It dates back to the 18th century when the people of Nimes, France attempted to replicate a sturdy Italian fabric called “serge de Nimes,” now known as “denim.”
However, the history of modern day blue jeans really began when a Bavarian immigrant, Levi Strauss brought denim to America in 1853. He was based in San Francisco at the time, when the Gold Rush was at its peak. Men were migrating west in search of fortune and would spend months camping out in rough climates. Their pants were made out of denim; the weave of the material was one of the strongest and longest lasting textiles made from cotton.
Perhaps since the inception of denim, most of us prefer to wear blue jeans not only because of its comfort, but also for its durability. Over the years, blue denim jeans have evolved from a practical solution to protect the laboring limbs of workers to a style suited for just about every individual. Blue jeans is a “must-have” garment for everyone in any industry, from miners and farmhands to fashionistas and musicians. What was once seen as a laborer’s uniform, has now transformed to a signature look like the one Apple founder Steve Jobs had adopted, paired with his black mock turtlenecks.
So let us take a stroll down memory lane to explore how the inception of denim during the Gold Rush transformed the innovation of blue jeans into the staple that resides in everyone’s closet today.
1914: Silent film actor William Hart pioneered the image of the blue-jean-clad Western hero
1939: Levi’s 501 was worn by John Wayne in the western film Stagecoach
1940: U.S. soldiers and sailors serving overseas introduced blue jeans as casual wear around the globe.
1954: The tobacco industry ran their marketing campaign for filtered cigarettes with a more masculine image of “Marlboro Man” dressed as a cowboy in blue jeans
1955: James Dean popularized blue jeans in the movie Rebel Without a Cause; he modeled a classic white T-shirt and a leather jacket with rolled-up jeans to depict the character of a man who craved adventure instead of a 9-to-5 job
1961: Marilyn Monroe inspires young women to strut in the comfort of blue jeans when her character wore them in The Misfits
1970: The Ramones (rock band) introduced the ripped-knee skinny jeans on the cover of their 1977 record, “Rocket to Russia”
1975: Sergio Valente introduced denim in his fashion line
1979: Heiress Gloria Vanderbilt launches her designer denim jeans
1980: Hip-hop introduces the baggy jeans trend
1981: Model, Brooke Shields popularizes the classic Calvin Klein jeans
2000: Levi’s 501s was named the “Fashion Item of the 20th Century” by Time Magazine
2001: Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears make a statement in matching all-denim outfits on the red carpet at the 2001 American Music Awards1,2
Jeans are no longer classified as a low-priced fashion item; they have become a status symbol for those who wear the most prestigious brands. In the 1990’s, men’s wide-legged jeans and women’s low-rise hip huggers became highly popular in the youth market. Today, the meaning of denim jeans has once again taken on another new paradigm. A Recent study showed the denim market will value at approximately $118 billion by 2020 with an estimated 3.6 billion pairs sold.
Every generation continues to wear blue jeans, as it will never go out of style.