The Friday Fillip: Jeans

Who is this dapper fellow, you might ask? He’s a California gold miner, and he’s sporting one of the first pairs of Levi Strauss’s serge de Nîmes pants. What makes them special, apart from the fact they’re made of denim, is the use of rivets at the critical joints, an invention that Strauss’s partner, Jacob Davis, patented in 1873. The image is from that patent application, as is the following:

My invention relates to a fastening for pocket-openings, whereby the sewed seams are prevented from ripping or starting from frequent pressure or strain thereon; and it consists in the employment of a metal rivet or eyelet at each edge of the pocket-opening . . .

(Notice the unusual meaning of “start” in this context: OED: “To break away from its place; to be displaced by pressure or shrinkage; to get loose.”)

For a long stretch I paid little attention to jeans. I always had a pair but didn’t think one way or the other about them. Recently though, I had to buy new, and came face to face with a jeans market that’s broadened and widened into something quite daunting.

Raw denim. Dry denim. Selvedge denim. Good midding. Ring spun yarn. Shuttle looms. This has definitely become geek territory. And as with much geekery, there’s a lot to like here if you’re detail oriented or if you care about quality. The standard brand stuff that I encountered when I went to my usual outlets was way thinner than I’d remembered denim being, a function of the need to keep costs down I suppose, disappointing even so. But then the high end stuff caused severe sticker shock. Let’s just say it can run to hundreds of dollars. However, this gets you heavy-weight cotton, Japanese-made, and real indigo-dyed denim pants that should last for 1000 wearings.

And that’s another thing. Nowadays a thousand wearings might actually see those jeans never having been washed. (I’ve said that awkwardly, but then it’s an awkward thought.) Raw or dry denim comes from the maker without being washed, because washing can cause the colour to fade and that’s now a Bad Thing. Most people who own such an object will wind up washing it at about the six-month mark, however, or risk “blow out” in certain areas. If you’re adamantly opposed to washing either because of fade or because you want to save water, it’s claimed that you can freeze your jeans to kill the bacteria without affecting the colour, a claim that’s been challenged by science, of all things.

If some or all of this jeanery is news to you, you can bone up on things de Nîmes at the Rawr Denim site where a wealth of information on the worlds favourite trousering awaits you. And because I’m feeling mildly patriotic at the moment (memories of Trudeau père, I think), I’ll offer you as well the website of a Canadian maker of upscale jeans: Naked & Famous (meant sarcastically) offers more than pants in, all in Japanese denim. (Full disclosure: I’ve no connection whatever with the company; do not own any of their products; am not famous and only rarely naked.)


  1. Dear Professor Fodden:
    I support the Levis Strauss initiative of “Waterless” denim. I first read about the issue here:

    Good for these massive U.S. and European retailers such as IKEA, the Gap, Adidas, and others to promote the “Better Cotton Initiative” which not only promotes use of less water in washing the denim, but in the creation of more durable cotton in the first instance. On top of that, the promotion of corporate oversight through the entire lifecycle ensuring that no child labour is used in the farming or delivery of cotton.

    Amongst young adults – those called Generation Y or the Global Generation, there is a growing movement supporting, not less cleanliness, but a growing awareness of water usage. You can also see it culminating in the massive surge in sales of the “dry shampoo” at your local pharmacy.

    Some students have even been conducting experiments in bacteria levels on their unwashed clothing…..:freezer or not, the bacterial level seems to remain insignificant in unwashed jeans as compared to clean:

    Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.