Denim - A Riveting History
My newest “vintage mission” is to find a pair of authentic old blue jeans. This is no easy task and requires a ton of education before setting out spelunking through thrift stores and estate sales. It is easy to be fooled by all the fake “vintage” denim on the market not to mention all the vintage-inspired lines that have been marketed by many denim companies in recent years. As part of my self-education, I have come across some interesting photos and facts about our historical love affair with denim - here are a few of my favorites:
Most credit Levi Strauss for the invention of the blue jean. Strauss originally came to California to sell canvas for use as tents and wagon covers to the thousands of prospectors invading the state. The prospectors were incredibly hard on their pants which often had split-seams and holes in the butt and knees. Strauss recognized a need and, after consulting with a tailor, he was ready to provide a solution. Original Levi’s were made from tough and durable brown tenting canvas. After achieving success with his new product, Strauss discovered a durable cotton fabric known as “serge de Nimes” that was being produced in the South of France. He began importing it by the boatload and Levi’s denim jeans were born. The rest, as they say, is history…
“Old-timer’ Forty-niner panning for gold, busting his butt in original denim jeans.”
This photo shows a group of warehouse workers bailing cotton and wearing unriveted denim. Levi’s were originally rivet-free and often suffered from fraying and bursting seams at the stress-points. After a suggestion from a tailor, in 1873 Strauss added copper rivets to his denim jeans. He was so thrilled with his rivets that, legend has it, he added a rivet at the base of the fly. This was discovered to be an awful idea after a wearer stood next to a campfire and the rivet overheated. I can only assume this is where the term “hot pants” derives…okay, maybe not.
Since its first use by Levi Strauss, denim has become a staple of the American wardrobe. Denim jeans, shirts, and jackets have been worn out of necessity by the poor and out of desire for status by the the rich and famous. Here is one of my favorite photos of Elvis Presley wearing both denim jeans and a denim jacket. Today I would probably avoid this look as I am not fond of the two denim look but hey - it is Elvis, who am I to judge?
Hippies loved their blue jeans. Although they would cringe at the thought, finding an authentic pair of 1960's hippie jeans is considered quite a find in the vintage world.
This iconic ad from Calvin Klein featuring Brooke Shields helped spark the 1980s designer jeans craze. Jeans became a huge status symbol and the brand of jeans you wore meant everything. I was in high school at the time and it had to be Calvin Klein or Guess - anything else was just embarrassing!
This pair of Levi’s was discovered in 1998 in an old Nevada mining town and came up for auction in May of 2001. The final price? $46,532 paid by the Levi Straus Co. This should bring us full circle and leave no doubt as to why I am “in search of” authentic vintage denim.
Tommy Hilfiger sums it up perfectly, “The great thing about jeans is that they look right no matter how you choose to wear them. Whether baggy or tight, jeans should look like they’ve been yours for 100 years.”
Information and Photos from:
- The Blue Jean by Alice Harris
- Denim, An American Legend by Iain Finlayson
- all american, a style book by Tommy Hilfiger