A Brief History of Wrangler Jeans

One of the three real cornerstone American denim brands is without a doubt Wrangler, sitting alongside greats like Levi’s and Lee. Wrangler stands as an American icon; the spirit of those who work hard, recognize individuality and still want a pant that wears as hard as they would have back in the 1940s when Blue Bell acquired the brand.

In the mid ’40s, Blue Bell, who had previously been making Super Big Ben Overalls out of 100% sanforized fabric, purchased the Casey Jones Work-Clothes company alongside the rights to the name Wrangler. In 1946, Wrangler and tailor Bernard Lichtenstein (or “Rodeo Ben” as he was known) began developing a line of jeans specifically for cowboys and rodeo use. This was the origin of Wrangler jeans as a real entitiy. Oddly enough, Rodeo Ben had little American heritage, being a cowboy from Polish origins.

A Brief History of Wrangler Jeans

Having designed and tested over 13 pairs of prototype denim, the Wrangler 11MWZ was introduced by Blue Bell to the American public, giving them a jean with felled outseams and inseams, rear pockets positioned for in-saddle comfort, no rivets to avoid scratching one’s saddle, a zipper fly and a strongly tacked crotch/. All told, it was a jean tailored for cowboy use. The original promotional campaign for the 11MWZ showed a number of riders and rodeo legends wearing the jeans in the saddle. While eventually renamed the 13MWZ (due to the use of 13 oz. denim), the 11MWZ remains the classic Wrangler jean.

A Brief History of Wrangler Jeans

The real breakthrough in the 13MWZ in terms of the denim came thanks to another textile innovation – broken twill denim. Such texture provided balanced structure of the fabric, which was no longer intertwined around the cowboy’s legs. As an added plus, the new customized denim turned out to be softer than traditional herringbone one.

These jeans were so popular among the rodeo circuit that in 1974, a custom tailored Wrangler jean was named the official jean of the Rodeo Cowboy’s Association of the USA. Not wanting to remain purely in America, Wrangler aimed its sights on markets further abroad.

A Brief History of Wrangler Jeans

In the mid 1960s, Blue Bell opened their first European factory in Belgium and began to sell the Wrangler brand around Europe, where it took off as an icon of youth and American culture. In 1986, when Blue Bell merged with VF Corp, Wrangler was launched as it’s own entity. The brand continued to grow under its unique heading, creating such a demand for the jean that soon one in every five pairs of jeans bought in America carried Wrangler label.

Today, Wrangler stands for not only the cowboy theme, but also the western roots and tradition of the brand. The signature “W” letter embroidered on the back pockets has become to one of the most recognizable symbols in the world of denim. In Europe, the brand is represented in 22 countries as well as gaining cult popularity all over the world.

Wrangler continues to push it’s American tradition in it’s marketing today, recently using famous American football quarterback Brett Favre playing touch football in the mud wearing a pair of Wrangler jeans. However, it’s worth noting that Wrangler no longer produces any of their denim in the United States, as the last American factory closed in 2005.

A Brief History of Wrangler Jeans

Brett Favre in his Wrangler Jean


Based in Vancouver, BC, Canada, Connor grew an interest in raw denim thanks to the process, maturation, patience and craft that goes into each individual pair. He also writes at REPOSITORY which he started alongside Rawr founder Nick Coe.

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  • Tenzing Satoshi

    why no selvedge? why no raw? or zimbabwean cotton and japanese secret extract dying techniques? this product is unrefined, just like all umrikkans.

    • Kevin

      true heritage of jeans

    • BrownTrousers

      Sorry but denim was developed for working overalls. Simple.

      From ancient Genovese sailors to the gold rush to guys working in motor garages and cowboys. Denim was merely a cheap hardwearing fabric.

      All the craft and subtlety of Japanese techniques are interesting but really I think it has more to do with creating a fashion product than the original workwear.

  • Grazfather x

    Love articles like this. Too bad Wrangler only sells (afaik) $25 jeans now.

    • OkfuskeeGuthrie

      They sell a Wrangler Retro jean, which run $40-50 a pair. They’re actually very good cuts, though the washes are a pretty standard fare of various fades distressing. Being an Okie, I own a pair and it is I have something that fits well with my boots that I can through in the wash without thinking after work. That way I can save sweating all day in my raws.

  • Greg Wirtz

    Was waiting for a second on their fall from grace, but alas…

  • arie501xx

    Nice to read about One of the Big Three USA jeansbrands. Amazing prices on the advert: $ 3.69 for a mens jeans and $ 3.89 for a mens jacket. Now I will pay about 100 euros for a mens Wrangler jeans in the Netherlands

  • http://www.facebook.com/jayhanspal Jay Hanspal

    all the white country and frat boys in texas where this shit. fuck that…

  • chicagolaw1

    They make selvage denim now. Its priced like LVC and other companies’ vintage labels.

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  • http://www.dulacstudio.com/ Dulac Studio

    My favorite back pocket embroidery.

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