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Raw Denim Reading – “Denim: From Cowboys to Catwalks…”

Earlier on in my raw denim journey, I was recommended “Denim: From Cowboys to Catwalks: A Visual History of the World’s Most Legendary Fabric” by Graham Marsh and Paul Trynka to learn about the story behind denim. I searched high and low for this book and it turned out my local library had two copies. This book is highly recommended for any denimhead collection.

It’s written in a very engaging manner that keeps you flipping the pages. I learned a wealth of information ranging from the forefathers of denim, Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss, to the battle between different brands to society’s views on denim throughout the ages. There are many drool-worthy photos of denim that would easily hold its own on our Fade Friday feature.

The most striking lesson from the book for me is that all denim used to have selvedge fabric. At this point, you’ll be saying “Of course they’re all selvedge. They were all made with shuttle looms. Duh!” But my rebuttal is that it’s different from just reading and hearing about selvedge denim coming from shuttle looms compared to actually seeing it in the book’s photos. Selvedge denim was the only existence for denim back-in-the-day. You’ll see the majority of photos of people in jeans and denim-only photos with the coveted selvedge line that we’ve come to love.

Another big eureka! moment is when I learned that all denim used to be raw denim. It wasn’t until the late ’70s that pre-distressing happened, but now that pre-distressing is the norm the term “raw” is used to distinguish itself from the rest. It’s definitely a fun factoid you can use to defend your raw denim ways. Denim back in the day used to be raw denim. What a different time it must have been, eh?

Graham Marsh and Paul Trynka set the pace and tone with an excellent introduction to the book. Here’s an excerpt from the introduction of “Denim: From Cowboys to Catwalks: A Visual History of the World’s Most Legendary Fabric”:

Presidents and prime ministers wear it. It’s still a rebel fabric. A badge of workers, a totem of anti-establishment cool, denim is the most democratic of fabrics, one that flatters everyone but the powerful and paunchy.

Denim is simple, non-intellectual stuff. But it abounds in dualities. It is a symbol of egalitarianism and of materialism; it embodies the freedom of the west and is traded in closed societies in lieu of hard currency. It ages gracefully, yet signifies an obsession with youth. It glories in its ubiquity, but it looks different on everyone who wears it.

Although I left the best photos and pages of information for when you pick up the book, there’s still plenty to see. Here’s a preview of the book:


2005 edition. (Source: Amazon)


A Riveting Tale: When Jacob met Levi – and created a legend. It introduces the unsung hero of the denim world. Jacob Davis came up with the idea of using the rivets for reinforcing the pockets. The rest is history. Let’s Go To Work: Overalls, workwear and two-dog labels. Other brands are introduced – it wasn’t just Levi’s to start. (Source: Denim: From Cowboys to Catwalks)


I’ll let the jeans do the talking here… but I’ll add something on the side anyway. Here’s a pair of Levi’s 501 Waist Overalls. I can assure you whoever wore these jeans wasn’t obsessed with getting those “sick fadez,” he just wore them and they turned out beautifully. A 1937 ad featuring the new hidden/concealed rivets. There are many ads featuring different brands and products in the book. (Source: Denim: From Cowboys to Catwalks)


From Wartime to Playtime: Denim becomes the uniform of war and peace. Denim’s been around for a while. Notice how the Lee Jeans have a selvedge line. Steve McQueen was nicknamed “the King of Cool.” A classic example of the double-denim combo (not quite a Canadian Tuxedo, which is a denim jacket and jeans). You’ll find many well-known people wearing denim in this book. It’s a fabric for everyone! (Source: Denim: From Cowboys to Catwalks)


The last photo of the book of a boy and his dog pulling at a pair of jeans. It reminds me of Levi’s classic Two Horse Brand patch. If you never looked at the Levi’s patch, you’ll see two horses unsuccessfully pulling apart a pair of Levi’s jeans. That was another eureka! moment for me. I’m easily excited, as you can tell. (Source: Denim: From Cowboys to Catwalks)

I hope your appetite is whet and your hunger for more denim knowledge is satiated. There’s so much more content in “Denim: From Cowboys to Catwalks: A Visual History of the World’s Most Legendary Fabric” than you could imagine. Although it doesn’t seem like the book is in production anymore, you can find a few copies on Amazon:

Additional Resources:

  • Paul Trynka’s Official Site’s Denim Page

Stay Raw!

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