No single piece of clothing is as classic and timeless as the venerable blue jean. Working jeans have been worn by laborers in the most arduous and difficult jobs and fashion jeans costing hundreds of dollars are worn by celebrities and fashion models. But where did this fabric and clothing style originate?
Denim fabric originated in the small town of Nimes, located in southern France between the cities of Marseille and Montpelier. The name came from the foreign pronunciation of the town’s name. Blue Jean is a derivative of the color given to the fabric, which was called the blue of Genoa, or ‘blue de Genes’ in French. Beginning in the 16th century French and Italian sailors and dock workers wore denim pants and overalls.
The modern version of the blue jean that is still worn today was invented by a tailor named Jacob Davis, who bought blue denim workpants from a German wholesale merchant named Levi Strauss. Davis, in turn, sold the jeans to customers as work pants. One of his customers kept having to replace them frequently because they tore easily. To prevent this problem, Davis came up with the idea to use copper rivets on pockets and seams to reinforce them and make them more suitable for the arduous tasks they were put through.
Davis wanted to patent his idea, but at that time, filing a patent cost a hefty $68, which Davis didn’t have. Finally, Davis talked his merchant, Levi Strauss into going in with him on the business, and in 1873, Levis began manufacturing the first line of blue jeans that is still in production today.