PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 March, 2010, 12:00am

Out of Europe

Jeans are a classic American invention. They have become so popular that almost every person who can afford them has at least one pair. But, in fact, the American inventor of blue jeans only made one breakthrough. A form of jeans had been worn in Europe for at least 200 years before that.

No one knows for sure where people first started wearing trousers made from denim, a specially woven cotton cloth. But the word jean comes from a French word for an Italian city. Genoa is called Genes in French - and some people say that's where jeans were invented. Others say English working men first wore them in the 1600s.


In 1853, a German immigrant named Levi Strauss opened a shop in San Francisco. One of the things he sold was denim, and one of his customers was a tailor, Jacob Davis. In those days, people expected clothes to last much longer than they do today. Davis's jeans were so tough that the seams on the pockets broke before anything else.

Davis hit upon the idea: why not attach the pockets with metal rivets? His breakthrough was an instant hit. Realising he could make a lot of money, Davis decided to patent his invention, but could not afford the US$68 fee. So he asked Strauss if wanted to go into business. Levi's produced their first riveted blue jeans in 1873.

Rebel, rebel

Levis quickly became the working man's uniform in America. Even the United States Navy used them as a working uniform. They were also used as prison uniforms.

But they did not start their journey into youth fashion until the 1950s.

The turning point was the 1955 movie, Rebel Without a Cause. Its angry 17-year-old protagonist Jim Stark was played by James Dean, who played up his bad-boy image, disobeyed his parents, dated a girl and fought the school bullies. And he wore blue jeans throughout.

From blue to green

A organisation in the United States called Habitat for Humanity is urging people to donate their used blue jeans. They have discovered that denim makes great insulation for homes. They are using the recycled denim to build environmentally friendly homes for survivors of Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed much of New Orleans in 2005.

now do this

1 Jeans is a ... word.

a. French

b. Italian

c. American

2 The first riveted jeans were made in ...

a. Genoa

b. San Francisco

c. Paris

3 Jeans became popular with young people in the ...

a. the 1880s

b. the 1950s

c. the 1970s Compiled by Chris Taylor Answers on page 11 next Monday


March 8

1. c, 2. a, 3. c