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How long have blue jeans been around? Paintings show they were worn in the 1600s

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

When you think of blue jeans, maybe you think of cowboys or Levi Strauss or maybe a little rap.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOW")

FLO RIDA: (Rapping) Shawty had them apple bottom jeans, boots with the fur. The whole club was...

ELEONORA SCIANNA: But in fact, it has a much older history.

FADEL: Eleonora Scianna is an art historian. Her Paris gallery is launching an exhibit later this month featuring some very old paintings of denim.

SCIANNA: And this is particularly interesting because the painting dated at the end of the 17th century.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Scianna says there aren't any surviving pieces of denim from that era, but these paintings show that blue jeans were being made and worn around Europe in the 1600s. The paintings show a family of modest means going about their daily lives, wearing and tending to denim clothing. The artist who painted them is a mystery.

SCIANNA: What we know is that he was active in the northern parts of Italy. We definitely don't know the name.

FADEL: So the gallery calls the artist Master Of The Blue Jeans. The denm in the paintings looks a lot like the denm we wear today - white, woven threads, colored with indigo dye. The works show a child wearing a tattered jean jacket, another shows a denim garment slung across a woman's leg for mending.

SCIANNA: We love jeans today because it's a very strong cloth. It doesn't get damaged very easily. So it was a very good material for outer element of dressing.

MARTIN: The denim of 300 years ago was manufactured in Genoa, Italy and Nimes, France.

SCIANNA: We still have traces of the names of the two cities in the word jeans, which is Genoa and de Nimes, which is the Nimes, denim from Nimes.

FADEL: Do you think they had acid wash back then?

MARTIN: I just hope they didn't have boot cut. That's all I care about.

FADEL: I like boot cut.

MARTIN: Or high - OK. High rise, then. Slim cut, right? That's...

FADEL: OK.

MARTIN: ...The worst. Slim cut is the worst.

(SOUNDBITE OF SUMMERTIME BLUE SONG, "BLUE JEANS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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