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150+ Years Of Jeans Usage

Since jeans is born we have seen many key features and changes over time in this historical garment. Changes that were made that are related to the innovations of a specific period. As jeans was first made as a strong and long-lasting workwear garment explains why the design of it changed with time as it isn’t used as workwear most of the time anymore these days.

Jeans became more and more popular after World War 2, and also its demand to make jeans more comfortable to wear it more easily. Also, the behavior of people is constantly influencing the design of jeans.

If you look back at the starting point of the invention of jeans, we can say that over the 150+ years of usage of jeans, jeans ‘evolutioned’ heavily. Time to focus on the most influencing years and design parts of jeans in a sort of recap: ‘The key features of the evolution of blue jeans’. The evolution of the most popular garment ever made.

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The Starting Point

Jeans was first made as a workwear style for miners since the mid of the 1800s. Jeans wasn’t called jeans, but waist overalls back then, as the workers uses this work pants over their own clothing. The bosses of the gold and silver mines reached out these garments to their employees.

As the waist overalls were worn over the pants of the workers, the design was quite big and wide. You could recognize these workwear pants with the four pockets, three on the front (including the watch/coin pocket), one back pocket (the right pocket), a button fly, and rivets on points of stress (such as pocketing and crotch rivet), and suspender buttons on the waistband to keep your pants up. This as belt loops were not standard for blue jeans.

The Addition Of A Second Back Pocket

As most people are righthanded, the right back pocket was part of waist overalls since day one. This is so the workers could slip easily into the right back pocket while working. But the demand for more pockets grew over time and in 1901 the second back pocket was added to jeans too, this was the birth of the left back pocket. Another milestone within the evolution of jeans.

Keep Your Jeans Up With A Belt

In the beginning, only suspender buttons were part of the workwear pants, but more and more people started to use belts as well. Therefore belt loops were added to jeans in the early 1920s, so since then waist overalls could be worn with suspenders or a belt. Both options were still on the pants so wearers could hold their jeans up in their own preferred way.

The Introduction Of The Zipper

Buttons were standard on waist overalls as this makes it easy for wearers to open their fly fast, but in 1926 the first pairs were also made with a zipper. A feature that is still part of many jeans these days, especially on women’s jeans, but also a lot of men’s jeans designs are made with a zipper.

Scratching Furniture Is Over

The first waist overalls were made with rivets on the outside of the back pocket(s). As these rivets were originally used for horse blankets, later they redesigned them, but they were still quite sharp, so they scratched (leather) furniture, saddles, and so on. Therefore they came up with an idea in 1937 to cover these rivets with the now so-called hidden rivets. This means that the back pockets are fastened over the rivets, so they can’t scratch anymore.

The Domination Of World War 2

The 1940s were dominated design-wise by World War 2. As every brand was forced by the American government to save materials for war, they had to remove parts of jeans (more about this here). The cinch back on the back of the jeans was removed, and belt loops stayed, of course, this became also a more popular way to keep your jeans up. Next to that, rivets on the coin/watch pocket were removed as well. You can say in general, jeans were simplified.

The Mother Design Of All Jeans

After World War 2, most parts of the removed design elements due to wartime didn’t come back. The jeans design after the war also referred to as the 1947 model, is still today called the ‘mother of jeans’ due to the fact that it’s the base of all most all jeans.

Jeans Became Popular Outside Of America

During the 1950s jeans became popular with the youth as they saw soldiers wearing them in their spare time and they left their jeans also at thrift stores. Actors such as Marlon Brando and James Dean started to appear on screen wearing jeans too, so youth started to dress like these cult figures. This period was very important and changed the mindset of jeans as it was no longer only a workwear garment.

When Bar Tacks Became Standard On Jeans

In 1966 a new invention was added to jeans, bar tacks. Bar tacks are a series of stitches used to reinforce areas of a garment that may be subject to stress. So, they replaced rivets on some areas of the design of the jeans. Bar tacks can be seen nowadays for example on the crotch, and back pockets, but also belt loops are fastened with this stitching technique.

Jeans As We Know Them Today

As you can read the design of a pair of jeans constantly changed. The described changes are the most common and big changes, but there were more small changes too such as the position of the coin/watch pocket, which was first fastened on the waistband (most of the time). Another key detail that is constantly changing is the fit of jeans. In the beginning, jeans were wide-legged with a high waist, but over time this has changed constantly and still does.

Remember when the slim-fit jeans made his entrance? Most people were wearing more straight wide fits around 20 years ago, the slim fit jeans was not common to wear, only if you were a rocker. These days every brand is carrying slim fits, and they became even slimmer and slimmer each year. This is also because the denim fabric changed heavily. While the first miner pairs were made of cotton, these days denim fabrics with stretch are key, so made with elastane, lycra, and acrylic materials.

Today, the key features of most jeans are still five pockets, two legs, belt loops, rivets, bar tacks, and buttons or a zip fly. Classic design elements of a classic piece of garment that is here to stay forever!

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This article was created for and published on Calik Denim’s website. Go for more denim inspiration articles to their website here:

Written by Wouter Munnichs
I'm the founder of Long John. Next to running this daily magazine, I'm working as a freelance denim specialist for the industry. Titled as 'Denim Influencer 2020' by Rivet 50. Celebrated my 10th anniversary with Long John in 2021.