Jeans. An undeniable fashion staple and arguably one of the fashion essentials found in the closets of different spectrums of people in the world – women, kids, men, stylish, non-stylish, creatives, artists, models, athletes, professionals, career moms, college students, etc. Point is the possibility of meeting someone who doesn’t or has never owned a pair of jeans in their lifetime is rare and unheard. So much so, that a trip to any retail mall without the sight of someone somewhere wearing a pair of blue jeans would have you question if non-wearing denim-aliens have invaded us.
This wardrobe staple is seen across the globe and is now considered one of the most classic pieces of clothing everyone should own. However, where did blue jeans come from? How has denim risen to its current popularity in American fashion? This versatile fabric has found its way into every closet. Still, like the many staples of fashion, most wearers are unaware of the refreshingly intriguing history of denim, from its creation, first practical uses, and to how it became a (functional) fashion staple in everyone’s closet.
The origin of denim is a complex one. Its credited creation depends entirely on where we decided to begin in its fashion history. In the 18th century, there were those in Nimes, Frances, who accidentally created variation denim as a response to replicating an Italian fabric called serge. However, the history of the true American blue jean began when Levi Strauss brought them to the U.S. in the late 19th century. Jacob Davis, a tailor in Nevada, was running into an issue with the pants he was stitching for miners to wear; the fabric was not strong enough to withstand their working environments. After creating riveted trousers, pants that were made with snap fixtures, and a duck cloth material, Davis enlisted the help of Strauss to take out a patent on them. Their manufactured trousers corporation skyrocketed, but it wasn’t until the release of Levi’s 501 styles in 1890 that denim jeans truly began.
Initially, blue jeans were worn by a particular type of people. From miners and workers to cowboys, blue jeans’ climb to the top of the fashion world was slow and steady. Over the decades, jeans were being more and more manufactured, created in a variety of cuts and silhouettes popular to its time. In 1936, Levi Strauss added his signature red flag to the back of his jeans, making it one of the first pieces of clothing to have a designer label. While jeans were traditionally worn for work, this marks the beginning of their integration into fashion. Also, in the 1930s, Vogue magazine featured denim jeans as a fashion look for the first time, thus further transitioning them away from only being a practical uniform.
By the 1950s, jeans became an in-vogue fashion trend, popularized by younger generations as Hollywood utilized them to be symbols of rebellion and teen youth. Denim jeans began to embody the American spirit in fashion. The rise of jeans also coincided with the movement of women wearing pants, more specifically denim, by the mid-20th century. The 1960s were infamous for its spirited, free love movement, and jeans were essential to the fashion culture. American fashion culture embraced the blue jean as something of freedom that came with a trend of embellishing and personalizing jeans. Designers pushed the limits of how jeans were styled and what styles of jeans could be worn; we owe the variety of jeans to its history as cuffed ankles and bellbottoms soon came into play. By the 1970s, denim as a fabric was taking over the fashion world, with the popularization of denim skirts and tops. Denim jeans continued its claim to fame in the fashion world as brands in the 80s started labeling designer denim, such as Calvin Klein. The 1990s was where we saw the emergence of grunge popular culture, and the structured denim pant underwent a significant change with the introduction of baggy jeans. With the turn of the century, however, jeans once again went through a completely different phase: the ultra-low rise and the infamous skinny jean.
It is no doubt that the denim jean in American history is a complex one. American fashion in itself is a constant change, and the 20th century is an attest to that claim. Within that century alone, jeans became an incredibly versatile article of clothing. It was a perfect medium to use as a reflection on the culture at the time, and today, there is no single type of denim jean. With an abundance of styles to choose from, everyone can find a denim jean that matches well with their fashion style.
Long live denim!