Denim is considered as one of the most widely used fabrics around the world. It is estimated that the clothing industry will produce approximately $129.8 billion in denim sales by 2021. This is a far cry from its humble beginnings as workwear.
Gain a newfound appreciation for this durable fabric by getting to know more about its historic journey.
The Invention of Denim
Denim traces its origin to one of the fashion capitals of the world—France. Referred to as “serge de Nimes,” the textile was characterised by its longevity and robust quality. Textile manufacturers in Italy tried to recreate it in their mills but were unsuccessful. This experimentation, however, led to the creation of the denim fabric that is used in clothing today.
Denim as Work Clothing
Initially, the fabric was used to create work clothes. As a durable and low maintenance fabric, it was a cost-effective alternative to cotton and other finer textiles. It was common to see men wearing blue trousers when doing harsh and laborious tasks.
In 1873, Levi Strauss and Jacob W. Davis patented the classic denim jean design. Davis found that adding copper rivets to certain areas would prevent the material from ripping and tearing. The two started selling men’s work trousers with this improved design.
Over time, Davis and Strauss would continue to improve the initial design of their invention. Working closely with the workers who wore their creation, they addressed common pain points in the design of most work trousers.
- They added a double arch of stitching to reinforce the jeans in areas that were prone to rips and tears. The distinct orange thread they used became a trademark of their brand.
- They started sewing belt loops onto the trousers for additional support. Workers would also use these to keep tools close to themselves.
- They replaced the button fly design with zippers on some of their other designs. They opted to keep the buttons on their 501-styled jeans for their brand image.
When the duo’s patent ended, other manufacturers took it as an opportunity to reproduce the style. Over time, they made their improvements. This democratisation of the design took denim from worksites and brought it to Hollywood.
From Factory Floors to Magazine Covers
Up until World War II, denim jeans were still widely considered as work clothing. It wasn’t until stars were photographed wearing them in their free time did these trousers become a fashionable item. Hollywood was so influential in popularising denim jeans that they soon became a staple of leisurewear.
Denim jeans would later become a symbol of counterculture. Hippies would wear them to show support for the working class. Protesters would wear them at their anti-war rallies. The women’s liberation movement would use denim jeans as a symbol of gender equality. No matter where they were worn, denim jeans became a symbol for many going against the norm.
Eventually, fashion houses would use the denim fabric to create different types of clothing. They ventured away from jeans and started using it for all types of apparel. The fabric has come a long way from its humble beginnings as work clothing.