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A pair of factory-distressed, loose fit men's jeans

Jeans are trousers often made from denim or dungaree cloth. Often the term "jeans" refers to a particular style of pants, called "blue jeans" and invented by Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss in 1873. Starting in the 1950s, jeans, originally designed for cowboys and miners, became popular among teenagers, especially members of the greaser subculture. Historic brands include Levi's, Lee, and Wrangler. Jeans come in various fits, including skinny, tapered, slim, straight, boot cut, narrow bottom, low waist, anti-fit, and flare. Owing to their high durability as compared to other common fabrics, "distressed" (visibly aged and worn, but still intact and functional) jean trousers have become increasingly fashionable, making pre-sale "factory distressing" a common feature in commercially-sold jeans.

Jeans are now a very popular article of casual dress around the world. They come in many styles and colors. However, blue jeans are particularly identified with American culture, especially the American Old West.


A traditional female Genoese dress in "blue jeans" (1890s)


The story of jeans begins in the city of Genoa, in Italy, famous for its cotton corduroy. Jean fabric from Genoa (at that time) was in fact very similar to corduroy; Genoese sailors started to use it to cover and protect their goods on the docks from the weather.

The emergence of jean was seen in a series of genre paintings attributed by art historians to an artist now named The Master of the Blue Jeans.[1] Contrary to popular belief, this artist represents the presence and importance of the blue jean much earlier in history than Levi Strauss & Co.’s introduction of blue jean overalls in 1873.[2] In each of the ten paintings attributed to the Master of the Blue Jeans, a textile similar in appearance to jean or denim is present. Research on the textile trade and the origins of this textile show two locations, Nimes, France and Genoa, Italy, as the main places in which it emerged. Interestingly, the distinction between Genoa’s “jean” and Nimes’s “denim” is that “jean was cloth used for work clothes in general while denim was coarser and was for over garments such as smocks or overalls.”[3] This distinction between these two uses led art historians to the conclusion that the figures in the Master’s paintings were wearing jean, associated with the Genoese culture. Jean in Genoa was a fustian textile that was “medium quality and of reasonable cost,” unlike the coarser quality of denim that was a higher quality textile.[3]

Copper rivets for reinforcing pockets are a characteristic feature of blue jeans.

This distinction between lower quality jean and denim in comparison to the lower class, impoverished scenes that the Master painted proved that in fact these paintings can be attributed to Genoese culture. In addition to this, it is known that the Master would have worked during or around the seventeenth century. The prominence of genre painting come the end of the sixteenth century, and in particular the low-life subject matter that is present in all ten of these works, places these paintings among others that portray similar scenes.[4] The paintings by The Master of the Blue Jeans, as well as the history of the textile trade, has shed light on the fact that jean was a crucial working class textile during the seventeenth century in Northern Italy.

During the Republic of Genoa, the jeans were exported by sailors of Genoa throughout Europe. Gênes, the French word for Genoa, may therefore be the origin of the word "jeans". In the French city of Nimes, weavers tried to reproduce the fabric exactly, but without success. However, with experimentation, and through trial and error, they developed another twill fabric that became known as denim, literally "de Nimes". Only at the end of the nineteenth century did jeans arrive in the United States.

Riveted jeans[edit]

Levi Strauss
Jacob Davis

A young man named Levi Strauss emigrated in 1851 from Germany to New York to be with his older brothers who ran a dry goods store. In 1853, he moved to San Francisco to establish his own dry goods business.

In 1872, Jacob Davis, a tailor who frequently purchased bolts of cloth from the Levi Strauss & Co. wholesale house, wrote to Levi asking to partner with him to patent and sell clothing reinforced with rivets.[5] Davis' idea was to use copper rivets to reinforce the points of stress, such as on the pocket corners and at the bottom of the button fly. After Levi accepted Davis's offer,[6] the two men received US patent No. 139,121 for an "Improvement in Fastening Pocket-Openings" on 20 May 1873.[7]

The classic label for Levi 501 jeans.

