A Brief History of Jeans: From Genovese Sailors to Italian Designers

Throughout the ever-evolving history of fashion, styles, colors, and patterns have been mixed and matched to every possible degree. There is one article of clothing, however, that has withstood the test of time… jeans. 

The Early History of Jeans: An Italian Invention?

There are many stories on how jeans apparently came to be, but many believe that the famous pants were a franco-Italian invention. The weavers of Genoa invented the then linen and cotton cloth in the early 16th century for the main purpose of providing sailors with outfits to combat the tempestuous weather on sea. Existing then as a very light brown, Teramo Piaggio, an Italian painter of the late renaissance, was the first to dye the fabric blue in 1538. During that time, goods from different cities and towns would be offloaded at large ports with a mark of their place of origin. The ‘cloth from Genoa’ were offloaded in the port of London, translating the marking to ‘cloth from Jeane’ an English spelling… which of course, led to Jean. The English were very intrigued by a fabric of such strength with such a low price that they imported it in high quantities for their laborers. 

The Jeans and the “American Dream”

The “American Dream” version of jeans was picked up in 1873 when miners needed tough pants to endure the wear and tear of the mine. Levi Strauss & Co obtained a patent on the process of putting rivets in men’s work pants. The young company then created their first pair of jeans in the late 1890’s. Then, in 1915, Strauss partnered with Cone denim, a fabric mills in North Carolina to push his idea even further. The jeans served miners, laborers, farmers, ranchers, and factory workers. Jeans first appeared in American Vogue magazine in 1934, which was precociously when the garment went from a functional work pant to a glamorous fashion statement. By the early 1950’s Hollywood stars were all wanting to achieve the same cool, edgy, rebellious style that all revolved around one thing: jeans. American actors like James Dean and Marlon Brando were not seen on screen without a tight pair of skinny jeans, creating a ‘bad boy’ image associated with the pants. 

Jeans and Fashion Culture in the 1960’s

The craze extended onto a full-on-fad. Cuffs, Flare, Mom jeans, boxy styles, and more became the new it style. In the 1960’s- the era of Flower Power- jeans became the cultural anthem. The jean jacket was born! Embroidery and patches were a very popular way of sharing one’s creativity with others- something that hadn’t been seen before. In 1980, designer denim came into play. Calvin Klein and Gloria Vanderbilt were the first American brands that forefronted the future of designer jeans. Top models appeared in commercials, ad campaigns, and runways wearing denim, denim, and more denim. 

Throughout time, jean styles have been known to come and go, and come back around again. Flared jeans, for the first time in centuries, have been retrieved from the back of the closet, dusted off, and put on. Skinny jeans were in, then out, then in again. Boyfriend jeans have evolved from a comfort effort to a statement piece. Jean trends significantly fluctuate every season as fashion and creativity find new avenues to explore. From low rise to high rise and from blue, to black, to white and everything in between, jeans have found their way into every fashion corner. 

 A Modern Take on Jeans: the Diesel Brand and Renzo Rosso

The diesel engine was invented during the industrial revolution by a German engineer by the name of Rudolf Diesel. Renzo Rosso, an Italian entrepreneur, and businessman, created the Diesel brand in 1978, starting by stitching jeans on a sewing machine at the age of 15. At the time, Diesel was an “alternative energy” and with this name, Ross wanted his brand to be an alternative style of fashion. Ross later attended an industrial textile manufacturing high school, learning the ins and outs of jean creation. Ross once said that he learned marketing from the United States, creativity from Italy, and systems from Germany. 

Diesel is now an Italian clothing company that sells denim, clothing, footwear, bags, and beyond. The line has three different lines: Diesel, Diesel Black Gold, and Diesel Kid. The brand is present in more than 80 countries with 5,000 points of sale, including more than 400 company owned stores. Being a leading pioneer in denim and fashion, Diesel has been known to reimagine the typical blue pants that we’ve all come to know and love. With its intellectual approach to casual wear, the clothing line meets luxury and comfort right in the middle. Diesel’s philosophy of passion, self-expression, and self-exploration is embedded into each piece- giving the customer the confidence to create his or her own path.

Diesel has worked to reimagine the way in which jeans exist in the modern fashion world. By taking an avant garde approach, the clothing line has fore fronted many ambitious yet impressive fashion achievements. Diesel has had a history of “going against the grain” in terms of what is socially acceptable- an international eyebrow raiser. Jean bras, jean underwear, jean shoes are just some examples of their cutting-edge ideas. 

A large reason that Diesel is so strongly linked to the ‘rebellious nature’ is their racy, exhilarating, and ahead-of-the-times advertising campaigns. Their approach to branding is to grab the attention of the viewer, and not let it go. In their 2021 “Diesel X Diesel” collection, where they resurfaced and updated their own vintage pieces, they put out an ad campaign which features models with freakishly large smiles rocking the denim. The creative minds behind Diesel have shown that they know how to capture the essence of their brand in a way that certainly exceeds the now.

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A Brief History of Jeans: From Genovese Sailors to Italian Designers In this post, we're looking at a short history of the denim jeans. Enjoy!
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