By Irfan Moeen Khan
During the mid 19th century, the sheer necessity to provide comfort and durability in a pair of pants for gold miners during the California Gold rush has today become a fashion definition.
A trader from New York moved to California for better prospects, partnered with a local tailor and started manufacturing “Waist Overalls” to provide for the immediate need of the gold miners.
Rivets of saddles were used on pockets for reinforcement and the material used was duck fabric usually used in making ship sails. Since the manufacturing process was unique they got it patented and the pants became very popular not only among gold miners but also among farmers and others.
During the same period France developed a fabric called “serge de Nimes” as it was made in the French city of Nimes and soon the name was shortened to Denim. This was a traditionally durable twill woven fabric dyed in indigo blue colour. During the same period exports of indigo (commonly known as neel in the Indian sub continent) dye stuff from Sindh via the port of Bhambore and then all the way through the port of Alexandria to the modern Europe substantially increased. (Plants and Drugs of Sindh by James A. Murray 1881, courtesy Sindh Archives Complex, Karachi)
During the 1850’s, the Italians produced apparel from the fabric called “genes” named after the city of Genoa in Italy. Perhaps the name jeans was modified from this root.
So apparently, blue jeans are not an American invention even though the manufacturing processes were perfected and patented by the Americans. In 1873, Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss received their patent no. 139, 121 from the U.S Patent and Trademark Office. This date is now considered the official “birthday” of blue jeans.
It took almost a hundred years for jeans to come into the limelight and be recognized as a fashion statement. It was in the mid twentieth century that American cinema started to make its presence felt in the world. Most action film heroes used to wear blue jeans. In 1955, a movie Rebel without a cause was released starring James Dean. This movie and other similar TV shows portrayed American teenagers in denim jackets and jeans which almost became an American trademark.
By the end of the twentieth century, jeans were an established dress code. During the period 1980-2000 denim was reinvented. Initially, jeans were sold unwashed and labeled “shrink to fit”. People wore jeans and went to the beach or took a shower and their jeans would take the shape of their body. It was later discovered that denim had the tendency to become soft after washing, so the more you washed it, the feel and look improved and that is how we got “pre-shrunk” jeans.
During the same time span a lot of fashion designers emerged and stated to focus on jeans because of its popularity, comfort, use, durability and offered the younger generation more options than just basic five pocket jeans. Various cuts like straight leg, boot cut, flared and drainpipes were introduced along with stone wash, enzyme wash and bleach wash to give jeans a vintage look. Designers and manufacturers added direct dyes in washes to give garments a dirty look. Now we have sand blasted jeans in which jeans are actually sand blasted in a chamber at a very high pressure using actual sand granules.
Similarly, denim weavers have brought a huge variety in the market. Today it is no more basic 13oz, twill weave indigo blue denim. Mills all over the world are producing variations like rain denim, slub denim, technical denim, stretched, over dyed, etc. Denim is now lighter in weight, softer in feel and trendier in looks. With all these innovations in the fabric and the garment itself, a pair of pants that were considered work wear and a highly casual dress has evolved into a proper recognized dress code called the “business casual”. A lot of companies, which had rigid dress codes, have moved over to business casuals to attract bright, young minds as there was a growing trend that because of rigid dress codes fresh graduates would not opt for organizations such as leading law firms in the US.
It is imperative to mention the unique contribution of Levi Strauss & Co. towards the standardization of jeans manufacturing and perfecting the manufacturing process.
Today the overall apparel manufacturing industry owes a lot to this company for producing high speed manufacturing concepts in the industry as they are not only valid for manufacturing jeans but also for the entire apparel industry.