HISTORY OF DENIM – How Did It All Start?

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The quintessential piece of clothing in the wardrobe of the everyday man would probably include the humble pair of denim jeans. Quite possibly, the indigo blue pair of comfort is defining of American fashion in history. However, its true origin; the material itself, disputes that claim.

In the 18th century, weavers in Nimes, France sought to replicate an Italian fabric known as serge, by which time was popular amongst the working class in Genoa, Italy for its sturdiness and durable resistance from the elements. This resulted in a fabric known as ‘serge de Nimes’. Presently, we know it by its shortened name, denim.

LEVI STRAUSS AND THE START OF IT ALL

It was on May 20, 1873; acknowledged as the birth of blue jeans, when Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis patented the construction of riveted men’s work pants. By then, Levi Strauss was a successful businessman in wholesaling dry goods and a renowned philanthropist in the west coast of the United States. Levi and Jacob Davis, a tailor and customer of Strauss’, responded to the demand for tough work clothes by working class-man; miners and labourers, who were camping out in inhospitable environments in search for fortune during the Gold Rush’s peak, by placing rivets at points of strain in a pair of denim trousers, strengthening them in the process.

Davis later wrote to Levi suggesting that the two men hold the patent together. Levi, an astute businessman, saw the potential for this new product, and agreed to Jacob’s proposal. On May 20, 1873. two men received patent #139,121 from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Although denim pants have been around as workwear well before patent #139,121, it was the addition of metal rivets to the traditional pants for the first time that created what we call jeans. Thus, it is largely considered by the modern majority that May 20, 1873 as the ‘birthday’ of blue jeans.

DENIM STORY A FEW DECADES AGO

Decades ago, before social media played a huge role in influencing fashion trends, most would look towards film and media for sartorial inspiration when adopting a style of dress. In 1955, pop culture icon and movie star, James Dean popularised blue jeans amongst men of his time when his character wardrobe in the film Rebel Without a Cause comprised of a leather jacket, t-shirt and pair of jeans.

Representing a younger and edgier breed of Hollywood celebrity, Dean’s outfit became synonymous with teenage rebellion towards the adult standard of the time, a timeless sentiment that more than a few teenagers can relate to. Hence, with the rise of teenage culture ascending in America, it came as no surprise when a whole generation of young men began replicating the look.

Marilyn Monroe’s character in The Misfits wore an outfit that was essentially the female equivalent of James Dean’s in Rebel Without a Cause, which of course, became the uniform of misunderstood young women.

The unsurpassable legacy of blue jeans has since stood the test of time, whether designer or thrift, living and breathing in our wardrobes.

Photography Dragan Mandic – www.draganmandic.com
Creative direction and styling Ivan Dzolic @ivan.dzolic
Model Hadži Emil Pavelkić
Hair Styling and denim turbans by Djuka Ivanovic
Makeup Artist Irena Miletic
Words by Joe Tan

Originally published in MMSCENE Magazine Issue #008

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