With its’ distinctive cotton fabric, jeans have become, in the space of two centuries, the cult garment of all generations. From the iconic trousers of the gold diggers to the indispensable panoply of the cowboys, from the unconventional outfits of Hollywood stars to catwalk models, from streetwear to haute couture, they have survived all eras without ever going out of fashion. But what is the secret of these mixed pants, that have been omnipresent in every wardrobe for so long?
Fascinating information on the origins of these trousers
Contrary to collective belief, the battle rages between a duo of fabrics with both European and non-American origins: jeanne fabric and denim.
Calvin Klein Jeans in 1976
Anglicism “jeans” would draw its etymology from the deformation of “la toile de jeanne”, a thick brownish fabric, a mixture of wool and linen, produced in the city of Genoa as early as the 18th century. Initially dedicated to nautical clothing (sails or sailors’ trousers), it was quickly adopted across the Atlantic because of its extreme strength for the manufacture of work clothes, including the famous overalls of miners and farmers.
But the city of Nîmes also claims paternity of its origins. The jean fabric would be the worthy heir of denim, a cotton twill, made of indigo blue warp threads and unbleached weft threads, whose composition and colour are indeed very close to the appearance of our contemporary jeans.
From work uniforms to iconic fashion trousers
Initially intended for workers, it will be necessary to wait until the middle of the 19th century and the genius of 2 men to see the destiny of the mythical trousers change. The association of Levi Strauss (textile merchant) and Jacob Davis (tailor by profession) is at the origin of the success story of the jeans. Thanks to the invention of copper rivets affixed to the wear points of denim trousers, jeans gradually lost their status as work overalls to become fashionable leisure trousers: the Levi’s saga was born and with it, the rise of blue jeans.
Jeans, a designer’s playground
Jeans have survived all eras, have adapted to all societal evolutions, and have been tried on in all styles. Its secret of longevity? The work of designers to constantly reinvent it.
Landed in Europe during World War II at the instigation of the GIs, they were designed to be close to the body in the 60’s, flared in a cool baba version in the 70’s, more rock in the 80’s…but their cut alone is not enough to follow the trends. Rather raw at the beginning, it was customised with embroideries in the 70’s, then whitened in a stone washed way in the 80’s and 90’s, and coloured in the 2000’s…
How about today? Raw, bleached, torn or with exaggerated wear and tear, jeans continue to fascinate designers who do not hesitate to mix cameos and textures to deliver ever more original creations? but for how much longer? Denim is one of the most polluting textiles in the industry, so we are rethinking its manufacture by turning towards production with a reduced carbon footprint. Some brands (1083, Better denim, Kuyichi) have already chosen to market ethical jeans, while some haute couture designers are integrating other techniques into their creative process (adding graffiti on white fabric) at Margiela or multicoloured patchwork at the last fashion week).
Jeans have clearly not yet revealed their full stylistic potential. Like the painter’s white fabric, it contains an inexhaustible creative charge that even made YSL regret not being at the origin of it… “I have only one regret. It’s that I didn’t invent jeans.”