Jeans today are such a major part of our wardrobes and our lives that it seems strange that there was ever a time where they weren’t around. But this item of clothing that has become so iconic of modern life holds a few secrets that will surprise you.
But first things first. Where do jeans actually come from, and what was it that made them so popular in the first place? To find the answer, we have to go back to France in the late 1800s. Workers needed durable clothing that could stay strong when stretched and strained. Doubly woven with an indigo layer on the outside and white layer inside, the fabric could last a long time and take a lot of punishment.
The name of the fabric itself, denim, comes from the town of origin. So “de Nîmes” (from Nimes) became “denim” in English. Another town that played an important role in the birth of what we wear today was Genoa in Italy, whose name in French is Gênes, which got translated into English as—you guessed it—jeans!
So now we know where they originated, but what about the design?
It took designers several decades to figure out what features would result in the most durable design. Many workers found that their denim pants would fall apart fairly quickly, and replacing them wasn’t an expense that most could afford.
This flaw in the original design was tackled with a strange metal button or stud that you might have noticed on your jeans but have probably never thought much about. In fact, it’s not a button at all. It’s called a rivet, and it wasn’t put there for looks.
While a person is wearing jeans, the denim naturally tends to get stretched and torn at particular places, especially near the seams where the pocket hits the belt line and for inside pockets. Due to the position the rivets are in, jeans have extra strength where they need it most.
While these rivets might seem like an extra feature, they were hugely important to the founding of the most iconic jeans brand of all time!
Jacob Davis was a tailor in San Francisco who was asked by the wife of a workman if he could alter her husband’s pants to make them last longer, since the family was poor and couldn’t afford to buy new clothes all the time. Davis had a genius idea and got some denim cloth from his business partner, a certain Levi Strauss.
According to the Levi Strauss company, “Jacob tried to think of a way to strengthen his trousers and came up with the idea to put metal rivets at points of strain, like pocket corners and the base of the button fly.”
From there, two applied for a patent for their special riveted jeans and got one on May 20, 1873. The clothing that has come to define American fashion was born!
It took several more decades for jeans to take on the other features that we now take for granted. The first women’s jeans, or Lady Levi’s®, weren’t around until 1934, and it wasn’t until 1954 that the company introduced the zipper to replace the button fly.
So the next time you slip on a pair of jeans, take a look at all the amazing features that make these pants your everyday go to!