As denim is such a reliable favourite in our wardrobes and brilliantly functional for our kids I thought it would interesting to find out about it's history.
The name denim is derived from 'Serge de Nîmes which was originally made by weavers in Nîmes, France who were trying to recreate a cotton corduroy from Genoa, Italy. The famous twill cloth we know and love from jeans to jackets was developed from this. It's distinctive nature comes from the warp being dyed indigo and the weft white, giving it the blue outside colour and white-ish interior. Indigo is the original type of organic dye that was used for denim and came from an Indian plant called Indigofera tinctoria. Indigo dye sits on the outside of the cotton thread rather than penetrating it, thus creating the fading effect that happens over time. Natural indigo was later replaced in the 19th century by a synthetic indigo dye that far cheaper.
Levi Strauss started selling denim in the US. in around 1853 and a Nevada tailor, Jacob W. Davis, started to use this durable fabric in his new 'jeans' that he sold for work wear. Labourers, miners and farm workers of the American west needed something easy to wear yet strong and functional. He made these new trousers stronger using copper rivets. When they become sought after he made a deal with his fabric supplier Levi Strauss and hence Levi Strauss and Co. were created.
Their first pair of jeans sold in 1879 and had only four pockets, just one on the back and two on the front along with the very small one. This small pocket on the right hand side is called a watch pocket and was just that, to hold a man's pocket watch. It is too small for much use today but is a nice touch of history that we all wear without realising. Initially made in denim and cotton duck it soon became apparent that it was the denim jeans that were more popular. Originally they were sold 'raw' meaning the fabric was untreated and unwashed but as time went by people realised they could shrink them to fit.
Marlon Brando turned jeans into casual wear in the 1958 film 'The Wild One' followed not long after by James Dean in 'Rebel without a Cause' They represented a counter-culture that appealed to many teenagers (especially when they were banned from schools!) which later spread to GI's stationed abroad who wore them as a symbol of home. American college students adopted them during the 60's to show solidarity with the working classes. Since that time nearly every generation has had their own style of jeans and denim has spread to every garment imaginable. I remember wearing ripped Levis during my Bros days as a teenager!
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