by Steve Martindale
Almost everyone will have owned a pair of jeans in their life, and everyone knows jeans are made of denim, but what are the origins of these words? As you may have guessed from their inclusion on this site, both are French!
The words ‘jeans’ comes from the French ‘bleu de Gênes’, or blue of Genoa, referring to the blue material originating in the Italian city from which the trousers were made.
Denim, the name of the fabric itself, takes its name from the French town of Nîmes; France bought its denim ‘from Nîmes’ or ‘de Nîmes’, the French town where the fabric would traditionally arrive from Italy.
Interestingly, at about the same time, tailors in the Indian city of Dhunga were making a type of trouser worn by its sailors, giving us the origin of modern-day ‘dungarees’.
I have often said that I wish I had invented blue jeans: the most spectacular, the most practical, the most relaxed and nonchalant. They have expression, modesty, sex appeal, simplicity – all I hope for in my clothes. – Yves Saint-Laurent
Although popularised in American culture and most famously identified with the Wild West, the earliest examples of jeans were worn by the Genoese navy, which at the time was an independent republic and had a strong naval force. The trousers were designed to be hard-wearing and practical in both wet and dry conditions. They would be laundered in bags thrown out in nets and dragged behind the ships which would cause them to eventually fade to white.