When you think of denim jeans, you think of American history. The cowboys and Marlboro man. Steve McQueen on a motorcycle. Woodstock and the peace seeking hippies starting a revolution. Style icons like Jane Birkin sashaying in the streets with a picnic basket in her boyfriends jeans. You think of rock moments like Guns N Roses and Axel swaying to Sweet Child o Mine. You think of fashion moments like Lanvin + Acne.
What other style in fashion has broken so many barriers, defined generations and transformed while staying the same than the denim jean.
The roots of blue jeans go back to a simple pair of 501′s crafted for workwear by Levi Strauss during the California Gold Rush. The miners wore cotton canvas pants and overalls but they tended to chafe and wear too quickly. Levi Strauss found a sturdier heavy blue cotton twill from Nîmes France, called Serge de Nîmes, later nicknamed denim. He added rivets on the pockets and created the stitch design adopted by many denim makers to this day. He patented the process in 1873 and voila the blue jean was born.
In the 30′s, real life cattle ranchers and cowboys were wearing denim as workwear for their day to day chores. It was around this time that denim started it’s rise as an American icon debuting on the silver screen in Western films.
Denim, like the jumpsuit has also had feisty moments considered to be gutsy rebel style.
In the 50′s denim took a turn from being reserved for workwear to the ultimate statement against conformity. Think about James Dean in the 1950′s rocking his denim in Rebel Without a Cause.
Considered shocking for the time, denim was banned from schools, movie theaters and restaurants. This only fueled the appeal and sealed the allure for denim as the supreme rebel look.
In the 50′s it was still uncommon for women to wear jeans. I love denim, but it’s not the first thing that comes to mind when I think of what to wear to workout. The eternal rebel Marilyn Monroe made Levi’s her gear of choice to lift weights in the 50′s.
In the 60′s denim was still predominately available only in the US , but who could forget Brigitte Bardot’s timeless style.
and Jane Birkin
“Denim was the flag of the young generation in the 70`s.
As we were dreaming about a new world, denim was our uniform.”
In the 70′s, Denim was a vanguard of the sexual revolution with body conscious styling and looks made to highlight the curves of a woman’s body. Designer Gloria Vanderbilt created the first designer stretch denim in 1976.
“Jeans are Sex”.
Calvin Klein’s response to his Brooke Shields ad in 1980
In 1980 Calvin Klein featured a controversial, racy ad with Brooke Shields. At the time the young age of 15, and the amount of skin was a taboo.
Denim is transformative and can make a woman feel like the sexy sirens in the Guess ad campaigns.
Of course, Rock and Roll has held a special place for denim, one of the most iconic being the Born in the USA album.
Today people scour the world looking for the most authentic denim. Luxury denim mills in Japan and Europe and a few in the US are weaving on the original vintage selvage looms that were once buzzing full speed in the states. You can find denim from premium brands like Goldsign, Acne, Citizens for Humanity, Naked and Famous, G-Star, Nudie and many others.
“I wish I had invented Blue Jeans”.
Yves Saint Laurent
The allure feels timeless as we see sexy looks strutting down the catwalks of brands like Miu Miu, Philip Lim and Isabel Marant.
We actually have more in common with the original denim wearers than we might think. Like the miners, we love our denim more over time, and feel they get better with fading and wear! How is it that one humble jean can always look so current?
What’s your favorite way to wear denim?
*All images from Pinterest with the exception of the shots at Levi’s by Carly Tati