The Origins of a Fashion Classic: Jeans

History of Jeans

Jeans originated in the USA in the late 19th century. Originally, they were worn as work trousers by miners, factory workers and soldiers. They were particularly common as work clothing during World War II. At this time men’s zippers were placed at the front of the garment, while women’s ran along the right side.

Later on, in the 1930s they became popular among the cowboy population. Jeans were a popular souvenir for anyone visiting the West’s dude ranches. Hippies continued the denim trend in the 1960s. Jeans were very hard to find in non-Western countries so they were a common postal item.

During the 1970s the garment became more widespread as they begun to be produced in southern sweatshops. With cheaper production came cheaper prices.

By the 1980s jeans had become a fashion staple. Designers started to experiment with different styles and fabric variations. Sales continued to rise and rise. The garment is to this day a popular casual clothing choice, and is worn by kids, women and men alike.

Origins of the Name

Even the story of how jeans got their name is an interesting one. At one point they were known as waist overalls! Jean was a material made in Europe. It was named after sailors in Genoa, Italy who reportedly wore clothes made out of the fabric.

Now we more commonly refer to the material itself as denim. The history of this term can be traced back to France. Serge was a kind of material originating in the town of Nimes. “Serge de Nimes” is the French way of saying serge from Nimes. De Nimes would explain the coining of the term denim we use until this day.


Back in the day jeans had a nasty way of disintegrating in the pocket area. In the late 19th century a tailor called Jacob Davis came up with the genius idea of using metal rivets to keep the pockets intact, and safeguard them from ripping.

Keen on applying for a patent, but lacking the funds for it, he turned to Levi Strauss with a proposition. Strauss accepted and so production of the new riveted trousers began.

Celebrities and Jeans

Jeans became a fashionable item and a symbol of youth rebellion in the 1950s after James Dean was seen wearing them in the movie Rebel Without a Cause. This association led the garment to be banned in certain public buildings like schools, theatres and restaurants. At this time the fashion item was sometimes referred to as “jean pants”.

In the 1970s mens skinny jeans became popular among the punk community. Bands like The Sex Pistols became ambassadors of the trend.

The 1980s saw the introduction of acid washed jeans. Many people’s idol of the time, Madonna was a keen advocate of the trend, and was snapped wearing jeans many times.

The rise of hip hop in the 1990s came hand in hand with the growing popularity of wide leg or baggy jeans. Artists like Tupac were rarely seen sporting anything other than their beloved denim trousers.

In this day and age jeans are worn by many celebrities from the Duchess of Cambridge to Kylie Minogue. They are an undying trend.