We love denim. It can be practically anything; smart or casual, faded or indigo, skinny jeans or high-waisted bootcuts, handbags or biker jackets. Denim is the fabric that does it all. But we haven’t always had denim to rely on.
The birth of denim began way back in France. The name denim actually comes from “de Nimes”, the town where denim is said to have been first made. What the word has come to mean is a sturdy hard-wearing twill fabric which, for any technical experts out there, is characterised by the passing of the weft under two or more warp threads.
So denim was originally a European fabric. Having said that we think of early denim and we tend to think of cowboys… But that’s because it found it’s big success in late 19th century America when labourers began to use it to make tough work clothes.
In fact, the brand Levi’s came from the labourer’s need for sturdy but comfortable clothes. Tailor Jacob Davis teamed up with his fabric supplier, Levi Strauss, and their big idea of reinforcing the trousers with metal rivets at any weak points (e.g. pockets) caught on. Sensing success, Davis and Strauss quickly put a patent on their idea and made a fortune.
For the 19th and 20th centuries then, denim stood for rugged American labourers and cowboys (thanks go to Hollywood for spreading this image). Then came WWII, which played a big part in spreading its popularity. American GIs came to Europe wearing their jeans. Europe approved. They wanted jeans of their own. They wanted to channel the romance of rustic America themselves.
After that denim fast became a way of showing how modern you were, and also that you were a little bit of a rebel (think Marlon Brando and James Dean). Added bonuses: it was fairly cheap, easy to wear, didn’t really crease (yay no more irons!), didn’t need careful washing (yay just bung it in the machine!), and got better with age – faded jeans were definitely a good thing. Rich people, poor people, hippies, celebrities, politicians; everyone loved it.
It may have begun with the indigo denim of cowboys, but denim has become way more than that. Now it’s dip-dye, bleached, ripped, body-sculpting, red, black, white – you name it. Hardly surprising then that the denim market is worth over $51 billion today. We just love our denim!