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A B2 intermediate level English resource.

The story of Blue Jeans

Denim - the all-American fashion..

Blue jeans are the most popular type of clothing in the world; but they are not modern! In fact, jeans have existed for over 160 years.

   In 1996, someone found some very old clothes in an old mine in Nevada, USA; they included a pair of dirty old jeans. Today, those jeans are very valuable, and they are now in the Levi Strauss Archival Collection, in San Francisco. The jeans, which are over 140 years old, are the oldest pair of Levi's 501 jeans in the world.
    They are almost the same as a modern pair of 501's; there are just some small differences in the detail. For instance, today's 501's have two back pockets, the old pair just has one.


Blue jeans    Jeans were the classic clothes of the American West.
    In 1853, a young tailor from Germany, called Levi Strauss, began working in San Francisco; Levi sold thick canvas to miners; the miners used the canvas to make tents.
    One day, a miner told Levi that he could not find trousers that were strong enough for work in the gold mines. Levi decided to make some trousers out of canvas.
    Very soon, he had sold all the canvas trousers he had made! They were just what miners wanted.
    However, the canvas was rather heavy and stiff. Levi therefore began to look for a different textile; soon he found a heavy textile from France; it was called serge de Nimes. Americans just called this de Nimes, and this name soon got reduced to denim.
    Denim was a bit lighter than canvas, but it was very strong; it was ideal for miners.
    However, original denim was almost white, and miners did not like the color! Their denim trousers got dirty as soon as they began working!
    Levi Strauss therefore decided to use colored denim, and he chose dark blue. In 1873,he began to make denim trousers with metal rivets to make them stronger. This was a radical new idea: "Blue jeans" had arrived!
    Levi's jeans were so popular, that his company got bigger and bigger; soon, other firms were making blue jeans too. Miners liked them, but so did cowboys and other working men. Blue jeans became classic American working trousers.
    After the Second World War, jeans became popular all over the world. Today, blue jeans are made throughout the world – most of them in Asia. Very few jeans are now made in the USA, because of the cost: but it is still possible to buy blue jeans that are made in San Francisco.... if you have a lot of money to spend.
    Today there are hundreds of different brands of jeans. Many top fashion brands, like Armani or Benetton, make their own blue jeans. But for real authentic jeans, "Levi's" are still the most popular brand.


    In America, everyone wears jeans as leisure wear. Some people wear jeans all the time, even for work. But Americans are perhaps less formal than other nations.
    At the "G7" summit in Denver, in 1997, American President Bill Clinton gave all his visitors jeans, for a "Western evening". Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister, put them on, but other European leaders, including Chancellor Kohl of Germany and Jacques Chirac, the President of France, refused. Some people still think that jeans are not respectable clothes!
    Not the young! Jeans are now the international uniform worn by young people. Why? That is a good question!

Word guide
for instance
: for example - tailor: clothes maker - canvas: a very strong form of cloth, used for tents or by artists - stiff: rigid - chose: (from to choose), selected - leisure wear: clothes for free time - .

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The Story of Blue Jeans - Exercise

 Interactive - use on screen or on paper:
Complete this summary of the article, by putting in appropriate words. To save your answers, take a screenshot.

The first jeans were made over 160   by a young  called Levi Strauss. At first, Levi sold  to miners; the miners used this to make  .
Then Levi began making  because miners needed  that were very . However, the  was really too  , so Levi looked for a textile which was  . He found a textile  “serge de Nimes"; it was just what he wanted
– except that miners    the colour. So Levi coloured the “denim" blue, and made the world’s first   . He also made his fortune, because jeans were  popular; everyone wanted to  them.
Today, jeans are popular   the world. They are the  popular type of   the world.

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(Version française : Petite méthodologie de la compréhension écrite )

Originally published in Freeway, the intermediate level English newsmagazine. Republication on other websites or in print is not authorised


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Intermediate level EFL resource

Level - Intermediate.
IELTS Level :  5-6
Flesch-Kincaid  scores
Reading ease level:
73.8 - Fairly easy
Grade level: 6.2

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A selection of other resources in graded English
from Linguapress
Selected pages
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The legendary Mini Cooper
Short text: Living without energy
Sport: The story of football and rugby
Big red London buses
USA: Alcohol, prohibition and Al Capone
USA: Who was Buffalo Bill?  with audio
Dialogue:  Fast Food, OK ?  with audio
More: More intermediate reading texts  
Advanced level reading :
Charles Babbage, the father of the computer
Who killed Martin Luther King?  with audio
The story of the jet plane
London's Notting Hill Carnival
More: More advanced reading texts  
Selected grammar pages
Verbs in English
Noun groups in English
Word order in English
Reported questions in English
Language and style 
Word stress in English  with audio
The short story of English

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