MUNDANE MYSTERIES: Why Are Most Jeans Blue?

When Keith Urban sang “Blue Ain’t Your Color”, he clearly wasn’t talking about jeans. Other fashion styles may come & go, but nothing in the garment industry has remained as consistently popular as blue jeans, with their standard features of metal rivets, tiny pockets, and, of course, the blue denim (hence, the name “blue jeans”). But why are most denim jeans blue? I mean, blue does seem an odd choice for pants that so many folks wear every single day. But blue actually became the jean standard for good reason.

Blue was the default denim hue even before Levi Strauss patented his riveted workers’ trousers in 1873. Here’s some style science: when exposed to hot water, most dyes seep deep into fabrics & set in the fibers. But not indigo. Indigo dye sticks only to the outside of fibers. Then, when placed in hot water, the dye progressively fades rather than permeating deeper into the material. Then, as the indigo washes away over time, it also takes minute amounts of thread along with it.

That would be bad if we were talking about more delicate fabrics, but not denime. It’s actually perfect, since denim starts out so stiff that losing some fibers doesn’t damage it. Instead, a couple of hot washes actually give the fabric a worn-in quality for the softer feel that many folks appreciate most in their favorite jeans. Aging blue jeans get more comfortable as you wear them, while also still staying strong. And for that reason, they were the favorite pants of many workers in the 1800s.

Nowadays, most jeans are created with synthetic indigo dye, but they’re still made to get softer the longer you wear them. For stiff denim, a good wash can help break them in. But, for a brand-new pair, maybe wait to throw them in the washer. Because wearing jeans for a few months before giving them their first wash will actually make them fade less evenly than jeans cleaned right away. That way, your favorite jeans’ fade pattern will be unique to you. And nothing says “comfortably distinct” & “distinctly comfortable” like a great pair of blue jeans.

Got a Mundane Mystery you’d like solved? Send me a message via Twitter (@AndyWebbRadio), or shoot me an email at [email protected].