4 Facts about Vintage Denim: Colonial Era Edition

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Workwear, originally worn by people who sailed ships, rustled cattle, poured molten iron and panned for gold has a rich history that mirrors our most human desires to build, explore and create. From time to time, we'll go back and take a look at workwear's colorful past for unique factoids about our favorite style.  

(1) The Dual Origins of our Favorite Fabric

Denim is said to be derived from the French phrase, serge de Nimes, the phrase used to describe a cotton-wool blend fabric hailing from Nimes, in southern France. Historians trace denim's introduction to sometime in the 1500s. Jeans first referred to a cotton/wool/silk blended fabric created in Genoa, Italy. The Oxford English Dictionary traces the English word ' jean' back to 1567. Whether French or Italian, continental flair is unquestionably part of our favorite fabric's heritage.   "The Master of The Blue Jeans", by Unknown, shows denim worn by a mother and son in  1650s Italy.  

(2) Dungarees: From the Indian Sub Continent

Dungarees are a somewhat dated term for work pants, and the word has entered the English lexicon as a by-product of Britain's colonial presence in 18th century India. A rough brown fabric from the village of Dungri, near present day Mumbai, this cloth was often used for sails, and when torn, then recycled to be used a sailors' bell-bottom uniforms. Eventually this fabric also become a popular for land-lovers' work clothes as well.  

(3) President Washington Down with the Denim

Even in early days of the United States, workwear was getting love from the highest levels of leadership. In 1789, newly elected United States President George Washington paid a visit to the Beverly Cotton Manufactory in Beverly, Massachusetts – the first cotton mill in America, and the largest to be built during its era. Amongst the fabrics produced there were denim and corduroy. Upon seeing the dozen or so looms hard at work cranking out fabric, Washington noted in his diary, "In short, the whole seemed perfect, and the cotton stuffs they turned out, excellent of their kind."  

(4) Ready-to-Wear Workwear was First Available in 1824 Paris

Taylor Pierre Parissot was the first to begin selling 'blue collar' workwear 'off the rack' almost 200 years ago in Paris. His small shop in Quai au Fleurs started selling inexpensive, fixed-price duck-cloth trousers, smocks and overalls to the cities working masses. Within 20 years, these ready to wear garments became standard accessories for over 100,000 blue-collar Parisians. And yes, the smocks did actually have blue collars! photo credit: hans s via photopin cc

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