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A Fashion Color Icon: Blue Jeans

A Fashion Color Icon: Blue Jeans


To pay tribute to the perfect pair of pants, and its attached color, we thought we would take a look at how this all got started by running through the history of blue jeans and their rise in popularity, from old west pioneers to fashion runways across the world, blue jeans have become one of fashion's most iconic wears.

The First Pair of Blue Jeans

The word denim comes from the location of where the original makers of the fabric resided, Nîmes, France. The fabric created by the Andre family was originally called serge de Nîmes but was eventually shortened to denim.

The first denim pants date back to 17th century England, but it wasn't until a 24 year old German immigrant named Levi Strauss moved from New York City to San Fransisco in 1853 that the first 'blue jeans' were created. The story goes; Levi was headed out west to start a west coast branch of his brothers' dry-goods business. Upon arrival to San Fransisco a prospector inquired as to what Mr. Strauss was selling, which at the time was canvas sheets intended to be used for tents and wagon covers. The prospector replied telling Strauss that he should have brought pants instead, because he couldn't find any that would stand up to the harsh conditions of life as a 19th century Californian Prospector. So, Strauss started making canvas waist overalls which became popular with miners. When the miners started complaining about chafing, Struass started looking for a new material for his pants.


Photo by icantshoot

At the same time in Reno, Nevada, a tailor named David Jacobs was constantly fixing the pockets of one of his customers who routinely tore them on his pants made by Jacobs. As a solution Jacobs had the idea of riveting the corners of the pockets, as to reinforce the seams. When the idea showed its brilliance and the pants became more and more popular, Jacobs thought he better patent the idea. The only problem was Jacobs didn't have the money needed to apply for the patent. So he looked to his fabric supplier, who happened to be one Levi Strauss, to find a business partner. So, in 1872 Jacobs writes a proposal to Strauss telling him about his idea and asking him to be his partner. Strauss see the potential of a stronger more durable pant and agrees to the partnership. On May 20, 1873 the U.S. issues them patent no.139,121, this is now considered the 'birthday' of the blue jean.

Why Blue?

Blue jeans are unique because of their attachment to one singular color. One of the earliest precursors to jeans was the dungaree, a thick cotton material created in India in the 16th century. The makers of the fabric choose to use indigo as the dye because it was the most prevalent natural dye of the time, and the dark tone made it a good choice for wear and when frequent washing was not possible.


Photo by jvblogger

The first jeans came in two styles, indigo blue and brown cotton. The brown cotton never became popular because unlike denim, the material never became soft and comfortable after time.

The shade of blue known as denim is an official Crayola color.

The Popularity of Blue Jeans Through the Centuries

the 18th century:
in the eighteenth century as trade, slave labour, and cotton plantations increased, workers wore jean cloth because the material was very strong and it did not wear out easily.


Photo from freeparking

the 19th century: the california gold rush
the gold miners wanted clothes that were strong and did not tear easily. in 1853, leob strauss started a wholesale business, supplying clothes. strauss later changed his name from leob to levi.

the 1930's: westerns
cowboys - who often wore jeans in the movies-became very popular.

the 1940's: war
fewer jeans were made during the time of world war 2, but they were introduced to the world by american soldiers, who sometimes wore them when they were off duty. after the war, rival companies, like wrangler and lee, began to compete with levi for a share of the international market.

the 1950's: rebels
ìn the 1950's, denim became popular with young people. ìt was the symbol of the teenage rebel in tv programmes and movies
(james dean in the 1955 movie rebel without a cause). some schools in the usa banned students from wearing denim.

the 1960-70's: hippies & the cold war
different styles of jeans were made, to match the 60's fashions: embroidered jeans, painted jeans, psychedelic jeans...
in many non-western countries, jeans became a symbol of 'western decadence' and were very hard to get.

the 1980's: designer jeans
in the 1980's jeans became high fashion clothing, when famous designers started making their own styles of jeans, with their own labels on them. sales of jeans went up and up.

the 1990's: recession
although denim is never completely out of style, it certainly goes out of 'fashion' from time to time. in these years the youth market wasn't particularly interested in 501s and other traditional jeans styles, mainly because their parents: the' generation born in blue' were still busy squeezing their aging bodies into them. since no teenager would be caught dead in anything their parents are wearing,
the latest generation of rebellious youth turned to other fabrics and other styles of casual pants, such as khakis, chinos, combat and
carpenters and branded sportswear pants. they still wore denim, but it had to be in different finishes, new cuts, shapes, styles, or in the form of aged, authentic, vintage jeans, discovered in markets, secondhand- and thrift shops, not conventional jeans stores. levi strauss & co., the number-one producer of jeans and the "single most potent symbol of american style on planet earth" (as the los angeles times succinctly put it), is in trouble. eleven north american factories close, a nation grieves.

