Summer is a time that calls for casual style, including denim shirts ranging from traditional blue collar "work wear" to more elaborate styles. America and its clothing industry have had a long love affair with denim. What was once limited to button-up jeans, overalls and stiff, cowboy-style jackets, now is the material of soft blouses worn with slacks, shorts and skirts. An eclectic fashionista may even top a formal evening dress with a denim shirt.
Raw materials for the first denim produced came from Nimes, France, during the Middle Ages. Over time, "serge de Nimes" was shortened to "de Nimes" and anglicized to "denim." Online fashion retailer Oki-ni says that the fabric was woven in Italy and used to make pants for sailors in the navy of Genoa. The word "jeans" comes from the nickname "Genes" used by the French for the sailors and Genovese citizens, according to the Denver Fabrics website.
Wholesaler Levi Strauss began selling denim clothing to miners in 1853 near the end of the California Gold Rush. James Dean made blue jeans the fashion statement of disaffected teens in his 1955 movie "Rebel Without a Cause." The fabric's popularity eventually blossomed into the designer jean craze of the 1980s. But the obsession with denim eventually declined, as youth of the 1990s sought fabrics and styles different from those of their parents' generation. A 2011 Redbook Magazine article focusing on ways to wear a denim shirt to work clearly demonstrates that the fabric is no longer material for youthful rebellion.
Work-style denim shirts with long sleeves, chest pockets and shirttail hems are the main kind of denim blouse retailed for women. Although it looks sleek, Banana Republic's soft, washed-out-blue denim shirt is roomy, according to customers. Snaps used as buttons down the front and on the pockets recall the early days of denim Western wear. Woolrich, a longtime Western wear manufacturer, sells a simpler, sky blue work shirt without snaps.
Urban Outfitters produces a variety of repurposed denim shirts in its "urban renewal" line. Along with remaindered fabric, it finds vintage shirts around the world and redesigns them. One crop-top style is a close-fitting, curve-hugging vest with a snap front. One work shirt conversion involves what is called a "cold shoulder" look that retains long sleeves, but modifies them so shoulders are exposed.
In its 2011 spring trends issue, InStyle Magazine says "the jean shirt is no longer tied to the hokey western yoke." It displays a sky blue, loose-fitting tunic by Stella McCartney that has boxy, three-quarter length sleeves and a long, center-front tab that buttons at the jewel neckline.
The author of the You Look Fab website combines a denim shirt knotted above the waist with a knee-length ball gown that has a fitted bodice and flared skirt. Levi Strauss would have never seen this one coming.