Blue Jeans in History

Craft & Design

Note to textile geeks: I recently came across this little sidebar in the New York Times about a show in New York right now called “The Master of the Blue Jeans“. (The show runs at Didier Aaron until February 18th.)

Originally organized by Gerlinde Gruber, a curator at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, for Galerie Canesso in Paris, the exhibition includes seven late-17th-century Italian paintings that show poor people dressed in denim fabric, which was made then in Genoa and known by the French name for that city, Gênes. The paintings, which had once been attributed to artists like Velázquez and de la Tour, are now thought to be the work of a single, unknown artist.

As the Times so aptly puts it, “there really is nothing new under the sun”! I knew denim had a long and complicated history (think of the beautiful quilts made from old jeans earlier in the 20th century) but didn’t realize how long!

6 thoughts on “Blue Jeans in History

  1. Tikabelle says:

    To quote a friend of mine, “Somebody needs to be vigorously escorted to the door of their workplace and put out. Preferably the art historian, who should spend some more time taking textile classes if she’s going to pronounce on things that are clearly not in her current field.”
    “Denim” is *always* made of cotton and up until very recently was always twill weave – modern 1×1 woven jeans being the exception, but they are still made of cotton. Prior to plantations and slavery and the cotton gin in the U.S., cotton was a very expensive material, and peasants were much more likely to be wearing wool or linen or linsey-woolsey, which is definitely NOT cotton.
    Dark blue dyes could have been indigo or woad and were available at this time. Similarly, twill weave dates to at least the Middle Ages.
    This art historian has discovered fabric in paintings that was dyed with indigo and in a twill weave. It’s anachronistic at best to say that blue twill-woven fabric was definitely denim; it’s kind of like saying any shiny fabric in any painting is silk because silk is shiny. This is bad research and bad logic, and it makes the rest of us historians look like idiots.

  2. Arwen O'Reilly Griffith says:

    Wow, thanks so much for the fascinating info!

  3. Tikabelle says:

    HAH! Thank you for taking my rant with such aplomb! :D

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