2000: reinventing denim
something decidedly weird is happening in the world of denim. the products need to be reinvented from time to time and jeans has been back on designers catwalks, at chanel, dior, chloe and versace. the single most potent symbol of fashion, summer '99--tom ford's feathered, beaded, beat-up, torn-knee gucci blue jeans, seen globally, sell out instantaneously at $3715 a pop. and then, on the internet, was the shining image of helmut lang's silver-sprayed pants, striding out beyond our conception of basic utility.
freed of all social and creative restrictions, denim is assuming any number of disguises and contexts to be worn in and has broken through almost any limitation on price.it can also be found in home collections, appearing in cushions,
bed spreads and furniture-coverings.
-designboom: denim

Some Fun Facts and Palette Inspiration:

An original pair of Levi's jeans is part of the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

The word, 'jeans,' came from the cotton workpants worn by sailors from the port of Genoa, Italy, who were themselves known as Genes.

Blue Jeans blue jeans

In 1885 a pair of Levi waist overalls cost $1.25. Brand new.

In 1997, Levi Strauss & Co. paid $25,000 for a pair of 100 year old jeans (for their museum) found in an old Colorado mine, which is the oldest known pair of Levi jeans.

Blue Jeans blue jeans

Seven out of 10 Americans say jeans are their first pick for casual wear.

A typical pair of Levi's® 501® jeans takes about 1 3/4 yards of denim, 213 yards of thread, five buttons and six rivets.

blue jeans blue jeans

There are 37 separate sewing operations involved in making a single pair of Levi's® 501® jeans.

The red Tab Device was created in 1936 to help identify Levi's® 501® jeans from a distance.

blue jeans & freedom Blue Jeans

One bolt of denim weighs approximately a quarter of a ton. Cutters use an electric saw to cut through 120 layers of cloth at one time. About 60 pairs of jeans can be cut from one bolt of fabric.
-Blue Jeans history

Blue Jean Colors from the COLOURlovers' library

blue_jeans blue_jeans blue_jeans blue_jeans Blue_Jeans Blue_jeans blue_jeans blue_jeans

To find out more about the history of blue jeans check out these sources that were used for this article:
Blue Jeans history, designboom: denim, Wiki:Jeans, Wiki:Denim, and Wiki:Indigo


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7 Comments
Showing 1 - 7 of 7 Comments

kimb

I am constantly dumbstruck by how universal a color and fabric 'denim' has become. You can wear literally any color top with a pair of blue jeans, even if you wouldn't be caught dead wearing it with the same shade of blue pants of another fabric. WHY?!?

LetsGoGetLost

That James Dean photo isn't from "Rebel Without a Cause" - it's from "Giant." Very different aesthetic, and meanings - in "Giant," the jeans mark his character as lower class, a worker (he's a cowboy, in the 1920s, I think, who later gets rich off oil). In "Rebel," the jeans mark him as part of the new youth of the 1950s, something very separate from his suit-wearing elders.
Those jeans, rolled at the cuff, the white t-shirt, the red coat - what a look. Makes me want to go make a "Rebel Without a Cause" palette. I love that movie.

retsof

a palette of "faded jeans" colors
Faded Jeans

tenkerasu

jeans, because they are made of a certain TYPE of cloth, look good with ANYTHING. and plus, it's all about the physical FEEL you get when you wear a pair that would let you wear ANYTHING with them. :P and yus, jeans are probably at the top of my list of comfy clothes: jeans and a t. that's usually what i go for.

velveteen

thank God for blue jeans. :D

popwheel

Interesting article.
Jeans are universally popular and a staple of most people's wardrobe.

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