Some items were invented for very practical reasons and somehow made it to be style icons. Blue jeans are one of them.
Almost everybody I know possesses at least one pair of jeans. The typical features of jeans are:
- Made of blue denim
- 5 riveted pockets
The first and most famous jeans producer is San Francisco based Levi Strauss & Co.
The Humble Beginnings
Levi Strauss & Co. was founded in 1853 by Levi Strauss, who was born Löb Strauss in Germany, the offspring of a large and poor family. His father died when Löb was just 16 and his mother saw no other option than starting a new life in America. The family arrived at the heyday of the gold rush and young Löb (I guess that was the time he changed his name to Levi as nobody in America could possibly pronounce Löb) became a wholesaler providing soap, tools and other essentials to the gold diggers. He discovered that they needed hard-wearing clothes and started producing overalls and flap trousers made of strong fabric.
But blue jeans as we know them were invented by Jacob Davis a tailor from Reno, Nevada who bought denim from Levi Strauss to sew trousers; mostly for labourers. There are two different stories why he came up with the idea to reinforce the pockets with the same type of rivets that were used for the harness of horses.
The first story tells us that Mr Davis had an overweight customer who always had his trousers torn due to his weight and finally the tailor fixed it by means of a rivet.
To me the second version is more convincing: The most vulnerable parts of trousers were the pockets and they frequently needed to be fixed again. This was probably a boring and not very rewarding business. Jacob Davis found the ideal solution by reinforcing the pockets of every pair of trousers he made. Rivets certainly were the least expensive solution and the most practical one.
The idea went viral and was soon copied by other tailors. Therefore Jacob Davis wanted to patent his invention. The poor tailor he was he could not afford the cost and turned to Levi Strauss for financial backing on which the latter agreed and they filed for the patent.
As visible in the picture below Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss & Co. were granted patent number 139.121 for “fastening pocket openings” on May 20, 1873.
Jacob Davis worked for Levi Strauss & Co. supervising the production of riveted denim trousers until his death in 1908.
This sounds like a happy end, doesn’t it? Just as far as I can see there is no end.
The Story Continues
Although according to the records I found Levi Strauss’ and Jacob Davis’ patent expired in 1908 they had a large competitive edge and are producing jeans to this day.
Other brands have appeared and jeans are still available in different colours and styles.
The really amazing thing is that jeans provide a feeling of individualism although it is the most uniform-like garment one can own. They made it from a poor man’s outfit to the catwalk. I have no idea how this could happen, maybe it is a question to be clarified (or already clarified) by social scientists.
Or do you happen to know the reason?