The iconic blue denim trousers known as jeans are found all over the world in a variety of cuts and styles. They have been in demand since the mid 1800s, when they were first released onto the market. Their sales exploded in 1873, when rivets were introduced, making them much sturdier. Hundreds of companies today make jeans ranging in style and price, and their popularity seems unlikely to wane, although various styles may fall in and out of fashion. This is probably because they are versatile, sturdy, and culturally symbolic.
In order to understand the popularity of jeans, it helps to examine their history. Originally, these trousers were known as genes, because they were worn by the sailors of Genoa. They were made from a variety of fabrics until the 1600s, when they began to be made from blue-dyed Serge de Nimes, or “cloth from Nimes,” a fabric woven from cotton and dyed with indigo. The French fabric quickly became known as denim, and sturdy work pants made from denim became very popular with sailors. The fabric wore well, was comfortable, and was reasonably affordable.
In 1850, an immigrant living in the midst of the California gold rush named Levi Strauss had several rolls of denim fabric, or so the story goes at the Levi Strauss Company. Realizing the demand for solid work pants made from hard wearing fabric, he started releasing denim jeans, as well as another version made from a heavy cotton “duck.” The duck proved to be unpopular, because it remained stiff and uncomfortable even after many washings, but the denim trousers were a hit. In 1873, an inventor in Nevada named Jacob Davis added copper rivets to the pants at areas of high stress to prevent them from splitting. Because he was unable to afford a patent, he approached Strauss, who patented riveted jeans under both their names.
Jeans were initially very popular among the lower working class. The pants were affordable, very sturdy, and built to last. Several basic cuts ensured that the pants could fit and function well on the job site, and the trousers quickly became a staple for laborers. In the 1920s, when members of society began to express interest in the lives of the working poor, some middle class youth adopted jeans as daily wear. However, they didn't explode on the popular front until the 1940s and 1950s, when famous movie stars wore them in films and while out in public.
In an effort to ape their favorite movie stars, many members of the American public started wearing jeans, and the fad spread overseas. More manufacturers started to offer the trousers in a dizzying array of cuts, and by the 1960s, they were standard issue for members of the '60s counterculture. Although the original jeans were designed as work pants, modern varieties can be found in an assortment of styles and levels of darkness suitable for numerous occasions. Generally, they are banned from formal events and many workplaces, but the pants can be seen on the legs of popular movie actors and actresses, and in the windows of most boutiques, suggesting that they have a firm place in American culture.
It is likely that jeans remain popular because of their versatility. They can be made loose fitting and comfortable, form fitting to flatter the figure, or practical for working on a farm or at a construction site. Flared bottoms can accommodate people yearning for a 1960s style, while more angular cuts began to appear in the 1990s, and there are numerous cuts to choose from for people of all ages. These trousers are designed for men and women of all shapes and sizes, and most Americans have several pairs in the dresser to use as a practical pant which pairs with a wide variety of shirts and shoes. Other nations have picked up the American fashion as well, making it unlikely that they will ever fade from the public eye.