Blue Jeans Jam celebrates Reno as birthplace of jeans
The Blue Jeans Jam, a celebration of riveted denim jeans in all of their forms and all their glory, is fast approaching.
The three-day lifestyle festival, set for Oct. 2-4 and hosted by the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority, will provide riveting activities — from exhibits to shopping and from music to food—taking Reno, Sparks and North Lake Tahoe by storm.
The setting of this tribute to an iconic U.S. invention is no fluke. It's based on a happening of considerable local pride.
In 1870, a woodcutter's wife asked Reno tailor Jacob Davis to make a sturdy pair of workpants for her husband. Davis, a Russian immigrant, had been crafting items such as tents and wagon covers from heavy cotton cloth, reinforced with copper rivets.
He used the same fabric, supplied by wholesaler Levi Strauss, to sew the trousers, adding rivets to strengthen the seams and the pockets. Word of the remarkable pants traveled among the railroad workers that thronged Reno at the time, so much so that Davis couldn't keep up with the demand.
Realizing he was onto something, Davis approached Strauss, asking him to finance a patent application for his "improvements in fastening pocket openings." The entrepreneurs got their patent in 1873 and went into business making blue jeans, distinguished from their competitors' products by a proprietary design stitched onto the back pockets in orange thread.
Denim on display
If you're chomping at the bit to celebrate Reno's sartorial history, you don't have to wait until October.
An exhibit celebrating the role blue jeans has played in popular culture and automotive history is now on view at the National Automobile Museum through Nov. 6. "Denim: Cool Rags and Rides" features curiosities like a special "Levi's edition" chopped-back AMC Gremlin, dating from 1974 and upholstered — you guessed it — in denim.
Also on view are rare garments from the collections of Levi Strauss & Co. and fashion archaeologist Brit Eaton, including a pair of late 19th-century jeans Eaton discovered in an abandoned mine near Goldfield, Nev.
In a recent interview, Eaton told RGJ reporter Bill O'Driscoll, "I've always said that denim is like a canvas that paints itself over time."
Come Oct. 3, the canvas will expand to include happenings like Denim and Divas, held from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Circus Circus Mandalay Ballroom. Denim and Divas will include a retail marketplace, fashion shows, prizes and activities.
Shopping can be hungry work, so attendees can flock to the Whitney Peak Hotel, where a pop-up restaurant will celebrate the blue jean king himself. Jacob's Joint, located just a few blocks from Davis' tailor shop, will feature a special menu whipped up by noted Reno chef and restaurateur Mark Estee. The gourmet fare, which will only be available during the festival, will highlight local, farm-to-table meats and produce.
The jeans festival will provide food for the mind as well as for the body with some history-drenched presentations.
On Oct. 3, genealogist Kathleen Clemence will share the gripping story of Jacob Davis and the woman he married, German immigrant Annie Packsher. Held from noon to 1 p.m. in the Circus Circus Casino Ballroom, "JW & Annie Davis: Their Riveting Lives" will follow the Davis family from Eastern Europe to the American West. Nancy Davis Arndt Finken, the eldest great-grandchild of Jacob and Annie, will be a special guest. A presentation on the storied history of Levi Strauss & Co. by the company's historian, Tracey Panek, will follow from 1:30-2:30 p.m.
From 3-4 p.m., Eaton, who has been dubbed "Indiana Jeans," will speak about some of his swashbuckling adventures as a fashion archaeologist. The owner of Carpe Denim, a company specializing in historic apparel from across the country, Eaton will also give fellow garment pickers a look into "where he sees the vintage market going and how it relates to fashion in the future."
His "Tales from the Denim Trail" will be enlivened by photos of his travels and pieces from his vintage clothing collection, many of which can be traced to the time when the partnership of Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss thrived.