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Looking back at traditional and 1980s acid washed Jean jackets.

While blue jeans or denims are a fashion mainstay all year long, in the wintertime, these hardworking and warm pants are the cold weather choice.  What is the history of blue jeans? While vintage shoes and handbags resell very well online, how do old bell bottoms and button flies fare in the online sales arena?

 Blue Beginnings

The word "jean" originated in the Rococo period, that is 18th Century, in Europe. During this period, Italian sailors wore uniforms of cotton denim cloth imported from France. Confused? Well, the denim cloth was from Nimes, a southern French city and "de nimes" or translation "from/of Nimes" evolved into the word "denim". Voila! The French introduced it, but the Italians made it famous. These two European powerhouses are still at the forefront of fashion, even today.

 By the 19th Century, denim jeans became an all-American fabric. Denim was associated with hardworking American laborers nationwide. The cotton denim’s strength and durability made jeans highly desirable and popular as work clothes for all types of jobs. A pair of jeans’ long-lasting nature, strength, and comfortable fit sparked great demand. Workers who wanted durable clothes chose denim. By the mid-19th Century, this demand for durable clothes was very high, particularly as Americans moved westward. The California gold rush sparked an overwhelming interest in denim jeans and by 1853, an entrepreneur named Levi Strauss started a wholesale company which supplied miners and gold diggers with blue jeans. The famous American invention of denim or blue jeans was born.


Since the mid-1800s, blue jeans have remained popular. By the early years of the Immigrant period, blue jeans were the work clothes and uniforms of the masses. They were worn in factories, mills, and other major industries of the Industrial Revolution and beyond. By the 1930s, Hollywood films gave blue jeans a starring role on the big screen--mainly in the Western screen genre starring the likes of John Wayne and Roy Rogers.


Throughout World War II and into the post-war period, GIs and civilians alike wore blue jeans. Even Rosie the Riveter wore blue denim overalls to work and in her popular propaganda posters demonstrating women in the World War II workforce. By the mid-1950s, teenage Americans of the suburbs wore jeans to the drive-in and at the malt shop. While the Europeans "invented" the blue jean as we know it, American business reintroduced the blue jean to European markets in 1959 when Levi Strauss denims were first sold in Europe.

 Mid Century Models

Jeans, like American culture, saw many social and stylistic changes in after the 1950s. From bell bottoms to straight legs, jeans have changed with the times. Of course, the 1980s saw a monumental change in the age of the denim jean when fashion designers transformed the article of clothing into a fashion statement with a truly label-centric focus. Names like Gloria Vanderbilt, Sassoon, and Calvin Klein changed the face and fanny of fashion by way of the blue jean. By the end of the Reagan years, the denim blue jean was America's apparel item of choice. Fashion models and factory workers alike wore their favorite denim blue jean label with pride: Lee, Levi’s, Vidal Sassoon, Sergio Valente, Calvin Klein, Gloria Vanderbilt, and the list goes on. Today, that 1980s era Calvin Klein model named Brooke Shields is a mother of two and fashionista Gloria Vanderbilt lived to design and paint into her 90s. These icons, like the blue jeans they wore, are part of the diverse and fascinating history of the blue jean.

Dr. Lori Verderame is the award-winning Ph.D. antiques appraiser on History channel’s #1 hit show, The Curse of Oak Island and weekdays on the Doctor and the Diva. Dr. Lori presents her Antiques Appraisal Comedy Show to audiences nationwide. Visit or call (888) 431-1010.