Jeans are a type of pants or trousers, typically made from denim or dungaree cloth. Often the term “jeans” refers to a particular style of trousers, called “blue jeans”, which were invented by Jacob W. Davis in partnership with Levi Strauss & Co. in 1871 and patented by Jacob W. Davis and Levi Strauss on May 20, 1873. Prior to the Levi Strauss patented trousers, the term “blue jeans” had been long in use for various garments (including trousers, overalls, and coats), constructed from blue-colored denim.
“Jean” also references a (historic) type of sturdy cloth commonly made with a cotton warp and wool weft (also known as “Virginia cloth”). Jean cloth can be entirely cotton as well, similar to denim. Originally designed for miners, modern jeans were popularized as casual wear by Marlon Brando and James Dean in their 1950s films, particularly The Wild One and Rebel Without a Cause, leading to the fabric becoming a symbol of rebellion among teenagers, especially members of the greaser subculture. From the 1960s onwards, jeans became common among various youth subcultures and subsequently young members of the general population. Nowadays, they are one of the most popular types of specialty trousers in Western culture. Historic brands include Levi’s, Lee, and Wrangler.
The term “jeans” derives from the French word for Genoa, Italy. Genoa is a seaport city on the Mediterranean coast, capital of the Province of Genoa, similarly jeans are manufactured in different parts of the world including but not limited to Europe, North America and Asia. The trousers were based upon traditional designs of loose-fitting workman’s trousers (often called “dungarees” or “overalls”, popular among miners and blue collar workers from the early 19th century. Worn for their toughness, and also since these were the typical trousers of the Western frontiersman, cowboys and railroad workers.
In American English jean is a corruption of Genoa, via French. In English speaking countries other terms are often used synonymously with jeans, including pants, dungarees, work pants, coveralls, blue jeans, Nantucket Reds, and in Scotland jeans. Popular domestic brands include Levi Strauss, Lee and Wrangler.
Jacob Davis’s company, the Reno Dry Goods Co., patented “stop rip” jeans in 1873. This was soon followed by several other firms, using various names such as “stop leak” (McCoy, 1874), “no gall” (Lipsett & Dennison, 1879)and “garbage gusset” (Wright & Potter Patent Leather Co., 1889)
Blue jean was originally developed by Jacob Davis, who came up with the phrase “fly-ash” (cynics might take issue with this phrasing since fly ash is no longer produced). He also co-invented the sewing machine, invented the stop button. His company, Reno Clothing Company, was later reorganized as “Levi Strauss & Co.” after he left.
Jacob Davis was the first person to patent blue jeans, in 1873. His jeans, called “waist overalls”, consisted of five pockets with copper rivets, copper buttons, and a leather belt. According to Levi Strauss’s autobiography, Jacob Davis also made them by hand successively adding new design elements as time went on. Levi employed other tailors to make what he called dungarees, but the word “jeans” became more common over time. Levi Strauss said that this new clothing material took the form of trousers since that was the most common use for such sturdy fabric.
Patent leather (actually polished calfskin) was commonly used in the manufacture of early jeans because this finish was less labor-intensive to apply than wax finishing. Also, unlike cotton duck, which required extensive finishing to cover seams, denim required no smoothing or rubbing to cover seams.
In 1890, Levi Strauss & Co., was incorporated as Levi Strauss & Co. Inc. and patented the use of copper rivets to reinforce stress points, such as on the pocket corners and at the bottom of the button fly. In 1893, a new style jean known as “Levi’s Wedge Proof” was patented. It had a straight waistband and roomier pocket allowing the denim to fall more smoothly over the hips. Eight copper rivets were placed on the bottom of the button fly to prevent it from expanding and ripping, demonstrating the company’s new Wedge Proof technology. However, even before this patent, Levi’s jeans had begun to spread beyond western job sites and were starting to become a standard garment for many Americans.
In 1890, the first Levi’s store was opened. In 1896, the company introduced a boot that was specifically designed for working on the railroad. This new style became so popular that eventually Levi’s started to produce them as work trousers. It wasn’t until 1912 that Levi’s began producing these popular work pants in their own dedicated factory which also had been moved from San Francisco to 212 Valencia Street in San Jose.The company began expansion of the flagship factory and by 1924 it employed over 2,000 workers. In 1938, the company produced nearly 1 million pairs of jeans. In 1964, Levi Strauss & Co. opened a second factory which was located at 1801 Arroyo Dr. in Pico Rivera, California. In 1984, the company built a third factory located at 4355 Skyway Road in San Diego County. By 1989, there were hundreds of employees working there and production levels had hit an average of 60 million Levi’s per year.
