No clothing item as assumed more importance in a boy's wardrobe during
the second half of the 20th century than blue jeans.
Blue jeans, a central symbol of modern American culture, were in fact
the creation of a 19th century German immigrant, Levi Strauss. He was
born during 1829 in Buttenheim, Bavaria. Teenage Levi Strauss, his two
sisters and his mother sailed for America in 1847, where they join
half-brothers Jonas and Louis in New York. Levi joined the dry goods
business of his older brothers. Levi in 1853 becomes an American
citizen. He sailed to San
Francisco to take advantage of the gold rush boom. Strauss and his
brother set up their small dry goods store near the waterfront, where they
could easily get shipments from the Strauss brothers back from the east.
The store grows into a
prosperous business by the 1870s.
Levi Strauss discovered rugged pants for miners
made out of sturdy brown canvas. Once this resource was exhausted, he turned
to denim, which he dyed blue to become what is known now as blue jeans.
Then, in 1872 Jacob Davis, a taylor, offered Levi's half of a patent on a
strengthening the seams and rivets of the pants. The company was
patent and Levi's was on its way to making the "improved" jeans.
They begin making copper
riveted "waist overalls" (the old name for jeans) from a sturdy material,
denimin, in San Francisco. Far from today's fashionable image, the original
overalls quickly became popular among laborers because of their almost indestruable
nature. By 1873 the company had all of their stitchers under one roof and Davis
managed the production of the jeans. The jeans were so successful that many
competitors began to copy the invention. This lead to many different lawsuits
concerning their patent, which Levi's successfully conquered. A pair of jeans was
selling for only $1.46 in 1879 and became popular for the miners and ranchers in
the West. Throughout the 1880's, Levi Strauss continued to prosper with $2.4
million in sales. During the following decade, Levi's was incorporated and issued
stock to the family members and enpluees.
Only men purchased the overalls and it would have been virtually inceivable to
find women or children from "resptable" families wearing them. The
denim material came from the Amoskeag Mill in New Hampshire. The first
overalls designed for children appeared in 1912. (See "Koveralls" below.)
During the early 20th century the reputation of the company slowly grew.
The company in 1915 received the Highest Award for waist overalls at the
Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. The company
began to purchase denim from Cone Mills in North Carolina. The company
opened aA factory in Frankfort, Indiana to make Koveralls, the first
product sold nationally. This was importantas until the 1920s, Strauss's
products were sold in regional, mostly western markets, and were virtuallybunknown
unknown in the eastern cities.
The Depression which began after the 1920 stock nmarket crash had a
major impact on the company. The demand for Levi Strauss products
declined. Workers at the Valencia Street facility were put on a short
work week to avoid layoffs, and others are given non-manufacturing
tasks such as constructing the hardwood floors that are still in
use today. Although the comopany did not immediately benefit, the hard
wearing overalls were often purchased by many distressed Americans and the
buying patterns set in the 1930s carried over into more prosperous times.
The popularity of blue jeans was aided by
the representation of blue jeans in westerm movies. These movies
spread the word about Levi's, because the actors in them were wearing Levi's.
Since people tend to follow what the stars are wearing, most people of this time
went out and bought a pair of jeans. The year 1936 inscribed the entrance of the
trademarked red "Levi's" tab sewn on the back pocket of the jeans. This was the
first label placed on the outside of a piece of clothing. By 1939 the blue denim
"waist overall" was not just worn by the blue- collar worker, but also by college
students in California and Oregon, who started wearing blue jeans as a fad.
Before long this fad gained status of its own.
The War years (1941-45) in America saw changes in the design
of the waist overalls, due to government mandates regarding
the conservation of raw materials.
Finally, during World War II jeans
were an established part of the war effort. Blue jeans were an essential
commodity for the war effort. At this time blue jeans were only available to
defense workers. It has been noted that this restriction later
contributed to the
success of Levi's. U.S. soldiers and defense workerrs wore their Levi'sŪ
pants and jackets overseas, giving the products their first
international exposure. The popularity of all things America in liberated
countries help lay the ground work for the future spread of blue jeans,
even penetrting the Iron Curtain after the War.
Fashions such a overalls and "T" shirts worn by American soldiers and
sailors spread throughout the country after the war. Levi Strauss dropped
the wholesaling end of the business in order to
concentrate on manufacturing and meet the growing demand. Jeans appear ideal
for children in only a few years after the war are worn by virtually all
The company in the 1950s attempts to expand their market beyound work
clothes for men and play clothes for boys. more focus was placed on the post- war baby boomers and the growing
popularity among jeans created a surge in denim sales. By 1950, Levi's was
marketing jeans with double knees, zippers for people, who did not like the
button fly and lighter blues, a line of causal slacks for men. The 1950's left a
lasting impression for the world of blue jean manufacturers because there were
many changes occurring in the industry. For example, blue jean sales in the
1950's were aided by the appearance of Marlon Brando and James Dean.
