Have We Always Had Jeans?

History Lesson Plan
Students will learn the basic history behind blue jeans. They will understand that denim has not always been around, but had to be invented.

Lesson Plan graphic

background information on jeans

Denim blue jeans were first sold by Levi Strauss & Co. in 1873. Levi Strauss himself left his home in Bavaria to come to San Francisco to join his sister and brother-in-law in a dry-goods business. One of their customers was Jacob Davis, a Nevada tailor; he is the one who actually invented jeans (basically the idea of riveting the linings with the copper thread in order to reinforce the points of strain). He needed someone who could pay the fees of patenting his idea, so he went into partnership with Levi Strauss.

The jeans were very popular among miners, cowboys, lumberjacks and other people needing more durable clothing. They sold to retailers for $1.50 a pair. Levi's remained almost exclusively out west until their exposure reached everyone through movies in the 1930's. Then they started becoming fashionable among the younger generations. Of course, now they are worn by people of all ages from all over the world.

Without students knowing what you are doing, have students wearing jeans and other denim attire stand in front of the class. Ask class what they all have in common. Once this has been decided, ask class what they would do without jeans, why they like them so much, why they don't just wear other pants, etc. Present these questions: Have jeans always been around? If not, where did they come from? Why might they have been invented? What qualities do they have that separate them from other pants? In groups have students reflect on these questions. Have groups share their ideas. Present the "real" history of jeans to the class. Extension: If you wanted to invent an item of clothing, what would it be? Describe the characteristics you would want your product to have as well as representing it pictorially. Why do you think this would be a good product? Do you think that it would sell well?

How did your answers differ from the actual ones? Were some of the answers obvious? Do some seem strange? Had you ever thought about where jeans came from before this lesson?

Were students joining in discussion? Were their comments and answers reasonable? Do they appreciate the idea that jeans were invented as practical clothing rather than for fashion's sake?