History of denim jeans

Modern day outfits would not be complete without the ubiquitous denim jeans. What started out as clothing for working folk has found its way to the pinnacle of high fashion. Let us take a peek at the fascinating journey of denim jeans.


In the 17th century, a fabric composed of cotton and wool called, “Serge de Nimes,” was introduced.  It was made in Nîmes, France (de Nîmes). The French wanted to duplicate the cotton corduroys of Genoa in Italy. Because they kept failing, they developed a new fabric composed of white weft threads and indigo warp threads.

Derivations of the words “Denim” and “Jeans”

The word “denim” debuted in Webster’s Dictionary in 1863, originated from the French, Serge de Nimes. Meanwhile, the word “jeans” is believed to be derived from “Genes,” pertaining to sailors of Genoa, Italy. The name “dungaree cloth” was associated with the same fabric.

Coming to America

1853: Loeb Strauss, an entrepreneur, decided to establish a San Francisco branch of the family’s dry goods business. He started supplying Gold Rush workers with cotton cloth and clothes for their work in the California mines. Strauss migrated in 1951 to the United States from Germany to set up shop. Strauss later changed his name from Loeb to Levi. His wholesale dry goods business thrived in the West Coast under the patronage of settles and mining communities.

1872: Jacob W. Davis, a Reno, Nevada tailor proposed his copper metal-rivets jeans design to Strauss to make the pockets of work clothes supplied by the latter’s business more durable. Davis was a regular customer of Strauss. He was a tailor who made wagon covers, horse blankets, and tents, among other items. Davis placed the metal rivets on stress points—at the base of the button fly of the denim pants bought from Strauss, and at pocket corners to keep them from tearing at the weak points. The inspiration for the rivets on the trousers was the harnesses he used in making functional items.

Blue jeans are born

May 20, 1873: The official birth date of blue jeans—the date of issuance of the patent to inventors Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis. The patent issued to both men, which was “Improvement in Fastening Pocket-Openings”, involves creating work pants with metal rivets. It was an innovation that changed the world. Lacking in finances, Davis turned to Strauss for help, and both men were given credit for the invention.

Waist-overalls: The name given to the original jeans produced by Strauss and Davis. Both men oversaw the manufacturing process in San Francisco. The first blue denim, known then as “bull denim,” was composed of interweaving white and blue threads. The copper rivets were matched with orange thread. The blue coloring came from indigo, of which synthetic coloring was later used. The “waist overall” clothing was made with denim fabric. The new invention proved to be durable enough to withstand work conditions in the mines.

1880- Strauss opened his factory for the production of the XX, which will be known from 1890 onward as the 501 jeans. The wide-scale production of riveted trousers was overseen by Davis as production manager and Strauss as the business manager. Soon, ranch hands and blue-collar workers took to the pants, and it became a staple item of clothing for workers.

1920’s: Denim waist overalls produced by Levi Strauss became the top selling work pants for men in America. From there, different styles, cuts, and washes of denim jeans became available, and now it is one of the most popular items of clothing in the world worn by people of all ages, sexes, and regardless of occupation or socioeconomic status.