There is no other article of clothing that captures the quintessential American spirit like blue jeans. Although the roots of denim stem from other countries, there has been no other piece of attire that has spanned the timeline of American history and expressed the American Dream and struggle like blue jeans. The word and fabric denim comes from Nimes, France, and was the result of merging the name of the fabric, serge de Nimes into one word-denim. The word jeans stems from bleu de Genes and is also French; it means the blue of Genoa. Denim was introduced to the world around the 16th century by French sailors from Genoa. But it was Americans that really embraced the fabric and made it into the image of classic blue jeans we know today.
It is fitting that like most things American blue jeans began it’s journey from other countries. America is known as the melting pot for good reason. It is the place where those from different lands can come for a fresh start and experience true freedom and democracy. The United States of America is a place of innovation and invention and most of all the American Dream. This concept is shown at its best in the history of blue jeans. Blue jeans were worn by miners who came from far and wide in search of gold and a better life. Jeans were perfect for the rough work that miners did because it is sturdy and the blue dye used does not transfer onto the skin even when wet or with repeated use, due to the structural nature of the fabric. Yet earlier blue jeans could only withstand so much before they ripped and had to be replaced. Two immigrants Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis, patented rivets in 1873. Metal rivets were placed at the different stress points in the pants thus making them stronger and allowed them to be unaffected by the hard labor that miners did.
Denim was known as workers clothes and worn for such purposes until it began to be seen on the stems of cowboys on the Western frontier and in Western movies. Cowboys were fond of the fabric because they could go days and even weeks without washing it and it allowed for freedom of movement. But by the 1950’s teenagers and movie stars embraced the look. Movies like ‘Rebel Without Cause’ and movie stars like Marlon Brando and James Dean pushed the image of the rebellious individual with a purpose to the forefront. It didn’t take long for teens to adopt the look and link it to sexuality with a devil-may-care attitude. By the 1960’s hippies and flower children utilized the pant as the go-to look and it represented freedom, sexual exploration, and social change. Jeans all but disappeared until the 1980’s when as it happens with fashion and its cyclical nature, what was old and unthought of became new and fresh once again. Denim became the most popular thing to wear with designers like Calvin Klein increasing the cost of the items and turning them into a status symbol.The 1990’s saw a revolution of denim wear in terms of introducing a new style and a shift in rebellious attitude-extremely baggy jeans coupled with the new music of Hip-Hop. This combination would forever change the landscape of denim and usher in an entirely unique style that would affect generations to come around the world. By the 2000’s rockers and pop artists reintroduced low worn jeans and coined them hip huggers.
There are very few articles of clothing that inspire emotional reactions like blue jeans can. They have evolved from only being worn by those who perform the most rigorous labor to everyday wear for all. Blue jeans have shifted from being general in size and fit to becoming as intimately linked to a person as lingerie; displaying more about a person than a billboard due to wear patterns that become apparent with each use. No other article of costume has embodied American ideals, individuality or, the diversity and culture of the American landscape like good old fashioned blue jeans.
by Otaymah Bonds