An oft-told "attractive myth" is that Levi initially sold brown canvas pants to miners, eventually dyed them blue, turned to using denim, and after Davis wrote to him, Levi added rivets to his blue jeans. However, this story is false and probably due to the discovery of jeans made of brown cotton duck (a type of bottomweight fabric), which was one of the early materials used by Davis and Levi Strauss after 1873.[5] Finding denim a more suitable material for work-pants, they began using it to manufacture their riveted pants. The denim used was produced by an American textile manufacturer, but popular legend states the denim was obtained from Nimes, France.[5]

Worldwide market for jeans[edit]

North America accounts for 39% of global purchases for jeans, followed by Western Europe at 20%, Japan and Korea at 10% and the rest of the world at 31%.[8]

Americans spent more than US$14 billion on jeans in 2004 and US$15 billion in 2005.[9] Americans bought US$13.8 billion of men's and women's jeans in the year which ended 30 April 2011, according to market-research firm NPD Group.[10] Plus-sized clothing is a sector in which jeans sales is growing, with an increased number of plus-size designs (defined by Plus Model Magazine as US sizes 14-24[11]). Tall jean sizing for women has also lead to increased sales, with some retailers designing jeans with inseams up to 39 inches. [12]

Evolution of the garment[edit]

Initially, jeans were simply sturdy trousers worn by factory workers. During this period, men's jeans had the zipper down the front, whereas women's jeans had the zipper down the left side. Fewer jeans were made during the time of World War II, but 'waist overalls' were introduced to the world by American soldiers, who sometimes wore them when they were off duty. By the 1960s, both men's and women's jeans had the zipper down the front. Historic photographs indicate that in the decades before they became a staple of fashion, jeans generally fit quite loosely, much like a pair of bib overalls without the bib. Indeed, until 1960, Levi Strauss called its flagship product "waist overalls" rather than "jeans".

The blue denim fabric of jeans

After James Dean popularized them in the movie Rebel Without a Cause, wearing jeans became a symbol of youth rebellion during the 1950s. Because of this, they were sometimes banned in theaters, restaurants and schools.[13] During the 1960s the wearing of jeans became more acceptable, and by the 1970s it had become general fashion in the United States for casual wear.[14]

Michael Belluomo, editor of Sportswear International Magazine, Oct/Nov 1987, P. 45, wrote that in 1965, Limbo, a boutique in the New York East Village, was "the first retailer to wash a new pair of jeans to get a used, worn effect, and the idea became a hit." He continued, "[Limbo] hired East Village artists to embellish the jeans with patches, decals, and other touches, and sold them for $200." In the early 1980s the denim industry introduced the stone-washing technique developed by GWG also known as "Great Western Garment Co." Donald Freeland of Edmonton, Alberta pioneered the method,[15] which helped to bring denim to a larger and more versatile market. Acceptance of jeans continued through the 1980s and 1990s to the point where jeans are, in the first decade of twenty-first century, a wardrobe staple, with the average North American owning seven pairs.[16][verification needed] Currently, jeans may be seen worn by people of all genders and ages.

Manufacturing processes[edit]


Chemical structure of indigo dye, the blue of blue jeans.
See also: Azo dyes

Traditionally, jeans were dyed to a blue color using natural indigo dye. Most denim is now dyed using synthetic indigo. Approximately 20 thousand tons of indigo are produced annually for this purpose, though only a few grams of the dye are required for each pair.[17] For other colours of denim other dyes must be used. Currently, jeans are produced in any color that can be achieved with cotton.

For more information on dyeing, refer to denim and the discussion there of using pigment dyes.

Pre-shrinking of jeans[edit]

Young people wearing a variety of jean styles, including carpenter jeans, bootcut jeans, drainpipe jeans and lowrise jeans. (Rome, 2008)

Levi Strauss first marketed preshrunk jeans, which did not shrink further after purchase, allowing the consumer to buy his or her correct size, in 1963.[18] These jeans were known as the 505 regular fit jeans. The 505 are almost identical to the 501s with the exception of the button-fly. The Levi's corporation also came out with a slim bootcut fit known as 517 and 527. The difference between the two is 517 sit at the waist line and the 527 sit below the waist line. Later on, Levi's would develop other styles and fits such as the loose, slim, comfort, relaxed, skinny, and a regular fit with a tapered leg.

Used look[edit]

The used or "acid wash" look is created by means of abrading the jeans and/or treating them with chemicals, such as acryl resin, phenol, a hypochlorite, potassium permanganate, caustic soda, acids etc.[19]

Sandblasting or abrading with sandpaper[edit]

Consumers wanting jeans that appear worn can buy jeans that have been specially treated. To give the fabrics the worn look, sandblasting done with chemicals or by adding pumice stone to the washing process or abrading with sandpaper is often done.

