Denim Jeans - Fashion History
In fashion history,
jeans and denim history continues to baffle us. No one truly knows the perfect
answer to where jeans began. As so often happens fashions often emerge together
in various parts of the world and are the result of the sudden availability of a
new fabric, cloth, dye or technique.
But we do know that
the phrase denim jeans
is thought to derive from several sources. The majority of source books suggest that denim derives from the
English translation of the South of France French phrase 'Serge de Nīmes'. Denim
fashion history is thus associated with Serge de Nīmes.
It may well be that the fabric which was made in France also
had a version made locally in England, and was called by the same name of denim,
in the same way that Cheddar cheese is called cheddar all over the world. The
Serge de Nīmes was originally a wool silk mix, twill weave. Certainly by the 19th century in England, denim had a white warp and a navy woof (weft). Denim was
considered a hard wearing sturdy fabric, ideal for heavy labouring.
It is also thought the
name ' jeans ' comes from 'Genoese' the name for Italian sailors of Genoa who
when at sea dressed in blue fustian fabric, composed of a cotton and wool
or linen blend. Genoese fabric was imported into Britain as far back as the 16th
Thomas Hardy used the word fustian to describe basic clothes
of a skilled countryman in 'The Mayor Of Casterbridge'. He mentions a fustian
waistcoat, breeches and a jacket, all the type of garments often made up in jeans
material today. In Pickwick Papers, fustian is described by Dickens as 'common
fustian' which firmly puts it in the everyday category.
In the 19th century, American weavers made hard wearing cotton
duck, denim and jeans fabrics to satisfy a home market. At some time, some
manufacturers must have replaced the yarns with the locally produced, more
readily available cotton making the fabrics all cotton.
Jeans history would be
nothing without Levi Strauss. Levi Strauss is
credited with inventing jeans. Levi Strauss emigrated
with his family to New York in 1847. His family sold dry goods such as canvas
tenting and Manchester drapery goods. He moved to San Francisco in the early
1850s because he thought the same dry goods business would be brisk, because of
the California gold rush.
About 20 years later, a
solvent Levi Strauss and a Nevada tailor joined forces to patent an idea the
tailor had for putting
rivets on stress points of workman's waist high overalls, commonly known as
jeans. Levi Strauss chose to use the stronger denim fabric and cotton duck, putting his
own name on the product. Later the duck fabric was dropped as consumers found
denim more comfortable, particularly after washing. Washing creates the faded bloom on
the indigo blue dyeing that we all love.
Eventually in the
1950s people asked
for denim jeans or just as often - Levi's jeans, rather than waist overalls. Other manufacturers began to produce jeans.
Other brand names such as Lee
Coopers and Wranglers also became famous. Each brand is renowned for having a
Jeans fashion history
was truly made in the 1950s when film stars wore it in movies that the teenagers
of the day followed with avid interest.
For many years jeans
were only used as work wear clothes, but by the 1940s they were considered
leisure wear in America.
Once pop and film stars like Elvis Presley, James Dean,
and Marlon Brando sported them, they became desirable internationally in the
1950s and are associated with rock and roll and pop music. Later in the 1960s,
jean brands old and new were worn universally in the western world.
Left - Marlon Brando screen idol in jeans in
In the 1970s,
individuals began to really personalize flared bell bottom
versions of jeans and added bells up the sides of flared leg styles. Floral and
abstract textural embroidery, metal eyelets and studs, transfers, appliqué and even anti-war graffiti biro
writing were all popular forms of decoration.
Jeans were a great hit with flower people and the hippie revolution. Jeans were
the only uniform to wear to a 1970's pop concert.
Jeans never seemed to die, as
individuals would cut off the legs to make Bermuda shorts, then short shorts or
even duffle bags using a cord to draw up the waist loops. Old jeans got recycled
into patchwork jeans and skirts. Right - Denim mini skirt
The most famous jeans
are still probably those produced by Levi as Levi 501s. Pre shrunk jeans had
been introduced in the 1960s. 501s traditional button fly jeans designed in
the Victorian era need to be shrunk to fit. They were a huge hit again in the
1980s when reintroduced to a new generation.
In a 1980's television advertisement Nick
Kamen removed his jeans and stripped to his underpants at a launderette. He
proceeded to launder the jeans making them 'shrink to fit' to the music of
Marvin Gaye's 'I heard it through the grapevine'. Kamen helped make jeans into a
new fashion item for a new generation with the clear link to sexual allure.
