A History Lesson With Booze ®

From Genoa to Nimes: The Brief History of Jeans

This week back in 1873, Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis landed a patent for what may be the best-known item of clothing ever. Learn a little history, then salute your shorts/pants with a custom cocktail.

Levi Strauss Shop in Madrid. (Photo by Fernando Camino/Cover/Getty Images)

The most All-American of fashion statements was born in Europe.

Specifically, in Italy and France about 500 years ago. Back then, Italian workers from Genoa used a cotton blend fabric for their clothes. It became known around the continent as “Gene,” because it was from Genoa.

Meanwhile, the French town of Nimes was making their own fabric that was like jean, but tougher. The townsfolk named it after themselves: “Twill from Nimes” — aka “serge de Nîmes,” later known as “denim.”

By the 19th century, versions of both fabrics were made in America, but used in totally different kinds of work clothes: jean in outfits for office workers, tougher denim for manual laborers. But it took a Nevada tailor named Jacob Davis to make denim the fabric choice for everyone.

Jacob specialized in denim work pants, which always seemed to rip at the seam. So he used metal rivets to reinforce them. An idea he patented with financial help from a fabric entrepreneur. You might have heard of him — Levi Strauss. Soon “Levi’s waist overalls” were the most popular workwear in the west.

Of course, they became popular everywhere for work and play. Movies helped. Fans wanted to dress like their denim-wearing cowboy heroes. Meanwhile, “Gene,” that other work fabric, faded in popularity, but the word didn’t. People just called their waist overalls “jeans.”

In 1960, Levi’s gave in and started using the term too. And that’s how an American invention, made with French fabric, got an Italian name.

California Bleu Genes

Photo credit: Elana Lepkowski, stirandstrain.com
Photo credit: Elana Lepkowski, stirandstrain.com

Stitched together by Matt Grippo, bartender and bar manager at Blackbird in San Francisco, where Levi Strauss & Co.’s corporate headquarters is located.


  • 2 ounces Cyrus Noble Bourbon (A Kentucky Burbon with San Francisco history)
  • .5 ounce Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao
  • .25 ounce Santa Maria Amaro

Stir all ingredients with ice, pour into rocks glass over one large cube, garnish with orange twist.

Bonus Cocktail: The Arcuate

Photo credit: Elana Lepkowski, stirandstrain.com
Photo credit: Elana Lepkowski, stirandstrain.com

Fashioned by Jonny Raglin, saloon-keeper of The Comstock Saloon in San Francisco, where Levi Strauss is headquartered.


  • 1 1/2 ounces rye whiskey (e.g. Old Overholt)
  • 1/2 ounce high-alcohol Jamaican rum (e.g. Smith and Cross)
  • 3/4 ounce pineapple gomme syrup
  • 3/4 ounce lemon juice
  • 2 dashes of Angostura bitters

In a shaker add ingredients, ice, and shake. Strain into a glass (either straight up or on the rocks). Go ahead and spill some on your jeans — they can handle it.