When we think of jeans, we think of Hollywood and World War I uniforms. This particular piece of clothing is a fashion staple — mostly everyone at some point in their lives has had a pair. What makes them so iconic? It’s not the design, but the material they are made from. Jeans are made from denim or dungaree. In fact, some often called jeans dungarees. It may surprise you that jeans were originally made for the working class. The dungaree material came from a dockside village, Dongri, near Mumbai, India. It is a think 2/2 twill-weave cotton that is sturdy enough to hold up against a day’s labor. The Hindi name for the cloth was dungri, which morphed to dungaree by the English, who shipped the cloth to other countries starting in the 1600s. The term jean comes from Genoa, Italy, where it (a blend of wool and cotton) was manufactured. Many often confuse denim with dungaree, but they are different.
Denim comes from serge de Nimes in Nimes, France. The term denim is derived from “de-Nimes.” This town had a thriving textile industry due to the abundance of yarn, silk, and wool. Cevennes Shepards made sturdy clothing from weaving threads of indigo and yarn with white silk and wool per Culture Trip. However, in the late 1700s, manufacturers of denim soon switched to cotton instead of wool and silk due to rising costs. Although denim and dungaree are sturdy materials, their difference comes down to color. Denim is dyed indigo after the weaving process, whereas dungaree is made with pre-dyed (indigo) thread. So, how do we get the name “jeans”? In Nimes, workers tried to duplicate the famous jean material from Genoa but ended up developing denim. Denim proved to be a material that was just as durable was dungaree. The material caught the eye of Jacob Davis.
During the Gold Rush in California, Levi Strauss opened up a branch of his family’s dry good store in San Francisco in 1853. Jacob Davis was a tailor who wanted to make clothing for the working class. He spotted the denim in Strauss’s store and made pants out of them. To make the pants stronger, he placed copper rivets in the places where the pants would rip. Soon, Strauss and Davis partnered to what would become Levi Strauss & Co. They received a patent for “Improvement in Fastening Pocket-Openings” in 1873 and the pants became “blue jeans”. Nearly 150 years later, many styles have emerged, such as skinny, ripped, and mom jeans, as well as an array of colors from white to orange. Yet, the material has remained the same. What started out as pants for the working class have become a fashion staple for everyone.