Finnlen Denim Jacket Part 1: Research

Posted by ML Duncan on

We're excited to announce a denim jacket in the works in addition to the organic cotton T-Shirt we wrote about last week.

Kate made herself two denim jackets with the Hampton Jean Jacket pattern. She made her latest version with Japanese Denim and it turned out great.👌 And I got interested in vintage denim last year after reading the book Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style. We reviewed Ametora here. I've been eager to start a big denim project ever since.

Our denim jacket will be the first garment produced with a Finnlen label. Like the t-shirt, it's iconic, comfortable workwear.

Kate's been working on the pattern for a couple of weeks already. And I'm doing a lot of research, compiling resources we have in our archive and finding new ones in books and on the internet. To understand the garment we're making we want to know it's history intimately. What follows is an overview of some of our research including garment influences and design details. 

Denim Jacket Precursors

Bleu de Travail

Levi Strauss, founder of Levi's, invented the Denim Jacket. Strauss, a German immigrant to America, must have been influenced by European clothing at the time. Some have speculated that the French Bleu de Travail workers jacket (left) was a precursor to the denim jacket and likely an influence on Strauss. The Bleu de Travail is a loose fitting, lightweight but durable blue jacket traditionally worn by manual laborers in France. If you're a Bill Cunningham fan, his famous blue jacket was a Bleu de Travail. The two jackets share the same basic design: a collar, large front pockets, and cuffs with buttons down the front.

French denim

Strauss was also familiar with French clothing. He imported denim from France during the early days of his jeans business. And denim, as it turns out, was invented in France.

"The story of this infamous jacket began with the creation of denim in Europe. Originally a fabric worn by Italian sailors, it was created in the cotton city of Genoa. The French town of Nîmes discovered the Italian material and impressed by the natural strength of the fabric, decided to replicate it. They failed, but what was created went by the name "de Nîmes". Fast forward across the pond to 1850 - the Californian Gold Rush - and a man named Levi Strauss began importing the denim fabric from France to create his famous sturdy, solid trousers, which later became known as "jeans"." (Rokit.co.uk)

Strauss has an interesting Kentucky connection too: in 1853 he lived and worked in Kentucky before relocating to San Francisco to start Levi's.

Levi's Denim Jacket

Strauss developed the The Levi's denim jacket in 1905. There have been just three main versions in over 100 years: the Type I, II, and III.

Type I

Levi's started selling the Type I (506XX Blouse) jacket in 1905. It features a single front pocket, pleats running down the front, and a buckle cinch in the back. 

Levi's Type I

"The very first denim jacket came into being in the form of a work shirt around 1905, when Levi Strauss created the "Levi's Blouse," an outerwear garment intended as a companion to work trousers. The shirt was known as the 506 (also known as a Type I), and set the standard for all denim jackets to come. It had a simple design, with one front pocket, a silver buckle cinch in the back and did not include flaps covering the front pockets." (Rokit.co.uk)

The original Type I is simple and that's why it is my favorite. With just one left breast pocket, all later versions had two, it covers you in a durable material and that's about it. The back cinch feels very old-fashioned now. But the pleats running down the front are interesting: experts aren't sure of their purpose but think maybe the wearer could unstitch them to allow room for a heavy sweater in colder climates. If this speculation is true it's a fantastic utilitarian addition to the jacket. It looks great if left alone but can accommodate layers if necessary.

Type II

Type II (507XX) came out in 1953 and featured two front pockets with closures. The back cinch was replaced with waist straps.

Levi's Type II

"In 1953, Levi's reworked its original Type I denim jacket into the Type II, which featured two chest pockets and the loss of the back cinch. It had added bar tacks instead of rivets on the breast pockets and waist straps."

The Type II is pretty close to what most of us think of when we imagine a jean jacket but maybe a little more vintage and boxy. It's got two pockets. I like the addition of waist straps to replace the back cinch. I also prefer the boxier cut: the functional design and construction hasn't been compromised for fashion. It's still more workwear than fashion item.

Type III

Finally, Type III (557XX) was released in 1962 and is the model that Levi's still sells today.

Levi's Type III

"The Type III, came along shortly after in 1962 and became Levi's most popular model. Also known as the "trucker jacket" it was distinguished by its tailored fit and pointed flaps on its front chest pockets. Constructed from 14 oz. preshrunk denim as opposed to the earlier models' 9 oz. raw denim base, it also featured orange instead of yellow stitching."

The Type II is very similar to the Type II but it features a more tailored fit. Heddels.com very thorough article on the different types of jackets and goes into them in much more detail. The trucker jacket looks more fashionable than it's predecessors but it's lacking the rugged utilitarian style I'm fond of with the others. It's a rock star jacket. 

Our jacket

Our main goal is to make something here in Kentucky with the highest quality organic fabric we can find. Ideally, that would be denim milled domestically and made with organic cotton grown in the US. Both of these things may not even be possible at this time. Denim milled in the US is increasingly hard to get after Cone Mills closed their White Oak plant last year. Although there are some newer American manufacturers we're exploring.  

We’ll have more on our design and development process in the next post. And more on fabric sourcing after that.

Sources And Additional Reading

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