Jeans are a type of pants or trousers, typically made from denim or dungaree cloth. Often the term "jeans" refers to a particular style of trousers, called "blue jeans", which were invented by Jacob W. Davis in partnership with Levi Strauss & Co. in 1871 and patented by Jacob W. Davis and Levi Strauss on May 20, 1873. Prior to the Levi Strauss patented trousers, the term "blue jeans" had been long in use for various garments (including trousers, overalls, and coats), constructed from blue-colored denim. "Jean" also references a (historic) type of sturdy cloth commonly made with a cotton warp and wool weft (also known as "Virginia cloth"). Jean cloth can be entirely cotton as well, similar to denim. Originally designed for miners, modern jeans was popularized as casual wear by Marlon Brando and James Dean in their 1950s films, particularly The Wild One and Rebel Without a Cause, leading to the fabric becoming a symbol of rebellion among teenagers, especially members of the greaser subculture. From the 1960s onwards, jeans became common among various youth subcultures and subsequently the wider young members the general population. Nowadays, they are one of the most popular types of especially trousers in Western culture. Historic brands include Levi's, Lee, and Wrangler.
Research on the trade of jean fabric shows that it emerged in the cities of Genoa, Italy, and Nîmes, France. Gênes, the French word for Genoa, may be the origin of the word "jeans". In Nîmes, weavers tried to reproduce jean fabric but instead developed a similar twill fabric that became known as denim, from de Nîmes, meaning "from Nîmes". Genoa's jean fabric was a fustian textile of "medium quality and of reasonable cost", very similar to cotton corduroy for which Genoa was famous, and was "used for work clothes in general". The Genoese navy equipped its sailors with jeans, as they needed a fabric which could be worn wet or dry. Nîmes's "denim" was coarser, considered higher quality, and was used "for over garments such as smocks or overalls". Nearly all indigo, needed for dyeing, came from indigo bush plantations in India until the late 19th century. It was replaced by indigo synthesis methods developed in Germany.
By the 17th century, jean was a crucial textile for working-class people in Northern Italy. This is seen in a series of genre paintings from around the 17th century attributed to an artist now nicknamed The Master of the Blue Jeans. The ten paintings depict impoverished scenes with lower-class figures wearing a fabric that looks like denim. The fabric would have been Genoese jean, which was cheaper. Genre painting came to prominence in late 16th century, and the non-nobility subject matter in all ten paintings places them among others that portray similar scenes.
Dungaree was mentioned for the first time in the 17th century, when it was referred to as cheap, coarse thick cotton cloth, often colored blue but sometimes white, worn by impoverished people in what was then a region of Bombay, India a dockside village called Dongri. This cloth was "dungri" in Hindi. Dungri was exported to England and used for manufacturing of cheap, robust working clothes. In English, the word "dungri" became pronounced as "dungaree".
The term jeans appears first in 1795, when a Swiss banker by the name Jean-Gabriel Eynard and his brother Jacques went to Genoa and both were soon heading a flourishing commercial concern. In 1800 Massena's troops entered the town and Jean-Gabriel was entrusted with their supply. In particular he furnished them with uniforms cut from blue cloth called "bleu de Genes" whence later derives the famous garment known worldwide as "blue jeans".
Levi Strauss, as a young man in 1851, went from Germany to New York to join his older brothers who ran a goods store. In 1853, he moved to San Francisco to open his own dry goods business. Jacob Davis was a tailor who often bought bolts of cloth from the Levi Strauss & Co. wholesale house. In 1872, Davis wrote to Strauss asking to partner with him to patent and sell clothing reinforced with rivets. The copper rivets were to reinforce the points of stress, such as pocket corners and at the bottom of the button fly. Levi accepted Davis's offer, and the two men received US patent No. 139,121 for an "Improvement in Fastening Pocket-Openings" on May 20, 1873.
Davis and Strauss experimented with different fabrics. An early attempt was brown cotton duck, a bottom-weight fabric.[a] Finding denim a more suitable material for work-pants, they began using it to manufacture their riveted pants. The denim used was produced by an American manufacturer. Popular legend incorrectly states that it was imported from Nimes, France. A popular myth is that Strauss initially sold brown canvas pants to miners, later dyed them blue, turned to using denim, and only after Davis wrote to him, added rivets.
Initially, Strauss' jeans were simply sturdy trousers worn by factory workers, miners, farmers, and cattlemen throughout the North American West. During this period, men's jeans had the fly down the front, whereas women's jeans had the fly down the left side. When Levi Strauss & Co. patented the modern, mass-produced prototype in the year 1873, there were two pockets in the front and one on the back with copper rivets. Later, the jeans were redesigned to today's industry standard of five pockets including a little watch pocket and copper rivets.
