how did denim jeans get to be so iconic?

Let’s begin with the denim. There are so many materials available, and denim continues to be one of the most versatile, durable and popular fabrics on the market. And jeans, well, most people own not just one, not just two, but a few pairs of jeans. They transcend gender, age and class with timeless appeal.

How did this amazing combination of material and pant design get started? Glad you asked…

Fabric weavers of Nimes, France, tried to replicate a cotton fabric  known as “jeane,” named after the French pronunciation (Genes) of the city of Genoa, Italy where it was famous. They were unsuccessful. (And now you know how jeans got their name. Great trivia contest question!) Instead, the weavers created a sturdy twill-weave fabric, with the naturally white weft threads passing under the dyed-indigo warp threads.

Voila! This twill, or “Serge de Nimes,” or denim, was born.

how did jeans get to be so iconic

When fabric and innovation come together, great things can happen.

A young man named Levi Strauss moved from Germany to the United States to help his family with their dry goods business, ultimately settling in San Francisco during the 1853 California “gold rush” to start a western branch of the store. Among the things he sold was—wait for it—denim fabric. Enter Jacob Davis, a tailor, who bought bolts of the strong denim from Strauss’s store to create tents, horse blankets and wagon covers. Because his items were so durable, a gold-mining company commissioned him to also make denim jean trousers (or “waist overalls”) that could withstand the hard work of miners.

Davis’s design included adding copper rivets to “strain points” for added strength. He wanted to protect his idea, but didn’t have the money to get it patented… But he knew someone who did: Mr. Levi Strauss. The two became partners and on May 20, 1873, a patent was granted to Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss & Company for “Improvement in Fastening Pocket-Openings.” After initially employing seamstresses who worked out of their homes, they established a factory that produced their XX (“extra strong”) waist overalls. After the turn of the century, Wrangler and Lee began competing in the denim jeans market.

 how did jeans get to be so iconic

From humble workwear to the very essence of cool…

The “market” included all those workers who needed sturdy trousers: miners, farmers, cowboys, lumberjacks, railroad workers and the like. But the market opened up with the dude ranch craze in the 1930s, and again in the ‘40s when American soldiers took their favorite denim jeans overseas with them.

But then the ‘50s happened. Jeans were still dark blue and stiff, but buttons were replaced with a zipper fly, and more and more young people were wearing them. Denim jeans were becoming less like workwear and more like leisure wear. And when movie stars put them on—think Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and Marlon Brando—jeans were redefined as empowering and rebellious. In fact, straight-legged jeans became associated with defiant people, including motorcyclists (no!) and juvenile delinquents, which led to many American schools banning them from being worn. And we all know what that did… Made jeans even more desirable. A 1958 newspaper article reported that “…about 90 percent of American youths wear jeans everywhere except in bed and in church…”

 how did jeans get to be so iconic

As styles continue to change, jeans remain.

As the decades rolled by, jeans continued to be a part of the social fabric. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, “designer jeans” were all the rage, and different fabric treatments continued to be popular, including faded, stone- or acid-washed, bedazzled, and rips and tears.

Today, the story of jeans reflects our changing society and continues to be written. It’s clear though, that from bespoke to thrifted, jeans can fit in any environment and are an iconic part of fashion history. If you’re interested in upping your jeans game, Bonaire can put you in a pair of custom-made jeans that will make you look—and feel—absolutely amazing.