The History of Denim

Written by Leanna Serras

Denim is one of the oldest types of work clothes that were available in the world, and it is known for its durability and comfort. The word “denim” was first listed in Webster's dictionary in 1864, and it is assumed that it was derived from the French phrase "Serge de Nimes".

The word jeans came from the sailors of Genoa, who were also known as “Genes”. A Hindi word “dungaree” was also used for denim, and it means a coarse piece of cloth worn by the sailors of Dhunga. “Dungaree” means blue denim fabric, and it came from Dongari Killa in Mumbai, India in the 17 th century.

Origins in Europe

The fabric “Serge de Nimes” was introduced in France during the 17 th century. The fabric was produced using a mixture of cotton and wool. Although it is difficult to ascertain where denim originated, a number of historians believe that it was first worn by sailors from Portugal. In the 16 th century, there was widespread use of denim throughout Europe. The English also started using the “Serge de Nimes” in the 17 th century.

Denim Comes to America

In 1817, U.S. Navy servicemen were permitted to wear the dungaree outfit, because it was durable, and it could be easily folded when they were working. During the gold rush in 1853, Loeb Strauss started a business that supplied durable clothes to mine workers, whose pockets were frequently being torn due to the physical demands of their jobs. A Nevada tailor called Jacob Davis designed jeans with copper-rivets to prevent wear and tear of pockets. In 1872, he offered the idea of using rivets on pockets to Strauss (who changed his name from Leob to Levi). The following year, Strauss got the patent for making the pocket rivet, and he and Davis went on to produce the blue denim called “waist overall” for the mine workers.

The First Blue Jeans

The patent for blue jeans was issued on May 20, 1873, and the date is presently regarded as the birth date of blue jeans. Indigo is the first dye that was used for coloring jeans, and the first blue denim was made from interweaving blue and white threads. The first blue jeans that were designed for workers and miners were called “bull denim”. To sew the Levi Strauss blue jeans, orange thread was used to match the copper rivets and improve durability. Later, synthetic colors were used for coloring the jeans.

From Work-Wear to Fashion

Initially, denim was worn by mechanics and miners. Nonetheless, in the 1950s, the influence of the music industry and film started the trend of using jeans as a fashion statement. Marlon Brando and James Dean were two of the famous actors who popularized denim. At that time, denim was a symbol of youth and rebellion. In the 1970s, the use of stone washing technique revolutionized the manufacturing of denim, and people of all ages and walks of life started wearing denim.

Denim Meets the 21st Century

In the 21 st century, denim comes in many different styles, including carpenters, sportswear, khakis, chinos, and combat. It is also available in a wide variety of colors, ranging from white and blue to brown and black. It is worn by fashion models, movie stars, and ordinary people. A few decades back, American Fabrics magazine had predicted that the denim would revolutionize the fashion industry in the coming years. The prediction came true as it has become the favorite choice of clothing for millions of people from around the world.