Denim is a type of cotton textile, known for its use in blue jeans and other clothing. Denimuses a sturdy twill weave with a characteristic diagonal ribbing. Originally used for workmen’s clothes, denim is now ubiquitous and has even entered the world of high fashion. Nearly everyone has at least one denim garment in the closet these days.

Levi Strauss is credited with making the first blue jeans out of denim in the 1850s, for gold miners in California. In the 1930s and 40s, commercially sold denim workwear became very popular, with new companies such as Dickies and Wrangler joining the trend. Comfortable, durable, and associated with blue collar culture, denim soon became fashionable among the working class youth
throughout the United States. Denim jackets became a fashion statement in the 1950s along with jeans.

Throughout the decades, denim continued to gain a wider market. By the 1970s, women were wearing denim as often as men, and denim skirts and dresses could be found in numerous styles. In the 80s, designer jeans were the rage, and a style once associated with the working class was updated for affluent yuppies. Though denim is still considered a casual material, it is not usually worn for more formal occasions, it is not unusual to see people sporting jeans at high end night clubs, and many designer denim garments cost in the hundreds of US Dollars (USD)

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Origins of the Name

There are various theories about the origin of the term “denim.” The most common theory is that the fabric was originally produced during the Middle Ages in Nîmes, France (under the name of “serge de Nîmes”) and that America shortened it to “denim” in the 1800s. Another theory claims the fabric originated in England.

The term “jeans” or “jean” is has become synonymous with “denim” in today’s terminology, but the terms weren’t always interchangeable. Jeans actually originated in Genoa, Italy, and were made from fustian (a cotton, linen and/or wool blend) instead of denim. Denim was slightly more expensive than jean and was woven from one colored thread and one white thread (jean was woven from two threads of the same color).

Levi Strauss is credited with making the first denim jeans. Strauss was a young German immigrant who went to California in 1853, during the gold rush, to sell a rough canvas to make tents and wagon covers. Prospectors complained that what they really needed were pants that were strong enough to last in the mines; so, Strauss made his first jeans from the rough canvas and then began using denim when the miners complained that the canvas pants chafed. The official birthday of “blue jeans” did not come until 1873, when Strauss and a Nevada tailor named David Jacobs co-patented the idea of using rivets to add strength to the jeans.