Fewer jeans were made during World War II, but 'waist overalls' were introduced to the world by US soldiers, who sometimes wore them off duty. By the 1960s, both men's and women's jeans had the zipper down the front. Historic photographs indicate that in the decades before they became a staple of fashion, jeans generally fit quite loosely, much like a pair of bib overalls without the bib. Indeed, until 1960, Levi Strauss called its flagship product "waist overalls" rather than "jeans".
After James Dean popularized them in the movie Rebel Without a Cause, wearing jeans became a symbol of youth rebellion during the 1950s. During the 1960s the wearing of jeans became more acceptable, and by the 1970s it had become general fashion in the United States for casual wear. However, the acceptance of jean to becoming casual wear is still relatively low in Japan.
Examples of intentional denim distressing strictly to make them more fashionable can be seen as early as 1935 in Vogue's June issue. Michael Belluomo, editor of Sportswear International Magazine, Oct/Nov 1987, P. 45, wrote that in 1965, Limbo, a boutique in the New York East Village, was "the first retailer to wash a new pair of jeans to get a used, worn effect, and the idea became a hit." He continued, "[Limbo] hired East Village artists to embellish the jeans with patches, decals, and other touches, and sold them for $200." In the early 1980s the denim industry introduced the stone-washing technique developed by GWG also known as "Great Western Garment Co." Donald Freeland of Edmonton, Alberta pioneered the method, which helped to bring denim to a larger and more versatile market. Acceptance of jeans continued through the 1980s and 1990s. Originally an esoteric fashion choice, in the 2010s jeans may be seen being worn by men and women of all ages.
Traditionally, jeans were dyed to a blue color using natural indigo dye. Most denim is now dyed using synthetic indigo. Approximately 20 thousand tons of indigo are produced annually for this purpose, though only a few grams of the dye are required for each pair. For other colors of denim other dyes must be used. Currently, jeans are produced in any color that can be achieved with cotton.
For more information on dyeing, refer to denim and the discussion there of using pigment dyes.
In 1962 Levi Strauss introduced pre-shrunk jeans, which did not shrink further after purchase, allowing the consumer to purchase a correctly fitting size. These jeans were known as the 505 regular fit jeans. The 505 are almost identical to the 501s with the exception of the button-fly. The Levi's Corporation also introduced a slim boot-cut fit known as 517 and 527. The difference between the two is the 517s sit at the waist line and the 527s sit below the waist line. Later, Levi's would develop other styles and fits such as the loose, slim, comfort, relaxed, skinny, and a regular fit with a tapered leg.
The used or "acid wash" look is created by means of abrading the jeans and/or treating them with chemicals, such as acryl resin, phenol, a hypochlorite, potassium permanganate, caustic soda, acids etc.
Ripping or distressing of jeans, though also arising naturally as a result of wear and tear, is sometimes deliberately performed by suppliers - with distressed clothing sometimes selling for more than a nondistressed pair. For example, Pucci sold "embellished mid-rise boyfriend jeans" for £600 (US$860).
Consumers wanting jeans that appear worn can buy jeans that have been specially treated. To give the fabrics the worn look, sandblasting done with chemicals or by adding pumice stone to the washing process or abrading with sandpaper is often done.
A typical pair of blue jeans uses 919 gallons (3479 liters) of water during its life cycle. This includes the water to irrigate the cotton crop, manufacture the jeans, and the numerous washes by the consumer.
The production of jeans with a "used look" can be more environmentally damaging than regular jeans, depending on how the waste compounds are processed. Sandblasting and treating with sandpaper has the risk of causing silicosis to the workers, and in Turkey, more than 5,000 textile workers have been stricken with this disease, and 46 people are known to have died. Some companies have announced they are banning the use of sandblasting.
Despite most jeans being "pre-shrunk", they are still sensitive to slight further shrinkage and loss of color from being washed. The Levi Strauss company recommends avoiding washing jeans as much as possible. Carl Chiara, Levi Strauss director of brand and special projects, has a credo: The less you wash your jeans, the better your jeans become. These and other suggestions to avoid washing jeans where possible have encountered criticism. Cory Warren, editor of LS&Co. Unzipped, clarifies in a response to such a criticism:
Our advice is to wash less often, but clearly, you have to judge for yourself what's appropriate. Hot day, dirty job? Wash your jeans. Please! Cold day, office job? Maybe you can wear them twice or more before they go back to the washing machine. Personally, if I wear a pair of jeans to work on Friday--cool climate, office job--I tend to wear them on Saturday. And if Saturday is spent indoors and I'm not spilling food all over myself, I might even wear them on Sunday.-- Corey Warren
For those who prefer to refrain from washing their jeans there have been suggestions to freeze them in order to kill the germs that cause odor. However, this advice has been disputed as ineffective and replaced with the suggestion of baking them for ten minutes at 250 degrees Fahrenheit. (120 °C).
