Jeans: A Reflection of American Values

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Jeans: A Reflection of American Values

Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis did not know they were creating an American legacy when they patented the process for riveting pants on May 20, 1873, nor did they get to see the enduring influence of their product before their deaths in the early 1900’s ("Levi Strauss & Co. Timeline"). Nevertheless, since their creation, denim jeans have become symbolic of various American sentiments over the years: the romanticizing of the American West, the social rebellion of countercultures, and a paradoxical preoccupation with individuality.

Denim jeans were born out of necessity in the American West during the gold rush of the nineteenth century. Miners there found that their pants weren’t durable enough to withstand the strain of their grueling work. Levi Strauss, a successful dry goods store owner from San Francisco, collaborated with Jacob Davis, a Reno tailor who had figured out how to rivet pockets on to men’s pants. The two men patented the process and began selling “waist overalls” to miners and other hardworking laborers ("Levi Strauss & Co. Timeline"). By the 1920s, their waist overalls, or jeans, were “the top-selling men’s work pant in the West” (Gromer).

The popularity of jeans spread, diffusing eastward with the help of the media. Images of cowboys and other jeans-wearing Westerners turned jeans into symbols of the independent lifestyles of the American West. Gary Cooper and John Wayne films contributed to denim’s status as the fabric for the “rugged individualistic lifestyle” of the “authentic American” (Gromer). Sociologist Fred Davis says that jeans appealed to the imaginations of many Americans because of the pant’s historical “mystique” that emanated themes of “democracy, in...

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