The Real History of Denim: More Workers, Fewer Cowboys

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The Fashion Institute of Technology’s exhibit: Denim: Fashion’s Frontier. An article in the Economist describes how much our history has romanticized jeans, and the fact that many of those stories were fabricated to get people other than miners and farm workers to buy and wear jeans.

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A few surprising truths the exhibit reveals:

1. Cowboys didn’t wear jeans as much as we think. Canvas and leather pants were also in heavy rotation.

2. The name denim may have actually been invented in England, not in Nimes, France as the origin myth goes (“de Nimes”).

3. Jeans worn in films such as Rebel Without a Cause and The Wild One caused parental panic, not widespread romanticism, about the effect the garments had on youth. A PR group called the Denim Council laid out a plan to change everyone’s minds and get parents to let their kids wear jeans to school.

I wish I could get to Brooklyn to see the exhibit! If you go, please report back, won’t you?


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