Jeans are covered under laws regarding trousers. As well, there have been some notable legal cases involving jeans specifically:
In Rome, Italy, in 1992, a 45-year-old driving instructor was accused of rape. When he picked up an 18-year-old girl for her first driving lesson, he allegedly raped her for an hour, then told her that if she was to tell anyone he would kill her. Later that night she told her parents and her parents agreed to help her press charges. While the alleged rapist was convicted and sentenced, the Italian Supreme Court overturned the conviction in 1998 because the victim wore tight jeans. It was argued that she must have necessarily had to help her attacker remove her jeans, thus making the act consensual ("because the victim wore very, very tight jeans, she had to help him remove them ... and by removing the jeans ... it was no longer rape but consensual sex"). The Italian Supreme Court stated in its decision "it is a fact of common experience that it is nearly impossible to slip off tight jeans even partly without the active collaboration of the person who is wearing them." This ruling sparked widespread feminist protest. The day after the decision, women in the Italian Parliament protested by wearing jeans and holding placards that read "Jeans: An Alibi for Rape". As a sign of support, the California Senate and Assembly followed suit. Soon Patricia Giggans, Executive Director of the Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women, (now Peace Over Violence) made Denim Day an annual event. As of 2011 at least 20 U.S. states officially recognize Denim Day in April. Wearing jeans on this day has become an international symbol of protest against such attitudes about sexual assault. As of 2008 the Italian Supreme Court has overturned their findings, and there is no longer a "denim" defense to the charge of rape.
In 2014, an Indian family court in Mumbai ruled that a husband objecting to his wife wearing a kurta and jeans and forcing her to wear a sari amounts to cruelty inflicted by the husband and can be a ground to seek divorce. The wife was thus granted a divorce on the ground of cruelty as defined under section 27(1)(d) of Special Marriage Act, 1954.
United States consumers spent more than US$14 billion on jeans in 2004 and US$15 billion in 2005. US consumers bought US$13.8 billion of men's and women's jeans in the year that ended 30 April 2011, according to market-research firm NPD Group.
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In the Soviet Union, jeans were the symbol of the Western way of life. The "jeans fever" in the USSR started in 1957 during the World Festival of Youth and Students. According to a 1961 Russian textile dictionary, jeans were initially referred to as a "worker's uniform" (? , rabochii kostyum).
Although not outright banned, jeans were hard to come by in USSR. It was seen as a symbol of rebellion by the Soviet youth who wanted to emulate the style of film and rock stars of the West. The Soviet government resisted supplying the market with jeans as that would mean responding to the market, a capitalist principle. People went to great lengths, sometimes resorting to violence and other illegal activities to obtain real Western made jeans. This led to the creation of black markets and bootlegging of jeans, which since has become an important cultural element in the history of the Soviet Union.
In 2014, teens were buying more fashion and athleisure clothing from brands such as Nike and Lululemon over denim classics from brands like Abercrombie & Fitch.Activewear in 2014 comprised 28% of teens' apparel purchases, up from 6% in 2008. In 2014, Nike, Lululemon, Under Armour, and Adidas were the most popular brands for athletic apparel among teen consumers. Fashion retailers have begun to adjust their offerings accordingly. Bloomberg reports that Levi's, which is the world's most iconic denim company, stuck to its core product (denim) instead of adapting to consumer trends. As a result, Levi's sales decreased from over USD 7 billion to USD 4.8 billion in 2015.
Distressed denim emerged from the cultural punk movement in the 1970s. Early punks tore apart consumer goods as an expression of their anger towards society. Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols manifested the British punk ideology, which was fighting against the status quo. Denim became a key target of this politically fueled deconstruction, with both men and women donning torn pants and jackets, accessorized with safety pins and slogans. The trend became popular again in the 1990s with the emergence of grunge fashion. If punk was "anti-fashion", grunge was "non-fashion". The grunge youth wore loose-fitting ripped jeans, flannel shirts or woolen Pendletons layered over T-shirts. Their anti-conformist approach to fashion led to the popularization of the casual chic look, a trend which continued into the 2000s.
Media reported in 2017 that the trend of low-rise jeans, famous in 1990s and 2000s as sagging, was coming back in fashion due to celebrities like Justin Bieber endorsing it. Low-rise jeans are usually worn 2-3 inches or more below the navel.