Photography: Brandon Kidd
With the proliferation of denim in America over the last 150 years, it’s easy to take the fabric in all its variations for granted. In honor of this classic wardrobe staple, we’ve set our sights on creatively styling chambray and denim for the spring and summer to give this essential a new spin. But before we jump into mixing and matching our favorite denim items this season, let’s take a look at the history of the fabric we’ve all welcomed into our wardrobes.
The history of denim begins in Europe, where the fabric was originally referred to as “serge de Nimes.” Navy sailors in Genoa, Italy wore pants of this fabric out to sea, and these trousers became known as “bleu de Genes,” meaning “the blue of Genoa.” This phrase was later shortened to “jeans” in America, whereas the “de Nimes” fabric became “denim.”
When German immigrant Levi Strauss ended up in California, he wanted to address the problem many Gold Rush miners were experiencing -- their pants were not strong enough to handle the wear and tear of their profession. He first attempted to make pants out of heavy canvas, and while this material could withstand the miner’s working conditions, they were far from comfortable. Strauss decided to swap the canvas for “serge de Nimes” and developed the concept of using rivets to strengthen the construction of the pants. The official birthday of “blue jeans” is May 20, 1873, the day the patent on these rivets passed. From then on, blue jeans became an essential part of the working class wardrobe.
With the popularity of Westerns in the early to mid-twentieth century, denim became a Hollywood symbol. Celebrities like Gene Autry, John Wayne, and Roy Rogers made blue jeans an iconic must-have, representing Americana at its core. But once James Dean wore denim in Rebel Without a Cause, blue jeans also began to signify a culture of youth and freedom. By the mid 1960s, boutiques in New York City began selling jeans that they’d washed for a distressed effect, and in new silhouettes, such as bell-bottoms, that were gaining steam in the anti-mainstream market.
As the years progressed, different lengths and washes of blue jeans became standard. In 1979, the character Daisy Duke on the show The Dukes of Hazzard made cut-off denim shorts popular. Her signature style of shorts are still referred to as “Daisy Dukes” and worn today by younger crowds. Stone-washing became a popular effect in the 1980s, and wearing ripped or decorated jeans was not uncommon. And by the 90s, denim skirts, colored denim, and baggy jeans were popular among American teens and became renowned symbols of the decade. It’s impressive that in less than half a century, denim stepped out of its classic workwear position and became a versatile must-have across the board.
Photography: Brandon Kidd
We’re thrilled that denim has remained an important part of fashion by expanding to cover so many trends. You can now purchase jeans in a multitude of washes, cuts, and colors, and we want them all -- from retro high-waisted cuts and chic skinny fit pants to trendy boyfriend jeans and lightweight chambray shirts. With your newfound appreciation for “serge de Nimes,” how will you be styling your denim and chambray this year?
This post originally appeared on March 17th, 2014