By the 1980s, ripped,
frayed and torn jeans were a normal sight. Coloured jeans from white through to
pastels were also popular as were stonewashed blue jeans. In the 80s, designer
jeans with names like Gloria Vanderbilt, Calvin Klein and Armani among so many
fashion designers, became
the designer label jeans to be seen wearing. Stone washed jeans became a
By the 1990s, black
jeans were very popular for a while and jeans in general were seen a lot in the
early 1990s. But shades of blue are always loved and
sometimes the darkest shade is high fashion and sometimes the most washed out
faded pairs become the hottest. By
2008 the spring
trend was for butter soft washed out pale blue denim jeans. Coloured jeans of all shades made an appearance.
In 2000, designers were
Swarovski crystal beading and silver or gold spraying jeans amid
rip tears, frayed slashes,
fur and feather decoration.
Denim was hot yet again and used to make everything
from footwear, jackets, bags, basque corsets to jewelled cuffs.
Left - Denim jacket from the designer Paul Smith.
1990s saw some
changes such as denim with an added percentage of Lycra to enhance fit and
Jeans are most definitely here to stay as 50% of us under 60 like to
wear them, easily preferring them to combat trousers which are now considered
very passé. Jeans with lycra are so much more comfortable. They fit and
cling around the buttocks in a way that accommodates less than perfect figures. Marks & Spencer
stock a very wide range of own brand jean styles and you have 90 days to return
them if they don't fit.
You can get a wide
range of sizes of quality jeans including plus size jeans from internet and high
street stores such as The Gap. If you are large you
will almost certainly be able to get the size you want from the Internet.
Today in the mid
noughties the premium denim market is status ridden and has coded tribal
signs and signals with not so subtle stitching, logos, tabs,
decorative pockets, shading and distressing. The signs are easily decoded by
those who recognise the little differences. Whether or not it
truly matters is another discussion. But it's fair to say much of
this billion dollar business is due to celebrity aping, and in a status
driven society wanting the
brands celebrities wear.
Another recent development is for
Italian styles are particularly popular for those mothers-to-be who want to
Jeans can be
bought in Marks and Spencers in 2006 for as little as £9. I bought
a perfectly good pair of M&S indigo basic straight leg skinnies with 2%
comfort Lycra for £15 yesterday. Before Xmas I bought a pair of
black Earl jeans for £115. Frankly the fit is much the same.
The cut of these pairs is very similar when I lay the two different
brands together. Yet somehow I value the costlier Earl jeans more,
along with the shopping experience of being in a store selling other
high fashion designer labels such as Burberry, Paul Smith and Armani
etc. It was all a much more more self indulgent experience.
We convince ourselves we deserve what we perceive as a better product.
The problem is people prefer to say they are wearing jeans by Armani or
D&G rather than jeans by a high street mass market company.
The 79 Earl
Jeans I bought that day, are very nice quality denim, and the boot cut is
just right, but they are not £100 nicer than the £15 pair! On me
the Earl jeans were superior to any Armani styles I tried too the same
day in that shop and this is the key to jeans - trying different types
even in the same size. The biggest factor in choosing jeans once
you have found a pair with a reasonable body fit, is then just trying
about seven or eight pairs of the same style until the perfect fitting
pair emerge. Despite weight fluctuations I can still wear those
Earl jeans in 2008. The fit was correct and suited to my shape.
purchasing of jeans reached new heights at the millennium.
The humble origins of work wear Levi Strauss pants are a long way from
the rise of new body image brands like Seven for All Mankind, Rock &
Republic, Earnest Sewn, Citizens of Humanity, True Religion and Blue
Cult jeans. All come at an inflated price........perhaps that is
the attraction for many. Do remember sometimes it can be a case of
the Emperor's New Clothes and sometimes a designer pair really is
better. But as a consumer you should learn to judge for yourself.
Feel the quality of the denim, look for deep dyeing and pre washing to
avoid excessive dye loss when you launder. If you wear jeans daily, then
it may be worth paying more for them.
Today the denim
and jeans market for all sorts of denim products is flourishing.
Denim is used today for any and every item from fashion wear, school
uniforms, handbags, spectacle cases to caps. Denim is here to
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