First on First: Genoa and Jeans

First on First – Each month we bring you the story of Italians and Italian Americans who accomplished firsts!


master of the blue jeans

Blue jeans – just about everybody owns a pair, but did you know they were invented in Italy?

There has been some debate as to when and where exactly jeans were invented. Some have argued that the clothing staple was in fact created in New Hampshire in the late 19th century. However, the most popular claim is that they were created either in Nimes, France (de Nimes which translates to from Nimes sounds like denim) or Genoa, Italy (the French for Genoa is Genes which sounds like jeans). One of the earliest records of jeans comes from cargo lists from ships traveling to France and northern Europe that documented a low-cost, indigo fabric being shipped from Genoa.

Recently, art historians believe that they have found a definitive answer to the “who invented jeans” question! The work of a 17th-century northern Italian artist, dubbed “Master of the Blue Jeans,” has shed some light on the debate (painting at left titled “Woman Begging with Two Children” by Master of the Blue Jeans, ca. 17th Century). Throughout this artists work is a piece of indigo clothing that is used to dress the poorer class. The clothing has rips that reveal its structure and weave, which closely resemble denim. Perhaps most interesting is that the artist used the same blue as the indigo dye that was used for jeans of the time.levi_strauss_vintage_womens_jeans_0

The jeans that inhabit our closet today were developed from its Italian counterpart and designed for the working man. Seeing a need for durable work clothes, Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss developed and created the modern jean on May 20, 1873. Since then, the classic fabric has been worn by workers, cowboys, rebels without a cause, and the masses. The style has been embraced by generations and continues to be a fashion staple.

Sources: Discovery News, BBC News, ArtNet

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One thought on “First on First: Genoa and Jeans

  1. For more information, flip through a back issue of Italian America and read “A Sailor’s Cloth” from the Winter 2014 issue.

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