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I love my blue jeans. They are the only garment in my closet that have never gone out of style. If I could find or fit into the jeans I wore in high school, they would still be fashionable today. That’s the superpower of denim jeans.

So these marvelous britches are versatile and comfortable, but they also have a rich history dating back to the 1800s. I’m guessing that even though they may not be the world’s most popular clothing item (the t-shirt may win out) jeans have to be in the top two.

Of all the days I’ve been alive, I’ve had on jeans for most of them. That’s a lot of days. You’d think I’d be an expert on jeans, or at least be fairly knowledgeable about them. Oh contraire! As I’ve done a little info digging for this post, I’ve found a few things I didn’t realize about my go-to garment. Join me as we zip up these fabulously fascinating facts about blue jeans.

Waist Overalls

You probably already realize overalls made of denim were the roots of what we know as jeans today. But you may not realize that in 1873, businessman Levi Strauss and tailor Jacob Davies partnered to create denim pants that had metal rivets at the stress points to make them durable. They were marketed as “waist overalls” primarily to miners and farm workers. In 1890 the trousers shifted marketing strategies a bit and introduced Levi’s 501 waist overalls. Why the number 501 was chosen is a mystery. The company’s records were lost in the 1906 earthquake.

Silver Screen Star Power

In the 1950s when movie stars like Marlon Brando (The Wild One) and James Dean (Rebel Without a Cause) wore jeans on the silver screen suddenly they became fashionable for everyone, not just working men. By 1960 they became known as “blue jeans” which came from a type of twill cloth from Genoa, Italy.

Presidential Veto

After George W. Bush became president in 2001, he banned jeans from the Oval Office. Bush’s dress code required men to wear neckties and women to wear “appropriate business attire.” Oh really? Bush did make one notable exception to this dress code. In 2005, U2 lead singer Bono was allowed into the Oval Office in black jeans and sunglasses. Gosh, I love Bono!

Gremlins Wear Jeans

In 1970 AMC debuted a 2-door subcompact car called the Gremlin. I had one when I was in college. The car looked a little weird and didn’t do so well. So three years later, AMC partnered with Levi’s to launch what was advertised as an “economy car that wears pants.” Each seat of the car was upholstered in denim with orange stitching, copper buttons, and denim pockets attached to the inner doors. Now we’re talking. I never saw one of these distinctive vehicles, but I heard about them. Because of concerns about flammability, eventually, the denim was replaced with a lookalike material.

Canadian Tuxedo

Remember Bing Crosby? Well, back in 1951, the superstar crooner tried to check into a hotel in Vancouver, British Columbia. He was turned away because he was wearing Levi’s jeans. The staff claimed that denim went against the hotel’s dress code. Because everyone loved Bing, Levi’s heard about the fuss and designed a custom full-body denim outfit for the megastar, which included a jacket and trousers. Sewn on the inside of the jacket a message read: “Notice to All Hotel Men: a perfectly appropriate fabric and anyone wearing it should be allowed entrance into the finer hotels.” So there, you snooty hotel people!

Denim CSI

Did you know that the FBI has used the patterns of faded jeans to catch criminals? In 1996, there was a string of bank robberies and bombings around the Spokane, Washington, area. Somehow the FBI figured out that jeans fade in a very unique way. After seizing jeans during a search warrant, they were able to match them to photographs taken from the crime scenes, which led to the conviction of the group responsible for the crime spree.

Big Britches

The largest pair of jeans ever made according to Guinness World Records was unveiled in 2019. They measured 213 feet and 10 inches tall and 140 feet and 1 inch wide. The unveiling took place in a department store parking lot in Lima, Peru. It took 50 people over 6 months to make the huge pants and they weighed 6 tons. In a recycling effort, after the hoopla of the display was over, the giant jeans were cut up and converted into 10,000 reusable shopping bags.

It’s Rivetting

Do you know those shiny copper rivets on the pockets and hip seams of your jeans? Well, they aren’t there to make your butt look good. Back in 1873, they were placed on jeans to make the seams of miners’ pants more durable, preventing pockets from ripping. The small fifth pocket on a pair of Levi’s was designed for a pocket watch. In the 1930s, the rivets were sewn to the pants because of complaints that they scratched furniture, but by 1947, they were returned to view.

Skinny Jeans Kill the Dollar

Money is printed on cotton-blend paper. About 30% of the cotton used to make the paper comes from scrap denim. When denim was used for skinny jeans it included stretchy material which ruins the fabric for bank notes. An alternate source of cotton was found to make up for the shortfall. I guess there’s no such thing as stretching a dollar!

 

So are you all “jeaned” out? Not me. I find this stuff fascinating. So if you find that you are a jeans nerd like me, check out this video below to learn even more. If not, then at least maybe you now have a deeper appreciation for one of life’s essentials: a great pair of jeans!


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This work by Anel “Pookie” Ryan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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