Denim–many wear it almost every day whether it’s in the form of jeans, shorts, a jacket, or overalls. You name it. Not to mention, they can be used for almost any kind of activity. But jeans weren’t always worn in the everyday context they are now.
In 1851, Levi Strauss left his home country, Germany, and came to New York. A couple of years later, he caught wind of the California Gold Rush, so he packed his bags and moved to San Francisco where he opened another of his family’s dry good stores. There, he partnered with the tailor Jacob W. Davis to create sturdy work pants for the miners looking for gold.
The first pair of hardy work pants Levi Strauss made was created using canvas, the material he had brought for making tents. In the 1860s, Levi Strauss and Co. started to use denim to make their product. Denim is a heavy woven cotton twill. This fabric gained popularity in France at that time because it absorbs moisture faster than alternative fabrics and has a cooling affect in warm weather. Due to the expense importing the fabric from France, Levi Strauss found denim suppliers in America.
The original color of Levi’s jeans was indigo. It was cheap and plentiful. A synthetic version of the color indigo became available in 1876 as a dye for jeans. Indigo maintains its original hue even after laundering.
Levi’s original jean type was styled after the loose-fitting trousers worn by Genoese sailors, but his style incorporated flared bottoms for fitting over work boots. Also, copper rivets reinforced points of stress where jeans will rip easily such as seems and pockets. Demand for these affordable work pants was so great two new companies emerged: Lee Mercantile Company, founded in Kansas in 1898; Western Garment Company founded in Alberta, Canada in 1911. Other companies such as Wrangle Authentic Western Jeans showed up on the market the year 1947.
Jeans were men’s workpants, but girls found them handy too. Levi started to sell woman’s jeans in the mid 1930s. By the 1960s, woman’s jeans were on the market.
Impossible as it is to believe, before 1960 many schools did not allow children to wear jeans. But after World War II, jeans became a staple in American dress for children and adolescents. To make their denim more interesting, teens embroidered pictures, sewed patches, and painted messages on their jeans to personalize them and make their fashion statement.
Here are some tips for personalizing your denim. Attaching buttons, pins, or drawing doodles with fabric markers work well. Other options include iron-on and sewn-on patches. The following are some tips for sewing on patches and badges to spruce up your denim.
To begin, pick the best spot on the article of clothing you want to decorate. Then, find some pins or safety pins to hold the patch in place while sewing. This is an important aspect of sewing so that the badge does not end up lop-sided or lumpy.
Next, choose a needle and thread. Pick a matching color thread so that the stitches blend into the patch. Needles can range from a very small size to a very large one. Use whatever works best.
Stitching is easy to get the hang of, and it will be hidden in the patch. Make very small running stitches around the edge of the badge to secure it to the denim.
Once the whole patch is sewn, the thread must be knotted tightly on the back. In order to make sure the knot will stay, loop the string several times around the needle and pull it through.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe that jeans were invented over one-hundred-and-sixty years ago. Once a look synonymous with the wild west and a symbol of rebellion in the ‘60s has turned out to be one of the most convenient and comfortable choices in your wardrobe. And this is just a piece of the fascinating history of denim.
Other photographs by Bronwyn Dix