blue jeans, California, denim, Elizabeth Fais, Elvis Presley, Film, Gold Rush, Happy Days, Henry Winkler, History, Jacob Davis, James Dean, jeans, Levi Strauss, Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando, Nonfiction, Rebel Without a Cause, Television, The Fonz, The Misfits
Wonder is the seed of knowledge.
Well…if this is true…I’m in trouble, because I wonder about some pretty weird stuff sometimes.
Like WHY are butt pockets standard issue on jeans? Seriously, WHY??! You’re just going to sit on whatever is in those pockets…eventually. Nowdays that’s likely to be your smart phone! It makes no sense.
I must admit that wondering about the absurdity of this design decision is what prompted my research into the history and origin of blue jean pockets. So, maybe the knowledge-thing applies here after all. Francis Bacon didn’t say how valuable the knowledge had to be.
The Method Behind Butt Pocket Madness
To understand the reasoning behind (no pun intended) the nonsensical placement of jean pockets, we have to go back to when blue jeans—as we know them today—were first created.
Levi Strauss followed the Gold Rush to California in 1853, where he established a dry goods store. One of the items he carried was blue industrial strength cloth known as denim. A Nevada tailor, by the name of Jacob Davis, bought some of Strauss’s denim and put rivets at pocket corners and other stress points to make them stronger. Davis couldn’t afford to patent the idea on his own, and contacted Strauss with a business plan. The patent was granted to Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss & Company on May 20, 1873, and blue jeans were born.
Prior to Levi Strauss’s blue jeans, people wore overalls for messy jobs and manual labor, such as construction, farm work, and painting. These jobs were generally performed while standing, so pocket placement was intended to make it easy to carry and retrieve tools. Blue jeans were originally intended to be worn for the same type of work, and initially were called waist overalls.
Form follows function. No sitting on jobs, where you carry tools in your pockets. Blue jeans were solely used for doing tough jobs for 80 years, until the mid 1950s.
From Work-Horse Wardrobe to Fashion Forward Fame
What happened to change the fate of the work-horse blue jeans?
James Dean happened.
The blue jeans fashion craze caught fire with James Dean’s signature t-shirt, leather jacket, and blue jeans look in the movie Rebel Without a Cause (1955). Young men across the country copied it immediately.
How did the blue jean fad catch on with young women in a time of poodle skirts and pearls?
Marilyn Monroe started the feminine blue jeans trend when she wore them in the movie The Misfits. Her character joined up with a group of cowboys, and she sported the quintessential female version of James Dean’s Rebel Without a Cause outfit.
In the following decades, Elvis Presley, Marlon Brando, and Henry Winkler (as The Fonz in Happy Days) fanned the flame of the blue jeans fashion frenzy. A trend that’s still burning bright.
THAT my friends is WHY we wear jeans with pockets on our backside.
I wonder what Levi Strauss would think of us carrying a computer—with more power than the one that put the first man in space (and took up an entire floor of a building)—in one of his back jean pockets? I think he’d probably design a more functional garment for that purpose. But that’s just me.
Matthew Wright said:
I’ve never known why jeans had butt pockets either… and now I do! Thanks! I might be able to shed a bit of light on how they became socially fashionable in the 1950s and later. A few years back there was an academic paper on this in the NZ context, but surely it has to be true generally in the west. Apparently there was a general trend by which the working clothes of one era typically became the middle-class and then acceptable tidy clothes of another. The study I saw looked at the style of labourers’ clothing of the mid-nineteenth century NZ goldfields. These were highly Americanised, not least because a lot of the people working on them were the very same ‘Miner forty-niners’ from California, chasing the dream from there to Australia and then NZ. The labourers’ clothing of that time had become respectable everyday wear by the 1930s. I guess it’s the same thing with jeans. That said, being a fashion luddite, I stopped wearing them some time ago and switched to cargo pants (another ‘working wear’ item from days gone by).