“No taxation without representation” is not the only game-changing innovation Americans have come up with since 1776. In fact, we also owe thanks to our forefathers (and foremothers) for some of the most practical and prevalent creations in fashion. From undergarments to shoe soles, American inventors have us covered – literally.
In honor of the 4th of July, here are the stories of how five legendary, American pieces of clothing came to be.
1. Jeans (May 20, 1873)
In 1853, during the Gold Rush, twenty-four-year-old Levi Strauss migrated from New York to San Francisco in pursuit of affluence. In California, he successfully established the West Coast branch of his family’s business, importing clothing, fabrics and other dry goods. Among his loyal customers was Jacob Davis, a Reno, Nevada tailor who had the idea to use metal rivets to reinforce denim work pants at stress points. Lacking the funds to file for a patent, Davis sought out Strauss as a business partner, and the two men went on to manufacture the first jeans in San Francisco.
2. Earmuffs (March 13, 1877)
Allegedly a grammar school dropout, fifteen-year-old Chester Greenwood of Farmington, Maine was ice skating in the bitter cold when he grew frustrated with the impracticality of wrapping a wool scarf around his head to protect his ears. Determined to find a solution, he bent wire in the shape of two ears and asked his grandmother to sew fur onto them – and the earmuffs were born.
3. Rubber Heel (January 24, 1899)
Setting type in a print shop in Lowell, Massachusetts, Humphrey O’Sullivan stood on a hard floor for hours each day. To soothe his pained feet, he made a habit of bringing a rubber mat to work to stand on. Seeing its effectiveness, he cut the mat into heel-shaped pieces and attached them to the soles of his shoes. He sold his rubber heels, which became dubbed “America’s No. 1 Heel,” first to Lowell shoemakers and then to cobblers throughout the nation.
4. The Brassiere (March 28, 1893 and November 3, 1914)
The first brassiere was invented in 1893 by New York resident Marie Tucek. Tucek’s bra, which resembles the modern underwire bra, consisted of a metal supporting plate underneath separate pockets for each breast. Tucek, however, failed to market the product successfully. It was not until 1914—when young New York socialite Mary Phelps Jacob patented her own design—that the bra began to proliferate. Jacob is supposed to have fashioned her first bra, out of ribbon and two silk handkerchiefs, because the stiff boning of her corset showed through an evening gown she had purchased.
5. Spanx (August 21, 2001)
Before Sara Blakely of Atlanta, Georgia invented Spanx, she was a door-to-door saleswoman for fax machines. Her life changed when, at 29, she became frustrated by a pair of white slacks that did not flatter her rear end. Blakely found her solution when she cut the feet off of control-top pantyhose and wore them under the pants. Investing her life savings of $5,000 to develop comfortable shapewear, Blakely made her first sale through an in-person demonstration. She has since grown into the youngest female self-made billionaire in the world, while Spanx has expanded its reach into bras, swimwear, activewear, and even menswear. If that’s not the American Dream our founding fathers had in mind, then what is?