Centuries of Jeans

Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff

Jeans have a long history, unlike most fashion fads, which tend to be fleeting. The fabrics denim and jean originated in Europe in the late 16th century.

18th century
American mills begin producing their own jean. Laborers wear the durable clothing.
19th Century
San Francisco dry goods merchant Levi Strauss produces “waist overalls”—the early name for jeans. They become a hit with gold miners eager to strike it rich in California.
In 1886, Strauss adds a brown leather patch on the back of his waist overalls. The label, which shows a pair of jeans being pulled between two horses, is still affixed to Levi’s jeans.
20th Century
American men, eager to imitate movie stars such as John Wayne and Gary Cooper, who play rugged, waist-overalls-wearing cowboys in 1930s Hollywood Westerns, proudly don the pants.
American troops pack their waist overalls when they travel overseas to fight in World War II. The trend catches on in Europe. Lee and Wrangler make their own jeans to compete with Levi’s.
Jeans, no longer called waist overalls, became a symbol of the teenage rebel, particularly after James Dean wears them in the 1955 film Rebel Without a Cause. Some schools ban jeans.
Jeans dominate college campuses. Students began to personalize their jeans with paint, embroidery and patches.
Designer jeans, such as Sassoon, Jordache and Calvin Klein, emerge. Straight-leg, tight-fitting styles give jeans a new look.
1990s and on
Jeans are everywhere—on babies, parents, teachers and executives—and in a wide variety of styles, from boot cut to low-rise, bell bottoms to stone washed.
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