J IS FOR JEANS
BY: SPENCYR ARONSON & SAM AGULNICK
COVER ART: JULIANNA LUKACS
J is for Jeans: few things are as universal and versatile as they are. From light to dark, cropped to flare, low-rise to high-rise, the options are endless. Jeans are unarguably a fashion staple in any wardrobe, regardless of their form. Starting with their creation in 1873 by Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis, jeans have become an iconic symbol of effortless yet timeless style.
The tried and true nature of jeans as a global closet staple has not changed since their inception; however, the term "jeans'' itself has changed significantly in context since it was first introduced. The term originated from Italy, specifically in the city of Genoa, a place where cotton corduroy, called either jean or jeane, was manufactured. As the product's popularity rose exponentially, the Republic of Genoa began exporting the fabric throughout Europe. Weavers from the French city of Nimes tried to copy the unique fabric but ultimately failed in their efforts. The fabric they ended up with is known today as denim, which directly translates to "de Nimes'' or "from Nimes." It is important to note the distinction between jeans and denim. The term “jeans” refers to a specific type of pants made from denim fabric.
The invention of jeans took off in 1871, when tailor Jacob Davis of Reno, Nevada, encountered an obstacle in creating durable pants for miners working in the California Gold Rush. The original pants Davis made weren't tough enough to handle rough mining conditions; specifically, the pockets and the button fly were constantly falling off. To strengthen the product, Davis reinforced the pocket corners of the jeans with metal rivets, a type of mechanical fastener. After gaining popularity, Davis sought to trademark his idea yet lacked the funds. Then Levi Strauss came in. As a German immigrant who had recently opened a branch of his family's dry-goods store, he was able to assist Davis financially. The two men took out a patent on this improved garment model and began working as partners.
As the demand for jeans continued to rise, Strauss served as head of the business operations, while Davis acted as the production manager, supervising the initial factory of around 450 employees. Jeans became a fashionable, arguably necessary commodity, and even though the patent expired in 1890, Levi Strauss & Co. was already set up for long-term success. The company soon introduced a new, more flexible fabric—blue denim—to go with their metal rivets. This revolutionary idea proved to be the combination of comfortability and durability that would shape American wardrobes for more than a century. Specifically, the 1890's creation of the iconic Levi's 501 styles led to denim jeans taking over the global fashion market. In recent years, jeans have continued to dominate the fashion industry; the global market for denim jeans was estimated at $63.5 billion in 2020 and is projected to reach a revised size of $87.4 billion by 2027.
With countless styles, washes, and cuts, there are types of jeans for anyone. Recently, brands have made significant moves to add greater size inclusivity for jeans, making them accessible to consumers who do not fit straight-sized measurements. Abercrombie & Fitch, an iconic denim-based brand that attracted popularity in the early 2000s, is making a comeback by revolutionizing jean sizing. The company has recently increased jeans' versatility by offering them in different lengths, from extra short and long, and a more extensive size range, starting at a size 23 and ranging up to a 37. With Abercrombie selling high quality jeans at a relatively affordable price point, it is no surprise TikTok videos showcasing their 90s high-rise jeans-style sell them out in mere minutes across color washes, thus exemplifying jeans' broad reach and popularity.
The main reason denim jeans have stood the test of time is their versatility: they can be dressed up or down. Want to go to a nice restaurant? Throw on straight jeans with a leather blazer and some pumps. Going to the grocery store? An oversized sweatshirt pairs perfectly with a baggy pair of boyfriend jeans. This is why Davis and Strauss's iconic jeans have gone on to be replicated and revised by thousands of fashion companies. J is for jeans, and they are here to stay.