The History Of The Wonderful Fabric, Denim!


I thought I would bump up this post so our newer readers can learn about the history of denim.

Isn’t denim just the most amazing fabric out there? It’s versatile, it’s tough, it’s durable, it’s easy to work with, it’s fashionable, it’s warm, the list is endless! Denim is a huge component in the wonderful world of fashion. It’s a staple garment that everyone owns. Denim started out being worn by workers, a very long time ago due to it’s durability and it’s tough texture. Do you wonder where exactly denim comes from? Well keep reading! I have put together an article telling you all about where the gorgeous fabric came from and how it has evolved throughout the years!

Where did the name Denim come from? The word comes from the name of a sturdy fabric called serge, originally made in Nîmes, France, by the Andre family. Denim was originally called serge de Nîmes, it was then soon shortened to Denim.

What exactly is Denim and how is it made? Denim is a rugged cotton twill textile, in which the weft passes under two or more warp fibers. This produces the familiar diagonal ribbing identifiable on the reverse of the fabric, which distinguishes denim from cotton duck. It is a twill-weave woven fabric that uses different colors for the warp and weft. One color is predominant on the fabric surface. Because of this twill weave, it means the fabric is very strong.

What was Denim first used for? Denim was originally used by workers. They wore denim clothes because of it’s durability, it was extremely strong and perfect for their daily jobs, it didn’t wear out easily making it a good fabric for the long run.

How has Denim evolved throughout the years? This is a very important question, one that explains so much about why we wear denim today. Without the history behind denim, we will wonder forever how it became so famous and such a key piece of clothing.

In the 1800’s American gold miners wanted clothes that were strong and did not tear easily. To meet this demand from the miners, a man called Leob Strauss started a wholesale business, supplying clothes to people who required it. Leob and a Nevada tailor joined forces to patent an idea the tailor had for putting rivets on stress points of workman’s waist high overalls, commonly known as jeans. Strauss later changed his name from the rather plain Leob to the extremely recognisable Levi, this is when the brand Levi Strauss was created and is still extremely successful today.


The 1930’s Cowboys often wore jeans in the movies. This made jeans become very popular, as you know how much of an influence clothing in the movies has on every day wear. This lead to a huge increase in people wanting to purchase jeans.

During the 1940’s fewer jeans were made due to World War 2, but American soldiers did introduce them to the world by wearing them when they were off duty as a casual, comfy item of clothing. After the war, rival companies, like Wrangler and Lee, began to compete with Levi’s for a share of the international market.

In the 1950’s Denim became very popular with young people. It was the symbol of the teenage rebellion in TV programmes and movies. James Dean, in the 1955 film Rebel Without a Cause, was a symbol of this. Some schools in the US went so far as to ban students from wearing denim on the premises!


In the 1960’s and 70’s manufacturers started to make different styles of jeans to match the 60’s fashions which included embroidered jeans, painted jeans, psychedelic jeans etc, these were a huge part of the fashion and culture. Think of the 70’s flares with platform shoes, everyone today remembers the 70’s fashion for this, even if like myself, you were not even born then! In many non-western countries, jeans became a symbol of ‘western decadence’ which meant they were very hard to get.

In the 1980’s jeans became a very high fashion clothing. Famous fashion designers like Gucci started making jeans, with their own labels on them. This meant jeans had lost their appeal as a workers fabric now and were classed as a very fashionable item of clothing to own. Because high fashion designers like Gucci had taken jeans on, this meant that jean sales started to rocket, everyone who was anyone had to own them. More and more different types and styles of jeans were created, the flares were dropped and in came the super skinny jeans, acid washes and little Denim jackets. Denim really was taking the fashion industry by storm!


What happened in the 1990’s? Although denim is never completely out of style, it certainly goes out of “fashion” from time to time. The 1990’s youth market wasn’t particularly interested in 501’s and other traditional jeans styles, mainly because their parents: the “generation born in blue” were still wearing them. No teenager in their right mind would be caught dead in anything their parents are wearing, this meant the 1990’s youth turned to other fabrics and styles like cargo pants, khakis and branded sportswear. Since I was born in the late 80’s I definitely can relate to this. Not very many people were wearing jeans when I grew up in the 90’s.

Denim was still in vogue, but it had to be in different finishes, new cuts, shapes, styles, or in the form of aged, authentic, vintage jeans, discovered in markets, and second-hand stores, not conventional jeans stores. Levi Strauss & Co., the No.1 producer of jeans, closed 11 factories throughout the 1990’s due to the sudden decrease in want for their product.

Then what happened during the year 2000 and still is today? Jeans made a huge come back on the catwalk with big name designers like Chanel, Dior, Chloe and Versace adding them to their summer ’99 collections. Jeans were back in fashion! Was it risky for these designers to incorporate jeans back into fashion after the 90’s? It probably was, but I am very thankful they did! Jeans today are the most worn item of clothing ever!

We are over half way through the year 2009 and I can’t believe how much progress denim has made! Every single brand almost has a denim line. Not just designers like Chanel and Dior, other companies have started out purely for jeans, Diesel, Rock & Republic, 7 For All Mankind, True Religion, Nudie, Paige Premium, J Brand… The list is endless! Every year so many new faces in denim are appearing. Current/Elliott are a wonderful example, they created their brand purely for denim and introduced the boyfriend fit back into our lives!

Now articles of clothing such as dresses, shirts, shorts, skirts, coats, jackets and even leggings are produced in Denim. With all of these Denim brands in the market, I think it’s safe to say Denim will not be going anywhere any time soon! It’s here to stay! We are now obsessed with finding the perfect fit and the perfect jean, brands are trying their hardest to accomplish this task!

Denim trends also come back around! Think right now, the flared leg jeans are coming back in fashion as is the 80’s acid wash trend. As the years progress and the style changes, like everything in fashion, it repeats itself. Maybe in about 20 years time the boyfriend jean will be back in fashion!

Now that Denim is such a major part of our lives, many of us out there, like myself, love to create the fading effect and worn in look ourselves! This is where raw denim comes in to play! Raw, unwashed denim, which means we can create our own fades and our own look just by wearing them! You can see our HonestForum members raw denim and how they have progressed and faded through wear here. There are so many types of Denim: Rigid denim which is just 100% cotton, stretch Denim either containing elastane or lycra, Selvage Denim which has stitching on the leg seams inside, not leaving them uncut with raw edges, and more. There are also so many cuts: skinny, straight, bootcut, flare, capri, boyfriend, carrot fit, bell bottoms… Isn’t Denim amazing? I could talk about it forever!

Parts of this information was taken from, &, the rest is my own.
Written by Lorna Burford