Posted in Denim fabric

Denim History

This venerable fabric has in almost 150 years, run the gamut from a basic work wear fabric to a fashion trend setter.

People around the globe love denim. It has become symbolic of a casual lifestyle for many. Denim is affordable, comfortable, and durable and offer variety of style and colour. It is fashionable and can be dressed up or down. There’s a fit for everybody.

Denim offers something for everyone.

How Denim Evolved?

The history of denim is as colourful as the fabric that has ruled the fashion chart of the world for the past fifteen decades. Denim as a fabric was introduced first in the USA during the Californian Gold Rush. Levi Strauss was a tent salesman in America who thought the miners in Sanfrancisco needed a rugged pair of trousers that could withstand the rigours of their job. So he offered them what he had trousers made out of canvas. Across the Atlantic the French were already using such heavy fabric known by the name Serge-de-Nimes, a name of French city. Since the French alternative was better and tougher, the Americans too started buying the fabrics from France, discarding the canvas and used the same fabric for trousers with studs etc. Given the American penchant for cutting the names short the elaborate Serge-de-Nimes quickly became “Denim”. These trousers caught on and the rest is history.

Fashion-wise denim has gone through many phases. From its initial indigo dye blue it went through various washes, was over-dyed into colours as vivid as brown, yellow, orange, green and even pink. It went into streaks and prints and it also turned totally black or remained in its natural state that is ecru or off-white. But no doubt it is the indigo colour that has returned to every time it has got over a current fad. Indigo unlike most of the dyes is a crystalline substance. It gets absorbed by the yarn to limited extent. It dyes merely the outer layer of the yarn leaving its core white. In between it imparts several shades of blue. The crystalline nature of the dye is the reason why the fabric appears bright even when the dye has faded. The indigo crystals reflect light. Hence even faded jeans look bright and not dull.

How Jeans Evolved?

The word jeans is believed to have been coined by Genoese sailors who found it difficult to keep their white trousers clean. They dyed them with cheapest available colour – Indigo blue. The Invariably humid and often hot atmosphere on the high seas resulted in the colour fading quite fast. However, indigo being a crystalline substance some brightness remained even after fading. This was subsequently became everyday wear for industrial workers and cowhands in 19th century America. This is how the present day “Denim Jeans” were born.

By World War II, denim jeans had come to be identified with male machoism and celebrated stars like Wayne, Gary Cooper and Clark Gable further pushed the popularity of the jeans by wearing them in their many successful films. To look manly, thereafter one simply had to wear jeans.

Denim and Jeans Defined

Denim is defined as a 3/1 warp-faced twill fabric made from yarn dyed warp and undyed weft (Textile Terms and Definitions. The Textile Institute, 1992). Denim is distinguished from chambray, a flat weave made from similar yarns, by its 3/1 construction which exposes the dyed warp predominantly on one side and the paler unbleached weft on the other. Traditionally, denim was dyed with indigo a blue dye originally obtained from natural sources but now manufactured chemically. While most denim remains’ blue a growing market for other colours has developed. Most denim is still 100 percent cotton, although a relatively small volume of union denims are produced and traded worldwide.

Jeans are harder to define than denim. Unless described as denim, they are sometimes made in other fabrics-notably corduroy and lighter flat fabrics for summer wear. Most manufacturers define jeans as trousers for both sexes with a number of distinctive characteristics, some or all of which may be present. These include:

– the so-called waist yoke inserted below the self-supporting waist band at the rear, ensuring a close fit over the buttocks;
– patch pockets at the rear;
– double rows of stitches on folded seaming; and
– in classic versions, metal riverts.

The cut of the rest of the garment may vary to include flares, baggy legs, narrow drain pipes or pleated fullness from the waist at the front of the jeans.

112 Years Pre-Indian Denim History

The story of how the law of gravity was discovered is well known. Newton was sitting under a tree, under an apple tree, and then one apple fell down. Because of this he started thinking, and he felt that something is pulling the apple downwards. But the law of gravity is only one law. There is another law, which science has yet to uncover it. It is called levitation – “How did the apple reach upwards in the first place? How?”. That must be explained first – how the apple reached the upward position, how the tree is growing upwards. The apple was not there; it was hidden in a seed, and then the apple traveled the whole journey. It reached the upward position and only then did it fall down. So gravity is a secondary law. Levitation was the first and powerful.Similarly, the water flows downwards; it is under the law of gravity. When it evaporates, suddenly the law also evaporates. Now it is under levitation, it rises upwards.In denim history, Levi Strauss, the Bavarian with alpine tradition, in 1873, simply become available for the higher law of levitation. In Indian context, it is Sanjay Lalbhai in 1986. The below is the sequence of events between 112 years

1873 Levi Strauss makes in San Francisco the first jeans using a heavy brown duck fabric for the Californian mine workers.
1873 Levi Strauss produces the first jeans with the designation “501-Indigo”.
1904 Founding of the Blue-Bell Co. in Greensboro, North Carolina.
1950 The first zipper-jeans are introduced in the market.
1954 Marlon Brando and James Dean appear in jeans and thus created a new image for denim.
1960 Denim starts to conquer the world.
1974 The first “pre-washed” jeans appear on the market.
1978 The industry developed a new washing process for denim clothing “stone-wash”.
1986 Birth of Indian denim.