North American Symbol of the Past Jeans’ popularity in North America is illustrated by their inclusion in the popular song “Blue Jeans” by Willie Nelson on his album Red Headed Stranger. The song was originally written by Willie Nelson for a little girl named Janie Fricke, whose mother had once owned a pair of blue jeans that were later donated to a thrift store. The song’s lyrics include a reference to a flag called the Stars and Stripes. This historical link of American culture with its past would be a mainstay in the iconography of rock, folk rock and country rock artists who recorded their own tribute/interpretive songs on the subject. In the late 1950s, Levi’s jeans became popular among British mods.  In 1962, Tommy James and the Shondells recorded the song “Hanky Panky,” which featured a young girl named Betsy Jones who wore a pair of blue jeans that were so tight that she could not sit down in them.  In 1965, The Supremes sang “Blue Moon of Kentucky” about blue jeans.  In 1975, David Bowie covered “Re-Birthday,” which contained a reference to Levi’s jeans.  In 1976, The Ramones recorded a song called “I Wanna Be Sedated,” which mentioned the phrase “blue jeans o’clock,” an oblique reference to the time at which one should wear blue jeans.  On Def Leppard’s 1987 album Hysteria, guitarist Vivian Campbell can be heard playing “Blue Jeans” on his guitar. During the time of Hysteria, Def Leppard were the most commercially successful band in the world.
Levi Strauss & Co. is credited with transforming the American clothing industry by creating useful, washable work pants that extended people’s earning power through job opportunities in agriculture, construction and mining. According to the company, their iconic pants are worn by approximately one-third of all Americans.
Levi’s have transcended the status of work utility clothing to become fashion items because of their unique fit, especially in the leg area. This fit combined with stretch denim made Levi’s jeans comfortable for the first time. Levi Strauss & Co. used the term “waist overalls” in advertising. However, according to company historian Gregg Harris, Levi himself did not use the term. In 1960, Paul Jacobs, president of the denim manufacturer Norton Denim, suggested that Strauss change his ads from “waist overalls” to “jeans”.
In April 2006, The Gap Inc. filed for bankruptcy protection from creditors after a slumping economy and an ill-advised attempt to reinvent itself in a bid to gain a hold on a younger demographic. The bankruptcy was a blow to the company’s 52,000 employees and to the 3,500 independent Gap outlets across the country. Around 20,000 of those workers have been furloughed.
In mid-2006, Levi Strauss announced plans to discontinue work on denim products beyond Levi’s trademarked 501 jeans, citing deteriorating profits from their other jeans-related products as a contributing factor.The company also announced that it would cease production operations at its North American factories and open new factories in India and China instead. Asian manufacturers are eager to take advantage of cheaper labor costs in order to take on much larger duties in the American market, where they are also currently producing denim products.
On September 26, 2006, Levi Strauss & Co. announced that it would sell its North America-based womenswear division to Canadian retailer The Bonmarche for US$130 million. Bonmarche has stores in Canada and in certain U.S. states.
Levi Strauss & Co. has also withdrawn its legal battle to prevent market rival Guess? from using the word “denim” in product names and advertising materials.
In April 2008, Levi Strauss & Co. became the official apparel sponsor of the National Football League.
On April 4, 2009, Levi Strauss & Co. and The Gap Inc. merged to become one company: Levi Strauss & Co. Inc.
In March 26, 2010, Levi Strauss & Co. announced that it would shut down its 15 factories and cut 1500 jobs due to the decimated retail markets and demand for denim.
On June 14, 2010, the company announced that it had received approval from shareholders for a dividend of $0.25 per share to be paid on July 31, 2010.
In September 2011, Levi Strauss & Co. announced that it was acquiring the trademarks for menswear company Carhartt WIP, founded by former Gap Inc. menswear designer Dickies Co-Founder Ed Greenberg on September 7, 2011.
On May 23, 2013, Levi Strauss & Co. became a member of The Business Council of Alabama after the University of Alabama’s College of Business Administration reached an agreement with the company to become an official business partner at UAB.