May 20th, 1873 – Copper Added to Blue Jeans!

Today-In-History

The trade of jean fabric emerged in the cities of Genoa, Italy, and Nimes, France. Gênes, the French word for Genoa, may be the origin of the word “jeans”. In Nimes, weavers tried to reproduce jean but instead developed a similar twill fabric that became known as denim, from de Nimes, meaning “from Nimes”.

The Master of the Blue Jeans 1Genoa’s jean was a fustian textile of “medium quality and of reasonable cost”, very similar to cotton corduroy for which Genoa was famous, and was “used for work clothes in general”. Nimes’s “denim” was coarser, considered higher quality and was used “for over garments such as smocks or overalls”. Nearly all Indigo, needed for dying, came from indigo bush plantations in India till the late 19th century. It was replaced by indigo synthesis method developed in Germany.

By the 17th century, jean was a crucial textile for working-class people in Northern Italy. This is seen in a series of genre paintings from around the 17th century attributed to an artist now named The Master of the Blue Jeans. The ten paintings depict impoverished scenes with lower-class figures wearing a fabric that looks like denim. The fabric would have been Genoese jean, which was cheaper. Genre painting came to prominence in late 16th century, and the low-life subject matter in all ten paintings places them among others that portray similar scenes.

The Master of the Blue Jeans 2Denim is not the only sturdy cotton fabric used for everything from working clothes to fashion items. There is also dungaree. Dungaree was mentioned for the first time in the 17th century, when it was referred to as cheap, coarse thick cotton cloth, often colored blue but sometimes white, worn by impoverished people in what was then a region of Bombay, India a dockside village called Dongri. The Hindi name of this cloth was “dungri”. Dungri was exported to England and used for manufacturing of cheap, robust working clothes. English began to call “dungri” cloth a little different and it became “dungaree”.

The importance of jean is also shown by the history of textile trade. Genoese sailors used jean to cover and protect their goods on the docks from the weather. During the Republic of Genoa (17th, 18th centuries), sailors exported jeans throughout Europe.

Jeans became popular in the United States when Levi Strauss & Co.’s introduced blue jean overalls in 1873. On May 20th, 1873Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis received a U.S. patent for blue jeans with copper rivets, giving us the design that still remains popular today.

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