What Makes Blue Jeans Blue

If I were to tell you to go inside your closet and look through all of your clothes you would probably see some famous names like Ralph Lauren or Tommy Hilfiger, but what about Loeb Strauss? Well, you probably are unfamiliar with the last name mentioned, but Loeb’s American name might ring a few bells. Ever heard of Levi Strauss? The Strauss family immigrated to the United States from Germany in the 1800s, and shortly after that Levi, his mother, and two sisters to New York City in hopes of joining his brothers in their dry goods business. Strauss’ most notable contribution to American society is without a doubt the denim jean, or blue jean.

Blue jeans that we know and love today were mainly worn by factory workers and other skilled laborers; they didn’t make their way into our closets until the 1950s. Jean fabric was first manufactured in the 1600s in Italy. They were first made for Genoa’s Navy, as the navy wanted it sailors to wear all-purpose pants that could be worn wet or dry. An interesting side note, the sailors’ jeans were washed by dragging them behind the ship, which turned them with. Many people think that the name “blue jeans” comes from the French bleu de Genes or “Genoa blue”, and the fabric used to make the pants was manufactured in Nimes, France, hence the name de Nimes, or denim.

The unique color of denim jeans stems from the fact that the material is dyed with indigo dye. Indigo dye does not bond strongly to some fibers, including wool, which causes the jeans to fade after repeated washing and wearing. Many different methods for the application of indigo onto fabric developed in the 1800s. One of the techniques for dying fabric was called pencil blue because it was applied onto the fabric using a pencil or brush. In 1880, a technique called “the glucose process” came into the picture. It allowed the designer to directly apply the indigo onto the fabric; this was far less expensive than previous methods.

Prior to the 1950s, the mass public did not wear jeans. But in the 1950s teenagers and young adults wore blue jeans to, in a way, protest the conformity of society. Some public venues at the time even banned the wearing of blue jeans inside as they were viewed as “disruptive”. After the tumultuous 1960s and 1970s, the blue jeans made their way into American society and now are symbolic around the world of the American cowboy culture.