From workaday outerwear to the laps of multi-billionaires, blue jeans have withstood the wear and tear of time as an American icon.
Originally called overalls (even without the straps), the pants evolved from a practical solution to protect the laboring limbs of workers to a style suiting just about every demographic. The garment has fit the thighs of miners, farmhands, cowboys, rebels, hippies, rockers, hip-hop artists, fashionistas and businesspeople alike. Even Apple founder Steve Jobs adopted them, along with a black mock turtleneck, as his signature look.
Heck, you’ve probably worn a pair, too.
So how did a humble Gold Rush-era innovation in trousers come to define a nation? Fortune spoke with Levi Strauss historian and archivist Tracey Panek about the evolution of the attire. With her help and some research of our own, here’s a selection of the most important moments in denim history.
Singer-actor extraordinaire Bing Crosby gets turned away from a fancy Canadian hotel for wearing all denim. Levi & Strauss sends him a custom denim tuxedo with a “Notice to All Hotel Men” declaring the outfit acceptable formal attire, thus allegedly originating the term “Canadian tuxedo.” (Richard Branson ordered and wore a replica recently.)
Norma jeans? Marilyn Monroe pumps up the sex appeal of blue jeans in River of No Return. A New York Times critic observes, “It is a toss-up whether the scenery or the adornment of Marilyn Monroe is the feature of greater attraction.” Guess jeans later recreates the pose in ads featuring Anna Nicole Smith, among other models.