One of the three real cornerstone American denim brands is without a doubt Wrangler, sitting alongside greats like Levi’s and Lee. Wrangler stands as an American icon; the spirit of those who work hard, recognize individuality and still want a pant that wears as hard as they would have back in the 1940s when Blue Bell acquired the brand.
In the mid ’40s, Blue Bell, who had previously been making Super Big Ben Overalls out of 100% sanforized fabric, purchased the Casey Jones Work-Clothes company alongside the rights to the name Wrangler. In 1946, Wrangler and tailor Bernard Lichtenstein (or “Rodeo Ben” as he was known) began developing a line of jeans specifically for cowboys and rodeo use. This was the origin of Wrangler jeans as a real entitiy. Oddly enough, Rodeo Ben had little American heritage, being a cowboy from Polish origins.
Having designed and tested over 13 pairs of prototype denim, the Wrangler 11MWZ was introduced by Blue Bell to the American public, giving them a jean with felled outseams and inseams, rear pockets positioned for in-saddle comfort, no rivets to avoid scratching one’s saddle, a zipper fly and a strongly tacked crotch/. All told, it was a jean tailored for cowboy use. The original promotional campaign for the 11MWZ showed a number of riders and rodeo legends wearing the jeans in the saddle. While eventually renamed the 13MWZ (due to the use of 13 oz. denim), the 11MWZ remains the classic Wrangler jean.
The real breakthrough in the 13MWZ in terms of the denim came thanks to another textile innovation – broken twill denim. Such texture provided balanced structure of the fabric, which was no longer intertwined around the cowboy’s legs. As an added plus, the new customized denim turned out to be softer than traditional herringbone one.
These jeans were so popular among the rodeo circuit that in 1974, a custom tailored Wrangler jean was named the official jean of the Rodeo Cowboy’s Association of the USA. Not wanting to remain purely in America, Wrangler aimed its sights on markets further abroad.
In the mid 1960s, Blue Bell opened their first European factory in Belgium and began to sell the Wrangler brand around Europe, where it took off as an icon of youth and American culture. In 1986, when Blue Bell merged with VF Corp, Wrangler was launched as it’s own entity. The brand continued to grow under its unique heading, creating such a demand for the jean that soon one in every five pairs of jeans bought in America carried Wrangler label.
Today, Wrangler stands for not only the cowboy theme, but also the western roots and tradition of the brand. The signature “W” letter embroidered on the back pockets has become to one of the most recognizable symbols in the world of denim. In Europe, the brand is represented in 22 countries as well as gaining cult popularity all over the world.
Wrangler continues to push it’s American tradition in it’s marketing today, recently using famous American football quarterback Brett Favre playing touch football in the mud wearing a pair of Wrangler jeans. However, it’s worth noting that Wrangler no longer produces any of their denim in the United States, as the last American factory closed in 2005.