J is for Jeans

At least that’s what A Grandmother’s ABC Book says. It’s on page 56.

Super patriots may believe that blue jeans and their name began in America, but non vero (Italian for “not true”). Both the word and the pants began in 16th century Genoa, Italy, the city that gave jeans their name. The fabric was dyed with blue indigo and was used for dock workers’ clothing. It was durable enough to stand up to the wear and tear of working on ships and docks.

A similar sturdy fabric, denim, was woven in Nimes, France. This similar fabric we know as denim, or de Nimes, meaning “from Nimes.”

Originally, the singular form jean referred to the fabric. As it appeared mostly in pants, the s was gradually attached (as in trousers, slacks, and so on).

My book explains that the letter J was originally a variation of I and was pronounced like our Y. The god Janus was a later form of Ianus, and, as you might remember from your high-school Latin classes. Julius, as in Caesar, was spelled Iulius. In 1524, a guy named Gian Giorgio Trissino decreed that I and J should be two different letters, and so they have been ever since.

The jeans we know and love are 150 years old. In 1873, a Nevada tailor named Jacob Davis added rivets to denim pants to make them sturdier. He collaborated with Levi Strauss, a San Francisco merchant, to acquire a patent.

The two men could have had no idea what they had wrought. If you Google blue jeans today, you find a Georgia pizza shop, a song by Lana Del Rey, a software company, and lots and lots and lots of jeans. Lots.

Do you have a favorite pair?

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1 Response to J is for Jeans

  1. Roger Talbott says:

    I have a pair of Wranglers (the W is SILENT) that are ripped enough so that I think I can’t wear them anymore. They look like what one of my grandchildren buys new. I’ d pass them on if we were the same size.

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