There is some dispute as to where “denim” originated. Italians claim it was on their own shores while many histories call Nimes (France) it’s home. Regardless of it’s true origin, today jeans are undeniably an American tradition.
Did you know the history of denim began in the 1850s? It was during the height of the California gold rush. A fabric merchant named Levi Strauss was met with a dilemma. He had recently moved to California with a large supply of canvas for tents but soon discovered what the customers really needed were pants. The garment would need to be durable enough to withstand the rigors resulting from their eager search for gold. Levi was nothing if not innovative and he quickly fashioned pants out of the canvas and sold them to the miners. Their durability was an instant hit, but they proved to be uncomfortable. Levi searched for an alternative and soon found what he was looking for from his tailor Jacob Davis. Davis used denim and rivets to create trousers that were perfect. Levi bought the patent and the rest as they say is history.
Hollywood was quick to glamorize denim. In the 1940’s, actors like Gene Autry and John Wayne helped associate jeans with cowboys and the Wild West. The working classes were quick to adopt their style; jeans became a staple for farmers and ranchers in the west. Denim served them well because of the fabric’s durability and low maintenance care. At this time, high society still wanted nothing to do with them.
In the 1950’s, Hollywood once again drove the trend forward by placing them on the “bad boys” like James Dean in his iconic final roles (“Rebel without a Cause” & “Giant”). Teenagers from all walks of life wanted to identify with the rebellious characters and quickly embraced jeans. Parents were none too thrilled about the trend and jeans were banned from schools and many popular hangout spots. The ban only made jeans that more exciting. Soon even grown-ups couldn’t resist the temptation. The middle class was first to accept denim. It served a broader interest than mere fashion and became a sign of their desire to support the working class. Women were also soon caught up in the jean craze thanks to Marilyn Monroe’s portrayal of Roslyn Tabor in the 1961 film, “The Misfits.”
In the 60’s and 70’s, denim jeans began to adopt their wearer’s individuality with the exposure of embellishments and patches. This “hippy movement” marketed what we can now define as the creativeness of denim. The 80’s brought about “designer jeans” focusing on slimmer and curvier shapes. In the 1990’s, jeans were introduced in different fabrics such as corduroy. Today, denim can be defined as a true staple of fashion; it incorporates all aspects of what we know about trends and style.
Denim designs have become boundless. Price barriers have been broken. Finishes, trimmings and detailing are almost limitless. At a recent Copenhagen’s Fashion week, designers flaunted multitudes of denim silhouettes in collared jackets, women’s dresses and shorts. These garments featured everything from nautical stripes, to hospital scrub- inspired designs. Now a multi-million dollar industry, denim has completely changed the face of luxury. Even the Ritz Hotel, considered synonymous with luxury, allows (breakfast) diners to wear jeans.
Denim has come a long way since its introduction to gold miners by Levi Strauss. We see denim everywhere. Denim is on the runways, the office and some home collections. Denim and the ever-popular “jeans” style have changed the face of fashion and dress codes alike.
Unlike other fabrics denim shouldn’t be washed after every use. The CEO of Levi claims not to have washed his pants in a year. While we do not recommend that particular technique, we do suggest turning your jeans inside out before washing. While jeans are extremely durable, they do not always react well to machine drying. Instead, try air-drying. New jeans should be washed alone; this will eliminate any possible dye transfer. Adding a ½ cup of vinegar will also help to preserve their rich color.