Research on the trade of jean fabric shows that it emerged in the cities of Genoa, Italy, and Nîmes, France. Gênes, the French word for Genoa, may be the origin of the word “jeans”. In Nîmes, weavers tried to reproduce jean fabric but instead developed a similar twill fabric that became known as denim, from de Nîmes, meaning “from Nîmes”. Genoa’s jean fabric was a fustian textile of “medium quality and of reasonable cost”, very similar to cotton corduroy for which Genoa was famous, and was “used for work clothes in general”. The Genoese navy equipped its sailors with jeans, as they needed a fabric which could be worn wet or dry. Nîmes’s “denim” was coarser, considered higher quality, and was used “for over garments such as smocks or overalls”.In 1576 a quantity of “jean fustians” arrived into the port of Barnstaple on a vessel from Bristol.
Nearly all indigo, needed for dyeing, came from indigo bush plantations in India until the late 19th century. It was replaced by indigo synthesis methods developed in Germany. Copper rivets for reinforcing pockets are a characteristic feature of blue jeans. By the 17th century, jean was a crucial textile for working-class people in Northern Italy. This is seen in a series of genre paintings from around the 17th century attributed to an artist now nicknamed The Master of the Blue Jeans. The ten paintings depict impoverished scenes with lower-class figures wearing a fabric that looks like denim. The fabric would have been Genoese jean, which was cheaper. Genre painting came to prominence in late 16th century, and the non-nobility subject matter in all ten paintings places them among others that portray similar scenes.