The Purpose of Western Garb: Jeans

Item 2: Jeans

“Denim is one of the world’s oldest fabrics, yet it remains eternally young.” – a Writer for American Fabrics Magazine

History: We think of blue jeans as purely American. While denim has become iconic for America, especially the wild west, the fabric has very old roots.

The name itself originates from Genoa, and comes from the word “genuense,” meaning “of Genoa.” The material was used to make sails because it was sturdy, and soon peasants began to wear it for its durability. The fabric at this time resembled corduroy, a material Genoa was known for at this time. The oldest known pair of jeans were worn by  Giuseppe Garibaldi in 1860, and are preserved in the Museo Centrale del Risorgimento.

The French soon decided to imitate this wonderfully useful fabric, and after much experimentation and testing, they created their own twill fabric and named it denim – or de Nimes (literally “from Nimes.”).

Jeans did not make it to the United States until the late 1700’s. When you think of denim in America, you automatically think of Levi’s. Levi Strauss (whose name had been Loeb – read more about his history here), revolutionized jeans in 1873, with the patent of “Improvement in Fastening Pocket-Openings,” otherwise known as the copper rivets that reinforce the pockets of our pants today.

Jeans became popular because of their durability and usefulness. Workers and cowboys found them to be extremely resistant to wear, and they became standard during WWII for defense workers.

Purpose: Jeans – for the cowboy – are essential to life on a ranch.

Why? Because life on a ranch often requires difficult, dirty work. Rounding up cattle, roping, branding, digging fencepost holes and stringing barbwire are all rough work that require hardy clothing. Cowboys play hard as well – to ride broncs and bulls you’d better have durable gear. Thanks to the Genoans and Levi Strauss, they now have fashionable, dependable clothes!

To read about the first item in this series, the cowboy hat, click here.

Stay tuned for our next item!