‘Riveted’ doc unfolds controversial history of denim jeans

Lengthy in advance of skinny jeans triggered a type standoff between millennials and Gen Z, denim was controversial.

Poster for PBS's documentary "Riveted"
The documentary “Riveted” premieres Feb. 7 on PBS.
Courtesy: AMERICAN Working experience/GB

A new documentary, “Riveted: The Heritage of Jeans” (out Monday, Feb. 7, on PBS), unfolds the untold story of America’s most legendary and ubiquitous garment. It follows denim from the slave-tilled fields of a worthwhile South Carolina plantation to the muddy pits of New York’s Woodstock, wherever hippies wore patchwork jeans — and motivated a era of style designers.

For the film’s co-writers and administrators, Anna Lee Strachan and Michael Bicks, “Riveted” was an prospect to unzip some of the myths about jeans — this kind of as the plan that they had been initially worn by strapping, chivalrous cowboys — and reveal the astonishingly intricate story of what is now an more than $60 billion international business. 

“It’s constantly Marlon Brando and cowboys and Levi Strauss,” Strachan advised The Write-up of denim’s oft-recurring lore. “But the moment you start unraveling the fabric and subsequent the thread, you come across all varieties of things . . . What other issues have not been aspect of this traditional denim narrative that will get advised?” 

Underneath, intriguing — and from time to time gritty — specifics from the very long history of the fabled cloth.

In the antebellum South, denim was referred to as ‘Negro cloth’

Two young Black boys wearing overalls in a field
Cowboys get the credit for becoming the initially group to dress in jeans, but enslaved people today wore denim effectively right before that.
Library of Congress

Bicks and Strachan instructed The Put up that cowboys typically get credit rating for being the 1st Us citizens to activity dungarees, but which is not truly legitimate. As a substitute, slaves wore denims and overalls, designed from denim “Negro cloth,” due to the fact the major-duty cotton weave could stand up to pressured labor. Denim’s classic blue coloration arrived from indigo — a temperamental tropical plant indigenous to the Caribbean and West Africa — which the enslaved men and gals, who arrived from these areas, taught plantation proprietors how to increase. “The South essential one thing to incorporate to crop rotation [alongside cotton, tobacco and rice],” denim pro Evan Morrison states in the movie. “Adding indigo into your crop rotation was a way to incorporate more financial gain.”

Levi Strauss’ denim empire was built on little copper rivets

Close-up of a Levi Strauss label on a pair of jeans with copper rivets
Making use of copper rivets to enhance seams was the essential to Levi Strauss’s achievements.
Jon Santa Cruz/Shutterstock

Denim as a material was potent, but the seams have been however vulnerable to tears. Enter Jacob Davis — a important character in the historical past of denims who is nevertheless unfamiliar to all but the most fully commited denimphiles. Davis was a tailor doing work in Reno, Nevada, in the 1870s when a woman came into his store, complaining that her chubby husband’s trousers retained splitting. “Jacob Davis goes, ‘Hmm. I see that those rivets around there, they’re practical to repair saddles,’ ” Bicks informed The Submit. “ ‘If I use those, probably they’ll make my trousers much better.’ ” Just after Davis figured out how to boost the stitching on denim with rivets, business “exploded,” explained Bicks. But he was unable to keep up with demand, so he reached out to Levi Strauss, his San Francisco-centered dry merchandise supplier, with an plan. The pair patented the metallic reinforcements in 1873, and Strauss’ legendary blue jeans operation was born.

Wealthy ladies begun putting on denim at dude ranches

A "cowgirl" at a dude ranch
Wealthy girls started out putting on denims at dude ranches.
Alamy Inventory Image

Till the 1930s, a loaded white female would under no circumstances put on jeans. But that altered throughout the Wonderful Melancholy, when battling farmers opened up their homes to snappy visitors below the mantle of unique dude ranches. “These rich persons from Connecticut or Rhode Island would go out, sometimes for months or months at a time, and in buy to enjoy themselves and play this purpose of cowboy, they experienced to gown the section,” Strachan said. “And you experienced these [equivalent to] pop-up stores, Levi’s and other brands at the time, they were selling menswear for women to put on to do these chores for entertaining.” When the conquering agro-tourists returned household, their denims became “souvenirs” that they confirmed off to their good friends, Strachan explained. Slowly and gradually, humble denim workwear grew to become a complete-blown style development between Northeastern gals.

Denim sellers introduced a marketing campaign to make denims appear to be a lot less risqué 

Marlon Brando in "The Wild One"
Marlon Brando’s juvenile delinquent character in “The Wild One” contributed to the perception that denims ended up for outlaws.

In the 1950s, adolescents wore denim — but so did bikers and outlaws. Brando’s juvenile delinquent character in 1953’s “The Wild One” strutted throughout the monitor in a uniform consisting of a leather motorcycle jacket and cuffed blue jeans, only fueling developing suspicions that denim pants went along with an outré way of life. In reaction, colleges and concerned mom and dad started banning jeans. Which is when denim sellers received together to brainstorm means to safeguard their product’s standing. The consequence? They released a countrywide advertising campaign to clean up denim’s graphic. “They start off going back to the myths of denim. Christopher Columbus, cowboys, things like that,” Bicks mentioned. In the early 1960s, the denim council even aligned alone with President John F. Kennedy’s recently started intercontinental volunteer system. “They essentially outfitted the Peace Corps as an endeavor to resurrect their image,” Bicks said.