of jeans.

Kurt Cobain wearing ripped and patched jeans creating the new trend of jeans.

 

 

Ripped Jeans started by Kurt Cobain are still worn today. The history of jeans is still impacting modern society. One can walk down the street and see one wearing any of the styles listed. For more information about modern styles of jeans click on “Modern Impact” on the main menu.

References   [ + ]

1.  Harold Evans and others.They Made America: From the Steam Engine to the Search Engine: Two Centuries of Innovators. (New York: Little Brown, 2004)
2, 4. Ibid.,
3. Levi Strauss & Company, Our Story, accessed March 31, 2017, http://levistrauss.com/our-story/#heritage-timeline .
5. JP, TSY Style Hall of Fame: James Dean Cultural Giant of the Rebel Set, accessed March 31, 2017, https://selvedgeyard.com/2010/07/26/tsy-style-hall-of-fame-james-dean-cultural-giant-of-the-rebel-set/ .
6. Written by Daniel Law Heath, Elizabeth Grant, Emile Haynie • Copyright © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group, Songs Music Publishing
7. JP.,
8. Tracey Panek, Uncovering the Levi’s Legacy in Marilyn Monroe’s Final Film, accessed March 31, 2017, http://levistrauss.com/unzipped-blog/2015/10/uncovering-the-levis-legacy-in-marilyn-monroes-final-film/ .
9. Chioma Nnadi, Why Kurt Cobain Was One of the Most Influential Style Icons of Our Times, accessed March 31, 2017, http://www.vogue.com/article/kurt-cobain-legacy-of-grunge-in-fashion .