I know why “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” is such a big hit. It’s the jeans. From teenagers to baby boomers, we can all relate. Slipping into a comfortable pair of jeans instantly lowers blood pressure, gets us humming, and on our best days, makes us feel sexy.
When I was in high school, the competition was between Levi’s®, Lee® and Wrangler®. These days, teenagers have a greater variety to choose from. But I still love those originals.
In my Westerns, my men wear Levi’s. If they’re Mounties, they wear breeches while on duty, but off, they’re all in denim. There’s nothing like a man wearing only a pair of jeans, is there?
Levi’s originated in San Francisco during the California Gold Rush. They were still popular twenty-five years later during the Klondike Gold Rush, where my books are set. When I recently visited San Francisco, I discovered Levi’s flagship store in Union Square, the heart of the city. That’s it behind the palm trees at the top of the stairs.
In 1873, Levi Strauss was the first in the world to design a pair of blue jeans. He had a business partner, Jacob Davis, a tailor who came up with the idea for adding metal rivets. When their patent for metal rivets expired in 1891, dozens of other garment manufacturers added rivets to their jeans and jackets.
Levi Strauss was born in Bavaria, Germany. When he was a boy (named Loeb at birth), he and his family emigrated to New York City. They ran a dry goods store. In 1853 when he was twenty-three, Levi moved to San Francisco. He opened a wholesale dry goods store of his own. Levi outfitted many smaller stores that were springing up all over the west coast. Items included jackets, overalls, coats, umbrellas and bolts of fabric.
Blue jeans were originally designed to withstand the wear-and-tear of the gold fields. The rivets gave extra strength to the pockets and kept the seams from ripping, while the denim twill weave was extra strong to withstand the assault of hard labor.
Denim twill weave gets its strength due to the diagonal ribbing that can be seen on the reverse side of the cloth. Maybe that’s why jeans mold to thighs and backsides like a great pair of leather gloves.
What’s the difference between denim and jean fabric?
During weaving, denim has one thread that’s white, one that’s colored. Jean fabric has both threads in the same color. Hence those cheap imitations your mother tried to spring on you as a child. “Oh, honey, they’re the same!”
The origin of the word denim is disputed. Some say it came from England, some France. Others say it was a mispronunciation of the French town where serge fabric was manufactured, “Serge de Nimes.” The debate continues.
There’s no clear reason why we began to interchange the word ‘denim’ with ‘blue jeans.’ In 1873, Levi’s blue jeans were originally referred to as ‘waist overalls.’
Regular ‘overalls’ (the kind with a bib) got their name because they were worn on top of trousers during work. In Britain, overalls were called dungarees. Dungarees got their name from the course calico cloth they were sewn from, originally from a place in India called Dongari Killa where the British had a fort. Dungaree cloth was thin and often poorly woven, and not to be confused with denim.
Blue jeans have always been a symbol of youth and rebellion. According to the Levi Strauss & Co. website, Bing Crosby was a big fan. In 1951 he went hunting with a friend in Canada, but when he tried to check into his Vancouver hotel, the front desk clerk wouldn’t let him in because his denims were not considered high class. The clerk didn’t recognize America’s most beloved singer. Luckily for Mr. Crosby, he was finally recognized by the bell hop. When Levi Strauss & Co. heard of his plight, they sewed him a tuxedo jacket, made of denim, of course. By 1958, newspapers claimed that ninety percent of America’s youth wore jeans everywhere except “in bed and in church.”
Jeans are more than a pair of pants. They’re a symbol of how we feel about ourselves. Don’t many women have a story about shedding a few pounds so they can get back into theirs? Valerie Bertinelli says so in her biography, LOSING IT.
Two years ago, I cleaned out my closet and finally threw out a pair I was saving…for over twenty years! I hadn’t realized it had been that long. They were already tight when I first bought them, and as soon as I had a glass of water, they no longer fit at all. Why was it so hard to throw them out? Maybe they were a symbol of my youth.
But you know what? Over the last few years, I’ve replaced them with some great below-the-belly-button jeans I hesitated to try before. (Mature women know what I’m talking about. Was I the only holdout?) The new ones look hipper than those other ones ever could and make me feel like a foxy mama.
Today I went shopping with my teenage daughter and she was thrilled to get a new pair of “skinny jeans.” Our parents used to say our jeans were painted on—today when I looked at my daughter, I knew how they felt looking at us.
So what about you? Do you have a favorite pair of jeans in your closet? Or a favorite piece of clothing that makes you feel great when you wear it?
What do your men wear?
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