The history of jeans, part 3: the invention of synthetic indigo dye and 5-pocket jeans and denim in the 20th century

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The 19th century was crucial in the history of jeans, distinguished by the invention of synthetic indigo dye and riveted jeans. From the mid-20th century, this garment finally evolved from workwear into spare-time and then high fashion clothing thanks to the greatest icons of the movie and music industries.

Adolf von Baeyer’s revolution in 1865

1865 marked a real revolution in the dyeing process when the German chemist Adolf von Baeyer definitely ended the debate between European woad and Asian indigofera, inventing synthetic indigo dye. His creation allowed the production of blue fabrics to increase.

Levi Strauss’ and Jacob Davis’ patented blue jeans

Over the same years, the German entrepreneur Levi Strauss, who had moved to San Francisco, started selling jeans fabric to make miners’ workwear, while the Latvian tailor Jacob Davis, who lived in Reno, Nevada, coped with a request to produce a pair of comfortable and resistant trousers for a logger, creating in 1971 the riveted jeans we still use today.

Davis’ idea to strengthen the weakest parts of the trousers using rivets and double seams, making an unbeatable garment, had great success, and the tailor started receiving many orders. Davis partnered with Strauss, who financed the building of a production chain in San Francisco. On May 20th, 1873, they patented their jeans, and the words blue jeans began identifying a specific garment instead of a fabric.

The famous Genoese fustian trousers made in the typical sailors’ style and worn by Giuseppe Garibaldi in 1860, while landing at Marsala and during the war in Sicily, had been realized some decades before. They are now in the Central Museum of the Risorgimento in Rome.

Jeans evolution from workwear to the emblem of a generation

In the ‘30s, some well-known actors such as John Wayne and Gary Cooper already used to wear jeans, while some famous actresses such as Ginger Rogers and Carole Lombard tried to convince women to wear them in their spare time. Until the Second World War, jeans were yet considered mainly workwear. Cowboys had also started using denim to make jackets and shirts.

In the ‘50s, jeans were transformed into a spare-time garment, becoming even an emblem in different eras. They were worn by icons such as Marlon Brando, James Dean, Elvis Presley, and Bob Dylan and conquered first the movie and then the music industry before they finally became what the new generations wanted to wear. Young people started using jeans to show their will to change and transgress worldwide.

The conquest of high fashion: Calvin Klein’s and Elio Fiorucci’s jeans

The last industry to get the great potential of jeans was fashion in the ‘70s. Calvin Klein was the first brand to bring them on runways in 1976. In Italy, Elio Fiorucci made high fashion discover denim. His brand was the first to create, thanks to elastane, those tight jeans that became one of the most desirable garments worldwide, especially by women, and convinced other designers, including Giorgio Armani, to insert denim in their collection. Since then, denim has been an essential fabric in all the collections of leading international brands.

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