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America Loves Blue Jeans


Blue jeans on display at a Gap store in California.

Blue jeans on display at a Gap store in California.


Welcome to American Mosaic from VOA Learning English.

I’m June Simms.

Today on the show: a little history of one of the most popular pieces of clothing in America. Then some music to go along with it.

History of Blue Jeans

What defines American clothing or fashion? Can you think of a piece of clothing that is inseparably linked to American culture? There is a good chance your answer would be blue jeans. Many listeners have written to ask about the history of these well-loved pants.

So today we will give it a try.

Levi Strauss did not invent jeans, but he is considered the first person to make and sell great numbers of them.

He was born in Bavaria, an area that today is part of Germany. In 1847 he and his family immigrated to the United States

Levi Strauss opened a small dry goods store, first in New York, then in San Francisco, California. Among the products he sold were jeans. These pants were especially useful for miners in California. They needed clothing made from a strong material. Jeans are usually made from a heavy cotton cloth called denim.

Levi Strauss partnered with a clothing maker named Jacob Davis. Davis had invented a process for making rivets for jeans. These little metal connectors helped hold the pieces of cloth together to make the jeans stronger.

President Obama wears jean as he throws out the first pitch.

President Obama wears jean as he throws out the first pitch.

In 1873, the government gave Strauss and Davis a patent for their invention. That meant no one else could legally copy it without their permission. They began producing what they called “copper-riveted waist overalls.”

In 1928, the Levi Strauss company registered the word “Levi’s” as a trademark for their product. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington has one of the oldest known pairs of Levi’s.

Writer James Sullivan published a book called “Jeans: A Cultural History of an American Icon.” In it, he says jeans represent two American values: creativity and rebellion.

Cowboys wore jeans in the old Wild West. In the 1950s, people saw famous Hollywood actors like James Dean and Marlon Brando wearing jeans in movies.


Today jeans still come in blue but also lots of other colors. They can also differ widely in price. You might find jeans for 15 dollars in an American discount store. However, they can also sell for thousands of dollars a pair.

Some people like to buy jeans that look fresh and new. Others like to buy new jeans that are torn and look old. What kind of jeans do you like? Let us know. Send an email to learningenglish@voanews.com.

Blue Jeans in Music

That is the famous 1979 song “Forever in Blue Jeans,” from American singer-songwriter Neil Diamond. It was a top twenty single on Billboard music charts back then and is still popular today.

There are lots of other songs about blue jeans. Christopher Cruise plays a few of them for us.
Neil Diamond performing in 2008.

Neil Diamond performing in 2008.

Early rock and roller Gene Vincent released “Blue Jean Bop” in 1956. The energetic song includes a line with the word “dungaree.” That is another way of saying blue jeans.

It is an old Hindi word meaning coarse calico, or denim. The word came from the name of a village in what is now Mumbai.

That is Ginuwine with “In Those Jeans,” from his 2003 album, “The Senior.” The song is all about how good a pair of jeans look on a girl. In fact, so good it might be painful. He sings, “make a thug want to cry something terrible."

Singer Lana Del Rey

Singer Lana Del Rey

Two years ago, singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey released a sexy song called “Blue Jeans.” She performed the song on the television show “Saturday Night Live.” Many media experts sharply criticized her performance and questioned her ability to sing. But she received good reviews in later performances.



We leave you with Lana Del Rey and “Blue Jeans.”

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