41 Denim Facts: History And Other Cool Details That Will Amaze You

Martha Martins
Oct 13, 2023 By Martha Martins
Originally Published on Feb 18, 2022
Denim bottoms
Age: 3-18
Read time: 8.8 Min

The sheer mention of denim conjures images of a hip and casual look, perhaps a pair of blue jeans teamed with a t-shirt.

The clothing item synonymous with easy-going fashion began as workwear for laborers and cowboys. Standing today, it may be slightly difficult to imagine that Levi's coveted jeans were initially made for mineworkers who complained of pant pockets ripping off!

The invention of denim goes back to the 19th century. However, the most significant event in denim history was when Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis obtained a patent for putting rivets on denim trousers.

Although denim was initially popular only among cowboys and miners, Hollywood helped glamorize the classic blue jeans in the '20s and '30s. Soon, denim became symbolic of counterculture and later became part of high fashion. The iconic denim jeans have become a must-have clothing element globally.

As we know them today, denim jeans have come a long way. Read on to revisit the history of the denim fabric and explore its types, properties, and more!

History And Invention Of Denim

The origin of the first denim jeans dates back to the 1800s. In the 1800s, the term 'jean' represented a twill weave material used in trousers. While historians are still divided over the actual birthplace of denim, it is widely believed that denim or blue jeans were initially made in Nîmes, France. The invention of denim was somewhat unintentional.

  • The fabric weavers of Nîmes attempted to replicate a specific cotton fabric called Jeane, named after the Italian city of Genoa. In an unsuccessful attempt to imitate the Jeane fabric, the weavers developed a twill-weaved sturdy fabric. It had a unique weaving pattern with the weft threads passing under the warp.
  • The weavers left the weft threads white and gave the warp yarn dark blue using indigo dye. The result was a never-seen-before fabric with white on one side and a unique blue color on the other. The fabric was named 'Serge de Nîmes' which translates to 'twill of Nîmes.'
  • On May 20, 1873, Levi Strauss, a wholesale dry goods merchant from San Francisco, and Jacob Davis, a tailor, obtained a US patent on the process of putting sturdy rivets on the blue denim jeans. Hence, the classic indigo-dyed Levi Strauss denim jeans were born.
  • The riveted denim trousers catered to the needs of miners and other laborers who were dissatisfied with their pant pockets frequently ripping off due to constant use.
  • Strauss made some design improvements by adding belt loops, zippers, and double-arched orange stitching.
  • With Strauss and Davis's patent ending in 1890, several other denim jean makers like OshKosh B'Gosh, Blue Bell, and Lee Mercantile entered the market.
  • The indigo dye imparts the iconic blue hue to the denim fabric. One of the oldest dyes to be used in the textile and fashion industry, indigo was initially obtained from the indigo plant called Indigofera tinctoria. It was only after German chemist Adolf von Baeyer devised a method to synthesize natural indigo in 1883 that the dye was available for mass production.
  • Most of the indigo dye used today is synthetic. Its unique properties allow acid wash and stonewash processes to be easily applied to denim jeans for a worn-out appearance.

Types Of Denim

The indigo-dyed denim jeans are not the only denim fabric available in the market. Check out this list of some of the popular types of denim fabric and some of the most popular denim style trends for everyday casual wear.

  • 100% cotton denim: Versatile and durable, 100% cotton denim is the normal denim without elastane. It is the real denim that doesn't quite stretch.
  • Sanforized denim:Sanforized denim fabrics are processed after dyeing. So they do not shrink after the first wash.
  • Raw denim: This is also known as dry denim, unwashed denim, or unsanforized denim. Raw denim doesn't undergo any washing or treatment after dyeing. Therefore, dry denim fabric can shrink about 20% after the first wash.
  • Stretch denim: Stretch denim is used to make skinny jeans. Stretch denim incorporates synthetic elastane fiber such as spandex to give the clothing a stretch. The stretchability of the denim depends on the percentage of elastane in it.
  • Washed denim: Acid-washed denim or marble denim has a striking washed or worn-out appearance. To achieve this effect, chlorine-soaked pumice stones are added to the denim washing process, followed by rinsing, softening, and drying. Chafing from the stones produces the typical washed look. Other wash methods include bleach wash and enzyme wash.
  • Colored denim: While synthetic indigo is a popular choice for dying jeans blue, other colors like gray, black, pink, green, red, etc., are produced from sulfur dying or other dying processes.
  • Lightweight denim: This type of denim has a plain weave and is preferred for making summer clothing or blouses.
  • Selvedge denim: Popular as high-quality denim, selvedge or self-edge denim has a tightly-woven orange or red band at the edges. The top producer of selvedge denim is Japan.
  • Waxed reverse denim: Mostly used to make bags and outdoor gears, waxed-reverse denim has a wax coating on the reverse side. The wax imparts water resistance.
  • Poly denim: Poly denim incorporates a certain percentage of polyester fibers. Mixing denim with polyester gives the clothing a smooth and durable finish with limited stretchability.
  • Other denim types include crushed denim, polycore denim, bull denim, ecru denim, thermo denim, double-dyed denim, and many more.
  • Denim is also classified according to its weight and the yarn made with it. Heavy-weight denim will be above 10.5 oz/sq yd (356 g/sq m). Open-end yarn denim fabrics are the weakest, while ring-spun yarn denim is regarded as the strongest and most durable.
  • When it comes to wearing jeans, you can choose from numerous styling options. Skinny jeans are typically made of stretchable denim with elastic fabric. Skinny jeans have a tapered end and fit snugly around the thighs and hips.
  • Baggy jeans have a wide leg opening with a loose fit along the thighs and hips, while mom jeans align with an old-school fashion trend. Mom jeans are high-waisted and have a loose fit around the crotch and hips.
  • Ripped jeans are usually made from distressed or washed denim and have intentional rips in different areas such as the legs, hems, pockets, or around the knees. Bootcut jeans, however, have a wide leg opening with a relatively narrow fit around the thighs, hips, and knees.
  • Contrary to the usual jeans cut, dad jeans have a relaxed fit around the thighs, taper and loosen from the knee down, and sit higher on the waist. Boyfriend jeans have a baggy fit, and the excess length is usually folded into a cuff.
  • Bell bottom jeans are usually low-rise jeans with wide, flaring legs. The jeans have a snug fit up to the knee, while the hem resembles a bell shape. Cigarette jeans are close-fitting jeans with a straight cut from the knee to the ankle. As evident from its name, tapered jeans narrow down towards the ankle, and the hem width at the ankle is lesser than at the knee.