When these two men stepped onto the movie screen wearing their blue jeans the
whole world was watching. Their representation of rebellion caused the status of
blue jeans to go from a symbol of the rugged frontier, to a symbol of defiance
towards the adult world. The copmpany conceived of
"Lighter Blues" casual slacks and the "Denim Family" line
mark the company's entry into the sportswear business. Jeans as casual
wear was not immediately accepted. Most American high schools banned them.
A U.S. Army colonel on an American base in Frankfurt, Germany during
military wives from wearing blue jeans, saying it reflected poorly on
the United States. Neither the U.S. or Red Ary, howrver, could stop the spread of
jeansd. Levi'sŪ jeans were exhibited at the "American Fashion Industries
Presentation" in Moscow during 1959, just as the Cold War was reaching a
Levi Strauss was a trend setter in more than a fashion sence. The
company opened a plant in Blackstone, Virginia and
demanded that it be fully integrated. This was contrary to
local custom and before government mandated integration policies. Fashion
was the company's focus in the 1960s and a steady stream of new
products were introduced. Levi Strauss products in 1961 were exhibited
in Paris, the center of world fashion, to help fuel the steadily expanding
international demand. The company introduces pre-shrunk Levi'sŪ jeans
in 1963 and STA-PRESTŪ slacks--a wrinkle free products--in 1964.
The company forms Levi Strauss International in 1965, beginning the
company's expansion into Europe and Asia. The company aired its first
television commercial in 1966. Levi'sŪ jeans are exhibited in
Moscow, Prague, and Warsaw.
The company continues its domestic and marketing program in the 1970s
and 80s, helping to gain acceptance of jeans as fashionable clothes.
The company goes public in 1971. The
first Original Levi'sŪ Stores are opened in Europe during 1983.
LS&CO. was awarded the official outfitter designation for
the U.S. Olympic Team and the Los Angeles Games staff. The "Levi'sŪ
501Ū Blues" television campaign first airs at
the Olympic Games. LS&CO. introduces the DockersŪ Brand in the United
States during 1986. LS&CO received Harvard University's Dively Award for
Corporate Public Initiative.
The company's marketing efforts hasve been enormously successful. However, in the 1970's denim jeans were not just a part of the United States but
a worldwide and cultural phenomenon for everyone. The craze for blue jeans
was growing and there was no end in sight. The year 1977 marked Levi Strauss
& Co. success in becoming the largest clothing maker not just in the United
States, but in the whole world. Then by the early 1980's, it saw some declines in
sales. Then when 1984 was approaching, Levi's thought it would bounce back
into the top spot. Levi's teamed up with the 1984 Olympics to promote its
outerwear division. Unfortunately, sales remained on the down end. This caused
the Levi's to do some major restructuring and cut backs within the company.
Things were looking up in the late 1980's when Levi's introduced its line of
upscale men's pants, Dockers. Finally in 1990 Levi's sales are steadily climbing
because of an increase in innovative finishes, such as bleaching and stonewashing
its blue jeans. Today the introduction of the wide leg jeans and other new designs
are helping Levi's to remain at the top of the apparel industry
Davis, son of Jacob Davis and the superintendent of the Valencia
Street factory, conceived of play clothes for children made out of denim,
a novel idea at the time. He invents "Koveralls," a one-piece
play suit for children.
The use of jeans, except as work clothes,
limited until after the Second World War. Before the war jeans were worn
as work clothes on farms and ranches. American city boys, however, rarely wore jeans.
They generally wore more formal pants, until the 1940s usually knickers. They
were virtually unknown in England and Europe.
American boys after the Second World War began wearing jeans. At
first they were only worn for play. Elementary boys were allowed to wear
them to school, but they were banned at most secondary schools. Interestingly,
despite the fact that jeans wete widely worn by boys of all ages in the
1940s and 50s, they were entirely long pants. Jeans were no available
as short pants. In many cases during the 1950s, boys might play in jean and then dress up in a
short pants suit to go to church or other
more formal occasion. many occasions such as birthday parties might involve suits and ties in the
1940s and even the 50s which now involve casual clothes in more relaxed
Slowly the lowly jeans
became more acceptable. One major factor, of course, was that boys
who had grown up in the 1940s and 50s wearing jeans, did not have the
same attitudes toward them. By the 1970s designer
jeans appeared and were especially popular among girls. Jeans were
worn by boys in the 1950s as long pants. A popular style of cut-off
jeans appeared during the late 1960s. Apparently boys were willing to
wear "cut-offs" emphazing that they were casual wear, but not regular
shorts. Of course most of the "cut-offs" were made that way and not
jeans cut off like mom.
Jeans in the 1990s have become an important fashion statement.
Jeans are now often worn in dressy occasions and not just as casual
clothes. Men and young adults now wear jeans instead of slacks
with sports jackets.
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