If you open any kind of fashion magazine, or watch people on the streets in places like New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, you are going to see a blue jean phenomenon – the turned-up cuff. It’s a look that’s still in, and has roots that are deep in the past.
Levi Strauss & Co were the first to make blue jeans in 1873. They were made out denim that was woven at the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company located in Manchester, New Hampshire. Back in the day they did not have preshrunk fabrics, so the cotton denim was what we call today Shrink-to-Fit™. We all know that when cotton is in water it shrinks and does not go back to the original size.
The earlier wearers of the 501® jeans know that this could happen with their jeans. So they would buy their jeans an inch bigger at the waist, and around three inches longer on the leg. Sooner or later the denim would shrink if they washed them, but that did not always occur right away. Up until it did, they had to fold up the leg opening at the bottom of their jeans. They did not really have an idea what a fashion statement like this would mean many decades later.
The cuff had been functional in another way also. Cowboys who would spend hours in the saddle found the cuffs to be a handy storage place. There they were able to hold their tobacco pouch or a pack of cigarettes, for instance.
It was easier to reach into your cuff than into a saddle bag, and it wouldn’t involve having to get off their horses.
Boys in high school would use the cuffs as extra pockets too. Coins, candy, and even pencils would find their way into their turn-ups on several campuses.
When pre-shrunk jeans appeared in vogue during the 1960s, the cuff vanished. This was also due to the skinnier fits popular in that decade. The only place you would see the upturned cuff style was in the movies, but a craze for vintage fashion exploded in cities from New York to Los Angeles during the 1990s. The Levi’s Vintage Clothing line of 1996 aided in this movement, and helped make the cuff cool once again, Levi Strauss reported.
This look was also very authentic. Those early Levis jeans displayed the denims self-edge when the opening of the leg was turned up. That was one of the signature looks of the classic denim wearer, and is a still-imitated and admired look today.