by Jamison Aweau / June 20, 2013
Over the last 160 years blue jeans have woven their way into American and even world culture. Classless, utilitarian, and yet classically stylish, jeans have been worn by prisoners, plumbers, and presidents alike.
Today, nothing could be more mainstream than denim, but jeans used to be the badge of the rebel, the man who broke from the traditional dress of society and rejected the old way of doing things. Rebels of all types have flocked to denim, starting in the 1940s with rule-breaking college youth who wore them against the wishes of their parents to James Dean in the classic film Rebel Without a Cause to the Greasers in S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. Rebellious youth have for the last 60 years found a kindred spirit in denim, and will for at least another 60.
Levi Strauss and Co - Founded in 1853 by Levi Strauss in San Francisco, the company started as a dry goods wholesaler but quickly found its place in history when a tailor named Jacob Davis partnered with the company to create a superior pair of pants that utilized copper rivets to reinforce areas of the jeans that commonly tore under heavy stress. Patent number 139,121 was awarded in 1873 and the rest is history. Utilizing the best denim in the world at the time, Levi Strauss and Co established itself as a beacon of quality for next 150+ years.
In 1890, lot number 501 was assigned to the waist overalls with the copper rivets and button fly. Today you can buy the same jeans, minus a few details introduced over the years because of changes in menswear style (suspender buttons are gone) and the requirements of wartime rationing boards (the back buckleback). Shop a few different pairs of Levi’s here.
Lee Company - H.D. Lee was a man who headed west after starting a bright business career on the East Coast only to have it derailed by bad health. Against the advice of his doctor, Lee headed to the opportunity he saw in Kansas, where he founded Lee Mercantile in 1890. Seizing on the lack of local quality goods and the natural central location of Salina, KS, Lee pushed his work wear division and the Union-All jumpsuit became his flag product. It sold like hotcakes, in part because the designers catered to the men wearing them and made them easy to slip on and off and innovated with the now classic zipper.
Lee has continued to grow over the last century, in large part to smart marketing and sponsorships including the founding of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. By closely associating itself with the American Southwest, the jeans built a strong and loyal base among the western crowd. Shop a pair of Lee Jeans here.
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