Levi Strauss jeans 140 years of history
Undoubtedly, the jeans phenomenon is a big even in the history of dress, and not only in the United Sates. Indeed, the habit of wearing jeans is – along with the computer, the copying machine, rock music, polio vaccine, and the hydrogen bomb – one of major contributions of the United States to the postwar world at large.
Before the nineteen-fifties, jeans were worn principally in the West and Southwest of the United States, by children, farmers, manual laborers when on the job, and of course, cowboys. There were isolated exceptions – for example, artists of both sexes took to blue jeans in and around Santa Fe, New Mexico, in the nineteen-twenties and – thirties; around 1940, the male students at Williams college (not far from Williams) adopted them as a uniform, though only for wear on campus.
But it was not until the nineteen-fifties when James Dean and Marlon Brando wore jeans in movies about youth in revolt against parents and society that jeans acquired the ideological baggage necessary to proper them a national fame.
Fame came quickly, and it was not long before young Americans had become so attached to their jeans that some hardly ever took them off. According to a jeans authority, a young man in the North Bronx with a large family attained some sort of record by continuously wearing the same pair of jeans, even for bathing and sleeping, for over eight months. Eventually, as the entire world knows, the popularity of jeans spread from cowboys and anomic youths to adult Americans of virtually every age and socio-political posture, including Jimmy Carter, when he was a candidate for the presidency.
Jeans became one of the three leading targets of hijackers, along with liquor and cigarettes. Estimates of jeans sale in the United States vary wildly. According to the most conservative figures, put out by the leading jeans manufacturer, Levi Strauss & Company, of San Francisco, annual sales of jeans of all kinds in the United States by all manufacturers in 1957 stood at around a hundred and fifty million pairs, while for 1977 they came to over five hundred million, or considerably more than two pairs for every man, woman and child in the country.
Overseas, jeans had to wait slightly for their time to come. American Western movies and the example of American servicemen from the West and Southwest stationed abroad, who as soon as the Second World War ended, changed directly from their service uniforms into blue jeans started a fad for them among Europeans in the late nineteen-forties. But the fad remained a small one, partly because of the unavailability of jeans in any quantity. Being short of denim, the rough, durable, cotton will of which basic jeans are made, they were unable to undertake overseas expansion.
Gradually, though, denim production in the United States increased, and meanwhile demand for American-made jeans became so overwhelming that in parts of Europe a black market for them developed.
American jeans manufacturers began exporting their product in a serious way in the early nineteen-sixties. At first, the demand was greatest in Germany, France, England, and the Benelux nations; later spread to Italy, Spain, and Scandinavia, and eventually to Latin America and the Far East. By 1967, jeans authorities estimate a hundred and ninety million pairs of jeans were being sold annually outside the United States. In the late nineteen-seventies, estimated jeans sales outside the United States had doubled in a decade to 380 million pairs, of which perhaps a quarter were now made by American firms in plants abroad. The fastest growing jeans market was probably Brazil.
Princess Anne of Great Britain, and Princess Caroline, of Monaco, wore jeans. Also, King Hussein of Jordan used to wear them at home in his palace. All in all, it is now beyond doubt that in size and scope the rapid global spread of the habit of wearing blue jeans. In fact, it is an event without precedent in the history of human attire.
Levi Strauss jeans 140 years of history