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How Have Jeans Stayed so Popular Through the Years?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 21, 2024
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The iconic blue denim trousers known as jeans are found all over the world in a variety of cuts and styles. They have been in demand since the mid 1800s, when they were first released onto the market. Their sales exploded in 1873, when rivets were introduced, making them much sturdier. Hundreds of companies today make jeans ranging in style and price, and their popularity seems unlikely to wane, although various styles may fall in and out of fashion. This is probably because they are versatile, sturdy, and culturally symbolic.

In order to understand the popularity of jeans, it helps to examine their history. Originally, these trousers were known as genes, because they were worn by the sailors of Genoa. They were made from a variety of fabrics until the 1600s, when they began to be made from blue-dyed Serge de Nimes, or “cloth from Nimes,” a fabric woven from cotton and dyed with indigo. The French fabric quickly became known as denim, and sturdy work pants made from denim became very popular with sailors. The fabric wore well, was comfortable, and was reasonably affordable.

In 1850, an immigrant living in the midst of the California gold rush named Levi Strauss had several rolls of denim fabric, or so the story goes at the Levi Strauss Company. Realizing the demand for solid work pants made from hard wearing fabric, he started releasing denim jeans, as well as another version made from a heavy cotton “duck.” The duck proved to be unpopular, because it remained stiff and uncomfortable even after many washings, but the denim trousers were a hit. In 1873, an inventor in Nevada named Jacob Davis added copper rivets to the pants at areas of high stress to prevent them from splitting. Because he was unable to afford a patent, he approached Strauss, who patented riveted jeans under both their names.

Jeans were initially very popular among the lower working class. The pants were affordable, very sturdy, and built to last. Several basic cuts ensured that the pants could fit and function well on the job site, and the trousers quickly became a staple for laborers. In the 1920s, when members of society began to express interest in the lives of the working poor, some middle class youth adopted jeans as daily wear. However, they didn't explode on the popular front until the 1940s and 1950s, when famous movie stars wore them in films and while out in public.

In an effort to ape their favorite movie stars, many members of the American public started wearing jeans, and the fad spread overseas. More manufacturers started to offer the trousers in a dizzying array of cuts, and by the 1960s, they were standard issue for members of the '60s counterculture. Although the original jeans were designed as work pants, modern varieties can be found in an assortment of styles and levels of darkness suitable for numerous occasions. Generally, they are banned from formal events and many workplaces, but the pants can be seen on the legs of popular movie actors and actresses, and in the windows of most boutiques, suggesting that they have a firm place in American culture.

It is likely that jeans remain popular because of their versatility. They can be made loose fitting and comfortable, form fitting to flatter the figure, or practical for working on a farm or at a construction site. Flared bottoms can accommodate people yearning for a 1960s style, while more angular cuts began to appear in the 1990s, and there are numerous cuts to choose from for people of all ages. These trousers are designed for men and women of all shapes and sizes, and most Americans have several pairs in the dresser to use as a practical pant which pairs with a wide variety of shirts and shoes. Other nations have picked up the American fashion as well, making it unlikely that they will ever fade from the public eye.

BeautyAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a BeautyAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By bear78 — On Nov 18, 2012

I think jeans have stayed popular because they can be transformed into different styles very easily.

I remember when I was growing up, high waist, wide leg flare jeans were popular. Then slowly, the waist was lowered and the legs became more and more tight-fitting. I think the fact that jeans can be altered quickly and easily to changing fashion styles is a huge advantage. I'm sure my great grand-kids will also be wearing jeans.

By fify — On Nov 17, 2012

Wow, I can't believe jeans have been around since the 1800s. Has any other clothing item lasted so long?

By candyquilt — On Nov 16, 2012

It's a nice article but I still don't understand why jeans are so popular. They are so uncomfortable!

I think most of us don't even realize how uncomfortable jeans are because we have always worn them. But try wearing something like a salwar (loose pants from Southeast Asia) for a day and you will know how unbelievably uncomfortable jeans are.

So I guess comfort isn't really one of the reasons for their popularity.

By anon278299 — On Jul 05, 2012

Jeans have remained popular because most of the population is low to middle class, and most of those classes wear jeans. Upper class people, even the youth, wear them.

By cafe41 — On Jan 06, 2011

Sunny27-I agree with you. What I don’t like are the low rise jeans that you see everyone wearing. They are really not that comfortable and when you bend over people can see your underwear which is really unseemly.

If women would wear a longer top then it would not look so bad but this is usually not the case.

By Sunny27 — On Jan 05, 2011

Crispety-I remember using maternity jeans when I was pregnant. They were really comfortable and had an expandable cotton pouch that made the transition into maternity jeans easy.

I got my jeans at Peas in a Pod and Mimi Maternity. I normally did not wear jeans, but these were really comfortable. The only jeans that I did like were the acid wash 501 Levi Jeans. Those were the absolute the best.

By Crispety — On Jan 04, 2011

I like the wide leg jeans. They tend to be more flattering because they even out your legs and draw the eye down which makes you appear thinner.

Women’s jeans can be really formed fitting like the skinny jeans. These jeans have a tapered leg which makes the pants look like if they are painted on.

I remember that in the eighties baggy jeans were all the rage. They had pleats on the front and were actually very unflattering because they made you look heavier than you were.

By DentalFloss — On Dec 12, 2010

While the rise of designer jeans shows just how different the style has become from its day-labourer background, at the same time the new luxury jean concept shows that most people realize what Levi Strauss already know in the 1800s- denim pants are ridiculously versatile. They can be worn with all sorts of other fabrics, can be dyed any number of blue shades, and are durable in any number of cuts.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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