Very long just before skinny jeans brought on a design and style standoff concerning millennials and Gen Z, denim was controversial.

Poster for PBS's documentary "Riveted"
The documentary “Riveted” premieres Feb. 7 on PBS.
Courtesy: AMERICAN Practical experience/GB

A new documentary, “Riveted: The History of Jeans” (out Monday, Feb. 7, on PBS), unfolds the untold tale of America’s most iconic and ubiquitous garment. It follows denim from the slave-tilled fields of a rewarding South Carolina plantation to the muddy pits of New York’s Woodstock, where by hippies wore patchwork jeans — and influenced a technology of style designers.

For the film’s co-writers and administrators, Anna Lee Strachan and Michael Bicks, “Riveted” was an prospect to unzip some of the myths about jeans — this sort of as the plan that they have been at first worn by strapping, chivalrous cowboys — and expose the remarkably sophisticated tale of what is now an more than $60 billion worldwide sector. 

“It’s often Marlon Brando and cowboys and Levi Strauss,” Strachan informed The Article of denim’s oft-repeated lore. “But at the time you start out unraveling the cloth and following the thread, you uncover all sorts of things . . . What other issues haven’t been component of this regular denim narrative that will get informed?” 

Under, fascinating — and in some cases gritty — specifics from the lengthy historical past of the fabled cloth.

In the antebellum South, denim was identified as ‘Negro cloth’

Two young Black boys wearing overalls in a field
Cowboys get the credit history for getting the initially group to don jeans, but enslaved men and women wore denim well right before that.
Library of Congress

Bicks and Strachan told The Submit that cowboys normally get credit history for remaining the to start with Us residents to sport dungarees, but that’s not truly real. Rather, slaves wore jeans and overalls, manufactured from denim “Negro fabric,” due to the fact the major-obligation cotton weave could stand up to compelled labor. Denim’s standard blue color arrived from indigo — a temperamental tropical plant indigenous to the Caribbean and West Africa — which the enslaved guys and gals, who came from these areas, taught plantation homeowners how to improve. “The South necessary some thing to increase to crop rotation [alongside cotton, tobacco and rice],” denim specialist Evan Morrison claims in the film. “Adding indigo into your crop rotation was a way to insert added revenue.”

Levi Strauss’ denim empire was constructed on little copper rivets

Close-up of a Levi Strauss label on a pair of jeans with copper rivets
Utilizing copper rivets to reinforce seams was the critical to Levi Strauss’s accomplishment.
Jon Santa Cruz/Shutterstock

Denim as a material was sturdy, but the seams were being however vulnerable to tears. Enter Jacob Davis — a important character in the background of jeans who is nonetheless unfamiliar to all but the most fully commited denimphiles. Davis was a tailor doing the job in Reno, Nevada, in the 1870s when a female arrived into his shop, complaining that her chubby husband’s pants held splitting. “Jacob Davis goes, ‘Hmm. I see that all those rivets over there, they’re handy to repair saddles,’ ” Bicks instructed The Publish. “ ‘If I use those people, it’s possible they’ll make my trousers much better.’ ” Just after Davis figured out how to enhance the stitching on denim with rivets, business “exploded,” reported Bicks. But he was unable to preserve up with desire, so he reached out to Levi Strauss, his San Francisco-based dry items provider, with an strategy. The pair patented the steel reinforcements in 1873, and Strauss’ legendary blue jeans procedure was born.

Wealthy women started out carrying denim at dude ranches

A "cowgirl" at a dude ranch
Rich girls started out carrying denims at dude ranches.
Alamy Inventory Photograph

Until eventually the 1930s, a abundant white woman would hardly ever don jeans. But that altered in the course of the Excellent Depression, when struggling farmers opened up their qualities to snappy travellers below the mantle of unique dude ranches. “These rich persons from Connecticut or Rhode Island would go out, sometimes for months or months at a time, and in purchase to get pleasure from by themselves and enjoy this role of cowboy, they had to gown the portion,” Strachan stated. “And you had these [equivalent to] pop-up shops, Levi’s and other brand names at the time, they were providing menswear for women of all ages to don to do these chores for entertaining.” When the conquering agro-vacationers returned residence, their jeans turned “souvenirs” that they showed off to their good friends, Strachan explained. Slowly and gradually, humble denim workwear became a whole-blown style pattern among Northeastern gals.

Denim sellers released a marketing campaign to make denims appear much less risqué 

Marlon Brando in "The Wild One"
Marlon Brando’s juvenile delinquent character in “The Wild One” contributed to the impression that denims were for outlaws.

In the 1950s, adolescents wore denim — but so did bikers and outlaws. Brando’s juvenile delinquent character in 1953’s “The Wild One” strutted across the monitor in a uniform consisting of a leather motorcycle jacket and cuffed blue denims, only fueling increasing suspicions that denim trousers went alongside with an outré way of life. In reaction, faculties and worried dad and mom started banning denims. That’s when denim sellers received alongside one another to brainstorm techniques to safeguard their product’s name. The end result? They launched a countrywide advertising marketing campaign to thoroughly clean up denim’s impression. “They start out heading back to the myths of denim. Christopher Columbus, cowboys, stuff like that,” Bicks explained. In the early 1960s, the denim council even aligned alone with President John F. Kennedy’s freshly founded intercontinental volunteer software. “They actually outfitted the Peace Corps as an endeavor to resurrect their image,” Bicks said.