Environmental Impacts Of Denim

Although denim has become a wardrobe staple for most consumers, the environmental impacts of denim cannot be overruled.

  • Producing a pair of jeans requires about 2,200 gallons (10,000 l) of water. It is because the material used to make denim is cotton, and cotton cultivation demands massive quantities of water. At a time when several parts of the world are hit by an acute water crisis, the concern is serious.
  • Denim pollutes the environment as well. As per estimates, a pair of Levi's jeans emits around 73 lb (33.1 kg) of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, almost the same as driving 620 mi (998 km) in a car. The reason for this massive carbon footprint is that most denim production centers are located in China and India, where the primary source of electricity is coal.
  • The synthetic indigo used in making blue jeans has potentially poisonous substances such as cyanide. Factories often dump the chemical-laden wastewater into rivers, thereby polluting natural water bodies.
  • The environmental impact of denim doesn't end with the production. Even washing jeans at homes releases chemicals and microfibers that contaminate waterways. Disposing of jeans poses an additional environmental threat. The buttons, rivets, and metal zips do not degrade and are very difficult to recycle. As a result, the denim waste accumulates and further pollutes the land.
  • People who work at denim factories run severe health risks. For instance, sandblasted jeans have a worn look produced by spraying sand against denim using a high-pressure hose. Inhaling the sand particles can cause a severe lung disease known as silicosis.
Blue denim jacket isolated over white

Properties Of Denim

Apart from the fashion aspect, what makes denim such a popular clothing material? Let's look at some of its properties to understand the reason behind the boom in the denim industry.

  • Denim fabrics primarily consist of cotton fibers woven together tightly. They have a typical twill weave pattern that sets them apart from other cotton materials. The twists of the cotton yarn impart denim its three main characteristics: strength, durability, and thickness.
  • The tightly woven cotton fibers make denim thick and protect them from wear and tear. The thickness of the material makes denim relatively weighty, ideal for making jeans and jackets.
  • Another property of denim is its stiffness which largely depends on the specific denim type. For example, mid-wash denim will be soft, whereas raw denim will be relatively stiff.

Did you know?

  • Calvin Klein was the first designer to show blue jeans on the runway.
  • Levi Strauss never wore a pair of jeans, even though he is the creator of Levi's.
  • The oldest pair of jeans was discovered in 1998 in an old mine.
  • A label was sewn onto a clothing item for the first time in 1936. It was a red flag stitched next to the back pocket of Levi's jeans. The orange thread stitching on Levi's jeans is a trademark, and the orange thread is specifically used to match the shade of the copper rivets.
  • The small pocket sewed inside the larger pocket of jeans was initially meant to carry a pocket watch.
  • Whiskers are the thin fading lines on jeans that you'll usually see around the front pocket area. They result from creases.
  • North Korea regards blue jeans as illegal because it symbolizes American imperialism and capitalism.
  • Blue jeans stood as a symbol for different things at different times. For instance, jeans in the '50s and '60s were associated with rebellions and countercultures. Again, the popularity of cowboy films and the subsequent addition of jeans to celebrity wardrobes stood for individualism and respect for hard work. On the contrary, the '80s and '90s saw the rise of designer jeans and denim inspired by hip-hop.

We Want Your Photos!
We Want Your Photos!

We Want Your Photos!

Do you have a photo you are happy to share that would improve this article?
Email your photos

More for You

See All

Written by Martha Martins

Bachelor of Arts specializing in Linguistics

Martha Martins picture

Martha MartinsBachelor of Arts specializing in Linguistics

Martha is a full-time creative writer, content strategist, and aspiring screenwriter who communicates complex thoughts and ideas effectively. She has completed her Bachelor's in Linguistics from Nasarawa State University. As an enthusiast of public relations and communication, Martha is well-prepared to substantially impact your organization as your next content writer and strategist. Her dedication to her craft and commitment to delivering high-quality work enables her to create compelling content that resonates with audiences.

Read full bio >