Environmental and humanitarian impact[edit]

A typical pair of blue jeans consumes 919 gallons of water during its life cycle (this includes the water to irrigate the cotton crop, manufacture the jeans, and the numerous washes by the consumer).[20]

The production of jeans with a "used look" can be more environmentally damaging than regular jeans (depending on how the waste compounds are processed). Sandblasting and treating with sandpaper has the risk of causing silicosis to the workers, and in Turkey, more than 5,000 workers in the textile industry have been stricken with this disease, and 46 people are known to have died. Some companies have announced they are banning the use of sandblasting.[21]

Care and wear[edit]

Despite most jeans being “pre-shrunk”, they are still sensitive to slight further shrinkage and loss of color from being washed. The Levi Strauss company recommends avoiding washing jeans as much as possible. Carl Chiara, Levi Strauss director of brand and special projects, has a credo: The less you wash your jeans, the better your jeans become.[22] These and other suggestions to avoid washing jeans where possible have encountered criticism. Cory Warren, editor of LS&Co. Unzipped, clarifies in a response to such a criticism:

Our advice is to wash less often, but clearly, you have to judge for yourself what's appropriate. Hot day, dirty job? Wash your jeans. Please! Cold day, office job? Maybe you can wear them twice or more before they go back to the washing machine. Personally, if I wear a pair of jeans to work on Friday—cool climate, office job—I tend to wear them on Saturday. And if Saturday is spent indoors and I'm not spilling food all over myself, I might even wear them on Sunday.

—Corey Warren[22]

For those who prefer to refrain from washing their jeans there have been suggestions to freeze them in order to kill the germs that cause odor. However, this advice has been disputed as ineffective and replaced with the suggestion of baking them for ten minutes at 250 degrees Fahrenheit.[23]

Jeans in the USSR[edit]

Jeans were introduced to the USSR in 1957, during the World Festival of Youth and Students. Moscow and Leningrad were the first cities where jeans showed up, appearing before any foreign students or tourists came along. (These two capitals have always been visited more often by foreign delegations.) In 1964 jeans appeared for the first time in port cities such as Odessa and Kaliningrad. In the same time frame, jeans started being mentioned in Vasily Aksenov's and Evgeny Evtushenko's works. In 1962 during Khrushchev's famous meeting with some creative intellectuals, Voznesensky gained some notoriety because he came to the meeting in jeans.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Master of the Blue Jeans: A New Painter of Reality in Late 17th Century Europe. Paris: Galerie Canesso. 2010. p. 10. 
  2. ^ Brazilian, Alexa (8 January 2011). "Forever in Blue Jeans". The Wall Street Journal. 
  3. ^ a b The Master of the Blue Jeans: A New Painter of Reality in Late 17th Century Europe. Paris: Galerie Canesso. 2010. p. 23. 
  4. ^ Welch, Evelyn (2005). Shopping in the Renaissance: Consumer Cultures in Italy 1400-1600. New Haven: Yale University Press. p. 44. 
  5. ^ a b c Downey, Lynn (2007). "A Short History of Denim". official Levi Strauss & Co. historian. Retrieved 2 June 2014. 
  6. ^ Wagman-Gellar, Marlene (2010). Eureka!: The Surprising Stories Behind the Ideas That Shaped the World, Eureka #3 (1871) (unpaginated). Penguin Group (USA), Inc. Retrieved 2 October 2011.
  7. ^ U.S. Patent 139,121
  8. ^
  9. ^ Sullivan, James. Jeans: A Cultural History of an American Icon. London: Gotham Books. ISBN 978-1-59240-214-4. OCLC 62697070. 
  10. ^ Binkley, Christina (7 July 2011). "How Can Jeans Cost $300?". Wall Street Journal. 
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ "Jeans History". Twenty Something Yak. Retrieved 24 September 2010. 
  14. ^ Smith, Nancy MacDonell (2003). The Classic Ten:poella grande y gruesa The True Story of the Little Black Dress and Nine Other Fashion Favorites. Penguin. p. 42. ISBN 978-0-14-200356-5. Retrieved 13 January 2011. 
  15. ^ "Levi's By the Numbers (Men's)". Worldflow Knowledge. Retrieved 31 December 2010. 
  16. ^ "True Blue – And Green, Too: Denim Is Fashionable And Renewable". Cotton Lifestyle Monitor. Cotton Incorporated. 18 May 2009. Retrieved 24 September 2010. 
  17. ^ Elmar Steingruber “Indigo and Indigo Colorants” Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry 2004, Wiley-VCH, Weinheim. doi: 10.1002/14356007.a14_149.pub2
  18. ^ "Levi Strauss & Co. Timeline". Retrieved 23 November 2012. 
  19. ^ Der preis der Bluejeans' documentary by Studio Hamburg 2012
  20. ^ Kaufman, Leslie (1 November 2011). "Tim Tries to Minimize Water Use". Retrieved 10 March 2012. 
  21. ^ "Sandblasted jeans: Should we give up distressed denim?". BBC News. 30 September 2011. 
  22. ^ a b "Wash My Jeans? Hardly.". LS&CO. UNZIPPED. 30 July 2012. 
  23. ^

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