Blue Revolution in India Fashion Industry

The Blue Revolution has taken the Indian industry by storm. It is a rage among the young and old alike. The ever blue fabric- Denim- shares the ups and downs of consumers – big and small and is the favourite for fabric designers of clothes and casuals. No wonder it evokes romance, craze and thrill.

Birth of Indian Denim

The year 1986 marked the birth of Indian denim when Arvind Mills, a member of the Lalbhai Group, set up the first denim plant in Ahmedabad. Taking this clue from Arvind others K.G, Ashima, Soma, Mafatlals, Aarvee, Century, Raymond Suryalakshmi, Malwa, LNJ, Nahar etc followed.

The one quality of denims which has endeared this material to the vast multitude is its toughness. It does not crease easily. Besides it grows brighter with every wash. While other cotton materials fade and loose their luster with subsequent washes, denim’s luster increases with every wash.

Colour Options

With different weights in denims – 6 to 16 ozs and a variety of colours ranging from light blue to dark blue the utility of denims has increased. To name a few

Super Dark Denim :Stay blue and stay black indigo products with differential tonal effects for younger generation.

Tinted Denim Cotton denims enriched with different colour cast by tinting or over dyeing technology .

Vintage Dusk Grey cast effect or give unique, second hand look.

Added to this are the different washes – stone wash, bleach wash, hand wash, acid wash, rinse wash, water wash, ink wash, camel wash etc. and over-dyed, printed denims and even coated denims. Today we have colours like olive, hunter green and over-dyed black.

Fibre and Yarn Options

Beginning of twenty first century saw the explorations in different yarn options with the development of wide range of characteristic yarns, and their usage in rains, streaks and crosshatch denims. To name a few

Tencel Denim: Woven century luxury cellulosic fibre made from specially grown woods and transformed in non-chemical process which give feel of silk and comfort of cotton.

Stretch Denim: Woven with lycra from Dupont, stretch is the established fashion fabric for women and recently in menswear niche segments too who believes in exact fit and comfort.

Chinos: Two ply chino denims in indigo dyed shade have an unique soft hand feel, Fabric cover and a luxurious appeal.

Polyester Blends: Cotton rich polyester denims with superior hand feel, luster and colour contrast for fashion market.

Rain Denim: Novelty loom denim with a fine weave & premium ‘Run’ effect for an unique appearance.

Crosshatch Denim: high fashion denim with enhanced fabric texture

Denim for Kids

Today denim is the basis of the Indian fashion industry in many cases. Children’s wear is one of the largest consumers of the fabric after men’s wear discovered the benefits of this fabric. No fabric has been as suitable for the rough and tumble use of children’s wear as denim has been. It is durable and tough and when used in different weights the designing possibilities are limitless.

Denim for Teens

To the present generation jeans means disco. They mean casual wear or party wear. The teenagers consider it fit to even jeans at weddings, parties, office etc. Jeans has different connotations for different people. In the U.S. of America there have been reports of several bride-grooms wearing jeans at the nupitals. With film stars seeing the trend the present day jet-setter feels that you can appear at the “Rock Around the Clock” only if you are donning the “in” apparel – jeans.

Denim For all

Today denims don’t just mean jeans. It means a multitude of things-skirts, jackets, bags, accessories and even shoes. Cotton dresses have patches of denim material. The age group which considers denims as fashion wear is 16 to 28. The high profile jeans culture is finally here and urban youngsters particularly are lapping them up as soon as they appear on shop-shelves. Sarees and even Salwar Kameez are being discarded in favour of jeans; something very elegant and more in keeping with the youngish look of the mini-skirted young. Minis moved out to be replaced by jeans.

The emergence of international brands of jeans in India such as Lee, Wrangler, Levis, Calvin, Klien, Jordache and Pepe further supports the potential of jeans in India. Indian brands which are already popular in jeans are Flying Machine, Numero, Blue Lagoon, Unnex, Buffalo, UFO, Avis etc. Besides there are atleast 150 brands which are in the market on dealer support.

Indian denim is constantly scaling new heights. It is successfully competing with the other brands which are popular abroad and has carved a niche for itself in the world market by catering to international standards. No fabric has been as hardsold by it’s manufacturers as denim has been and it is not surprising to read of overnight successes in the readymade garment business with denim as the base fabric.


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