Denim is one of those uniquely American garments that has continuously been able to reinvent itself to suit the changing cultural and stylistic landscape. Starting as a simple workman’s garment, jeans have retained basically the same structure since the addition of riveted seams in 1873, a testament to their design. Building off that fundamental construction, jeans have evolved into a variety of styles their creator could have scarcely imagined.
Having started as a hearty dungaree – think overalls – the denim we see on the shelves today is as varied as it is unrecognizable when compared to those first pairs. So let’s take a look at a few styles that have ebbed, flowed and ultimately caught the attention of the fashion set over the decades.
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Long thought of as a purely ‘Wild West’ fashion style unfit for the rest of the country, blue jeans were ultimately carried across the nation thanks to an unlikely champion: Hollywood.
In the 1930s, the genre of the ‘Western’ film became hugely popular, and with it so did the leading man’s uniform of choice: blue jeans. Made from medium-weight denim and decorated with elaborate stitching, this was a working man’s pant with an extra bit of flourish. Actors like John Wayne typified the kind of hyper-masculinity the style quickly became associated with.
Today, Western-style denim has become as popular as the musical genre, with Western jeans being more suited to the runway than the ranch. Though complex stitching still characterizes the style, the denim is much lighter than actual working ranch denim and typically incorporates a stretch element into the fabric.
Though bell-bottoms may be synonymous with the hippie/counterculture movements of the 1960s, they actually emerged as a style in the 19th century when the US Navy adopted them as part of its uniform.
It wasn’t until the 1960s, though, that the bell-bottom style was rendered using denim, and it took off as a stylistic symbol for a freewheeling culture. Both men and women donned styles with legs that flared outwards, reaching circumferences of up to 18 inches. Patches, pins and beading all became the trendy way to set your personal pair apart from the rest.
Most of us might think the skinny jean is a modern style, taken to comical extremes by young skaters and punks starting in the early 2000’s. The truth is that skinny jeans go back over half a century, first coming into vogue in the 1950s with ‘Greaser’ culture.
Though not a new thing in fashion by any means, skinny jeans really started to make a resurgence in the early 2000’s when young male members of punk subcultures began buying girls jeans. It’s hard to imagine that at the time a skinny jean marketed to men was nearly impossible to find.
Today the extremes of the skinny jean trend have largely dissipated, with cooler and more relaxed fits prevailing.
What Goes Around Comes Around
Ultimately, trends in denim will always be cyclical, with certain styles appearing like new concepts, only to have been brought back from decades before.