Jean-e-ology: Tracing the role of the riveted work pant

By Dale Peacock, Photography Editor

Genes determine what a person looks like, but jeans determine a person’s image.

One hundred and twenty-six years ago jeans entered the clothing scene, little more than a lackluster necessity for the hard-working miner.  Today, jeans are one of the most popular pieces of clothing in the average college student’s wardrobe.

Past

The story of the jean is as American as it gets.  It begins in the West, during the days of the gold rush and the frontier.  A Latvian immigrant by the name of Jacob Davis made his living as a tailor in Reno, Nevada.  Davis had a customer who had a habit of ripping the pockets out of his trousers.  As a remedy, Davis put metal fasteners called rivets in the stress points of the trousers and thus the riveted work pant was born.

Worried about others taking his idea, Davis needed a patent.  He approached a business partner, Levi Strauss, about sharing the cost of the patent, as Davis could not afford the $68 that was required to file the patent papers.  Strauss agreed, applied for the patent and they formed Levi Strauss & Co.

On May 20, 1873, Levi Strauss & Co. received the patent for riveted pants.  During this year the first pair of the new riveted trousers was sold.  The exact price for that pair is unknown because all records up to the year 1906 were destroyed in the double-jeopardy fire and earthquake in San Francisco.

Denim work pants existed before this date, but the act of placing rivets in these traditional pants for the first time created what we now call jeans, according to Lynn Downey, a historian for Levi Strauss & Co.

Present

From designer jeans to no-name-brand jeans at the local chain discounter, jeans have finally come into their own.  There are as many different styles, fits, colors, brands and sizes of jeans as there are people in most University classes.  The average number of pairs of jeans that University students own is five, although there are some who own up to 12 pairs, according to a recent survey of University students. 

University students wear jeans for a variety of reasons, the most common being comfort.  Jeans are comfortable, easy to keep, you can wash and dry them without having to iron them, and they can fade and still be functional, said senior Toni Benson. 

Many students have a preferred brand of jeans, and many have a specific pair that has earned the title of favorite.  Freshman Angela Allen’s favorite pair of jeans is a three-year-old Mossimo pair. 

“They are broken in like a horse, they fit just right and are loose enough.”

Dr. Connie Michalos, assistant professor in English, recalls her favorite pair of jeans, a 12-year-old pair of Wranglers that she still wears. 

“My favorite pair of jeans belonged to my daughter.  She grew.  I didn’t.”

Jeans have stood the test of time and wear and tear.  Kim Shelby, freshman, has had a pair of jeans for six years.

“I’ve had them since the eighth grade and they are tattered and worn.  They are awesome.”

There are a variety of places students shop for jeans – from department stores and clothing retailers to outlet malls and second-hand or resale shops.  Some students prefer, however, to partake of other peoples’ clothing.

“My favorite place to ‘shop’ for jeans is in my brother’s roommate’s closet,” said junior Michelle Cavazos.

Students, however fond they may be of jeans, know there are some places they just should not wear them.  The most common places students listed as places that they would not wear jeans were church, work, formal occasions, weddings and job interviews.  Students most often noted that it was just inappropriate, or that it was the way that they were raised.

Dr. Renata Nero, associate professor in psychology, echoed the idea that there is a specific time and place for jeans. 

“I would not wear jeans to work.  I’m old-fashioned in that regard.  If it was a designated casual day I would wear jeans.  Otherwise, no.”

Future

No one knows what the future will hold for jeans, but some students have a bit of insight as to what it might look like.  Bell-bottoms, variations in fit, embossed and embroidered jeans, more colors, even tight-rolled jeans (again) are among some of the predictions for the future of jeans. 

“Jeans change from generation to generation but I hope they are always available in a variety of styles,” said freshman Lisa Reed.

Others said they believe no matter what the future of fashion holds for jeans they will never go out of style, and they will remain as timeless in the future as they have for the past 125 years.

This is the story in its page-layout, with info-graphic, photo illustration, and quote-outs.

This is the story in its page-layout, with info-graphic, photo illustration, and quote-outs.