Jeans: A Natural Choice

Levi Strauss & Co.
July 6, 2016

Blue jeans—a Levi’s® original—are quintessentially American. In fact, a recent study revealed that our iconic brand has become so synonymous with America that it ranks second – just behind Jeep and Disney – with consumers as one of the most patriotic brands.
So it came as a surprise to read in a recent New York Times Op-Ed that local immigrants set to become citizens were asked to swap those jeans for more proper attire befitting the occasion —especially considering that Levi Strauss, an immigrant himself, was likely naturalized near the Brooklyn location where those with jeans were turned away.
This naturally begged the question, “What’s a more patriotic pant than the blue jean?”
Levi’s® waist overalls, the early name for blue jeans, were made for working men, from engineers and teamsters to miners and cowboys. The rugged garments protected those who built America’s railroads, excavated mines, harvested farms, loaded wares and performed various types of manual labor. In many ways, these blue-jean-clad blue-collar workers built the physical foundations of our country.
American soldiers introduced blue jeans to many abroad for the first time during WWII. When they weren’t in uniform, these soldiers often wore Levi’s® 501®s, allowing foreigners to develop a taste for “American dress.” Foreign fans purchased their Levi’s® jeans at military stores or from early Levi’s® exporters.
After the war, blue jeans came to typify true Americana. They caught the fancy of rebellious teenagers influenced by American film stars like Marlon Brando in The Wild Ones or James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause. These stars adopted blue jeans, and especially Levi’s® jeans, to differentiate themselves from their more conservatively dressed parents.
Many schools objected to students in blue jeans and banned them. Over time, blue jeans eventually won out and became the clothing of choice for future counter-culture communities cropping up in the 1960s. Today, blue jeans are a staple in schools and colleges.
Last week I toured the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s thoughtfully curated exhibit, Louder Than Words: Rock, Power, Politics, a display focusing on the historic connection between music and politics. My favorite piece? Bruce Springsteen’s Levi’s® 501® jeans that were featured on the cover of his Born in the USA album. This 1980s album “sings” America, from the song title to the iconic imagery of the blue jeans set atop a red and white striped flag motif. Through imagery and music, this album helped solidify blue jeans as characteristically American.
From the Gold Rush to school prohibitions and even a naturalization ceremony, blue jeans continue to cut through barriers. Worn by people of all ages and walks of life worldwide, this all-American denim pant has become the most democratic clothing item around the globe.
Ban blue jeans at a naturalization ceremony? To do so seems positively un-American.
Like this story?
Sign up for the Unzipped newsletter to get the best of the Unzipped blog — company news and views, employee profiles, innovation and sustainability stories, behind-the-scenes and Archives highlights — sent straight to your inbox weekly.