A Brief History
On May 20, 1873, Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis patented blue jeans with copper rivets. Trousers have never been the same. Clearly an iconic American invention, a nice comfortable pair of jeans can well be a person’s best friends. At least that is the way some people treat them. There are several innovations in the world of clothing that seem hard to live without, and here we list 10 of them.
10. Bikini Bathing Suit, 1946.
Bestowed upon an adoring, mostly male, public in Paris in 1946 while the United States conducted nuclear weapons testing at a remote Pacific Atoll named Bikini, the skimpy 2 piece bathing suit could easily rank much higher on this list, depending on which teenaged boy is making the list! It has been said that God loves man and the proof is beer. Some would say the same about the bikini!
9. Bullet Proof Vest, 1975.
Not to be confused with steel armor, we are talking about the soft, fabric type bullet resistant garments of today. Originally marketed by Second Chance and American Body Armor, the Kevlar fiber vest marked a giant leap forward in protection against normal pistol bullets. Previous efforts at bullet proof garments employed natural fibers such as silk, and by 1900 vests using 18 to 30 layers of silk fabric would stop the slow pistol bullets of the day, although at $800 each, the average policeman or citizen could not afford one. With the widespread use of smokeless powder and more powerful handguns (.357 Magnum and .38 Super, notably) vests without steel inserts were not effective. Kevlar and other modern materials make bullet resistant vests affordable and practical for wear under normal clothes, and are widely used by police, shop keepers, politicians and celebrities. (Making a vest or clothing that is rifle proof still requires steel or exotic modern materials that are heavy, bulky, and inflexible.)
8. Panty Hose, 1959.
Originally panty hose were just panties sewn to stockings and used by actresses and dancers on stage and in movies. The garment as we know it was first marketed in 1959. In the 1960’s better manufacturing techniques and the use of Spandex made panty hose easier to make and more comfortable to wear. As skirts and dresses got shorter, panty hose became more and more popular. In the past few decades the shift in fashion from skirts and dresses for women and girls to pants has greatly decreased the sales of panty hose. Still, many women today shudder at the thought of life without them.
7. Brassiere, 1912.
Previous attempts at underclothing that provided support for female breasts were bulky and expensive. Bustiers and corsets started to be replaced by the precursors of modern bras in the late 1800’s, but did not reach their modern form until Christine Hardt patented her design in 1889 (commercially sold in 1912) Germany and Mary Jacobs patented her US design in 1914, the first truly modern bra. Cups were first of only one size and made of a stretchy material, with the ABCD method of cup sizing appearing in 1932.
6. Gore-Tex, 1976.
This thin, waterproof membrane can be laminated to lightweight clothing to provide rain protection while still allowing air to pass through it. Now made by many manufacturers under various names, Gore-Tex is extensively used by the military and safety forces (police and fire) as well as adventurers, campers, hunters and fishermen, and all sorts of people who work or play outdoors and want light, rain-proof clothing.
5. Synthetic Fibers, 1904.
After unsuccessful efforts at modifying cellulose and other organic materials, Rayon was invented (not named so until 1924) as a form of artificial silk. Nylon became the first polymer type of synthetic fiber in the 1930’s and a many others have followed. Stronger and more durable than natural fibers, as well as much cheaper to produce (think silk stockings and silk parachutes versus nylon ones) synthetics have revolutionized the garment industry.
4. Right and Left Shoes, circa 1800.
Shoes started off as crude “foot bags” of animal hide, and then evolved into sandals and moccasins, and even the Dutch “sabot” or wooden shoe. But it was not until the early 1800’s that shoemakers started making the right and left shoe distinct from each other. Prior to that each shoe was the same and could be worn on either foot. Considering how hard it is to find a comfortable pair of well fitting shoes, this has to be one of those major steps (pun intended) forward for mankind.
3. Blue Jeans, 1873.
As noted above, blue jeans are as American as apple pie. Actually, they are more American than apple pie. Cowboys, construction workers, hippies, old people, young people, men and women, it seems every group of people love blue jeans. Neil Diamond sang Forever in Blue Jeans, and a 1960’s rock group was called The Swinging Blue Jeans. During the Cold War Americans traveling behind the Iron Curtain used blue jeans as currency, with citizens in communist countries paying huge premiums to get their hands on a pair. Now made in a myriad of styles and colors (even camouflage) it is hard to imagine life without them.
2. Velcro, 1956.
This fantastic invention was inspired by walking in a field and having burrs stick to trousers and a dog. Not perfected until synthetic materials were used, Velcro gained prominence when the US space program used it extensively on space suits and in space craft. Useful on shoes and every other item of clothing to replace buttons, snaps and laces, Velcro comes in many colors, sizes, shapes and different holding strengths. Children, elderly people, and people with diminished hand dexterity make good use of Velcro’s versatility.
1. Zipper, circa 1900.
First attempts at zippers did not meet with commercial success (introduced publicly at the 1883 Chicago World’s Fair), but they did catch on and numerous pants have been saved a soaking because of not having to fumble around with a button fly. Able to replace laces and buttons, zippers have made clothing and shoes (as well as luggage, purses, wallets and other accoutrements) much handier. As great as Velcro is, there are plenty of things that just work better with a zipper. (You certainly would not order your child to “Velcro your lip!”, would you?)
Question for students (and subscribers): What items would you add to the list? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Barnett III, Charles, Nathan Olson, et al. Levi Strauss and Blue Jeans (Inventions and Discovery). Capstone Press, 2006.