Known for its sturdiness and longevity of wear, denim as a fabric long seemed more suited for workmen’s clothes than for fashion, which traditionally celebrated the luxurious, rare and beautiful. Cotton twill most commonly dyed with indigo, denim was first produced in the French city of Nîmes—“denim” deriving from “serge de Nîmes.” The hardiness of the fabric made it appealing to laborers for wear as over garments like smocks and overalls. A similar yet thinner and poorer quality fabric that was produced in Genoa at the same time became known as “jeans” (from the French name for Genoa, Gênes) that was sewn into blue trousers for the Genoese navy and farm workers (the predecessor of our “blue jeans”). In 1872 a tailor in Nevada—Jacob W. Davis—used the heavier denim to make a part of study work trousers, which he reinforced with copper rivets at the pocket. Much stronger than any other work wear available in the American West, Davis was so overcome with orders that he reached out to the wholesaler he ordered the denim from, Levi Strauss. They became partners and patented the design. The quintessential American jean was born. Denim and jeans remained the domain of the working class for almost one hundred years—except for a few high style forays—before becoming an integral part of fashion in the 1970s.

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