Why Are Jeans Called “Jeans”?

We’ve all got at least one pair of jeans in our closets because, well, these magic pants are so universal that they became a “must”. But have you ever thought about the origins of this piece of clothing? If the answer is no, this article will help you discover some important facts about jeans’ voyage throughout history.

levi-straussSo here it is! The first thing you need to know is that they were first patented by Levi Strauss & Co. in 1873 and, since them, they have become a fashion item: comfortable and casual, but nonetheless classy. But although jeans are so popular, they stayed rather mysterious in nature: is one of those things that people know and accept without questioning. Therefore, why are jeans called “jeans”?

To find the answer to this question we must go back in time, to 19th Century Europe to be precise. Although jeans are typically associated with the American culture, their origins can be traced on the opposite side of the Atlantic.

But this is not an easy task. As far as anyone can tell, denim – meaning, the material that jeans are made from – was (probably) named after the French town, Nimes. “Serge” was a French word used to describe a durable type of fabric. “Serge de Nimes,” was sold and manufactured in Nimes. It was later shortened to “denim,” a term that we still use today.

Denim was actually quite popular throughout Europe but the first denim pants were worn by sailors from Genoa, Italy. The word “jeans” derives from the French word used to describe this type of sailors, who, apparently, used to buy large quantities of serge de Nimes.


Sailors from Genoa, Italy


But here is where things get a little bit complicated: serge should not be confused with the modern denim because it was actually a combination of different types of material and not cotton-based as the one we know and use today.

But when where jeans introduced in America? Well, surprisingly enough it happened after the US achieved its independence from the British Empire. And because America was known for its cotton plantation they started manufacturing their own type of jeans – the ones that we know today.

The conclusion is that, although America didn’t invent denim (or jeans for that matter) and didn’t have a part in naming them, the American version actually became popular and worldwide known. I think that it is fair to say that jeans were a collective effort, both European and American, to create a beautiful (and universally known) piece of clothing!