Gênes – Jeans
de Nimes – Denim
The story of jeans begins in the city of Genoa, in Italy, famous for its cotton corduroy. Jean fabric from Genoa (at that time) was in fact very similar to corduroy; Genoese sailors started to use it to cover and protect their goods on the docks from the weather.
During the Republic of Genoa, the jeans were exported by sailors of Genoa throughout Europe. Gênes, the French word for Genoa, may therefore be the origin of the word “jeans”. In the French city of Nimes, weavers tried to reproduce the fabric exactly, but without success. However, with experimentation, and through trial and error, they developed another twill fabric that became known as denim, literally “de Nimes”. Only at the end of the nineteenth century did jeans arrive in the United States.
A young man named Levi Strauss emigrated in 1851 from Germany to New York to be with his older brothers, who ran a dry goods store. In 1853 he moved to San Francisco to establish his own dry goods business.
In 1872, Jacob Davis, a tailor who frequently purchased bolts of cloth from the Levi Strauss & Co.
wholesale house, wrote to Levi asking to partner with him to patent and sell clothing reinforced with rivets. Davis’ idea was to use copper rivets to reinforce the points of stress, such as on the pocket corners and at the bottom of the button fly. After Levi accepted Davis’s offer, the two men received US patent No. 139,121, for an “Improvement in Fastening Pocket-Openings,” on May 20, 1873.
An oft-told “attractive myth” is that Levi initially sold brown canvas pants to miners, eventually dyed them blue, turned to using denim, and after Davis wrote to him, Levi added rivets to his blue jeans. However, this story is false and probably due to the discovery of jeans made of brown cotton duck (a type of bottomweight fabric), which was one of the early materials used by Davis and Levi Strauss after 1873. Finding denim a more suitable material for work-pants, they began using it to manufacture their riveted pants. The denim used was produced by an American textile manufacturer, but popular legend states the denim was obtained from Nimes, France.