Even though centuries have passed since the first emergence of denim from a little town in Italy, denim still is a fashion main-stay. Being a child of the 90ies jeans for me will forever be Brandon Walsh smiling “heart-meltingly” in a denim-on-denim combo, Anna Nicole Smith glancing over her shoulder seductively in her Guess jeans and Kurt Cobain tramping about in his ripped-jeans-grunge look. This fashion item has not only survived the cruel readiness of an industry to cast once hyped fashion trends away into oblivion as quick as one can say fashion blog; but also has overcome socio-economic boundaries, making itself attractive to old-young, poor-rich, hot-cold, exciting and boring.
However, the origins of jeans are a far cry from its fashionable flair today. In the late 1800s denim trousers or “waist overalls” as they were called back then were only worn by male workers such as cowboys or miners who needed strong and durable working clothes. Even though denim was a strong material the pockets easily tore from the trousers and a tailor called Jacob Davis had figured out a solution. In order to sell and patent his idea of adding rivets to the trousers he invited a young man named Levi Strauss to join his business venture. It is this collaboration that would eventually lead to the birth of jeans as we know them today. It wasn’t until the 1900s when jeans started to become popular, leaving behind their sole purpose of practicality. During this era Levi Strauss added his signature red flag to the garment, making jeans the first item of clothing to have an outside label, Vogue published its first denim-cover and teen icons like James Dean made denim the symbol of teenage rebellion. During the 60ies and 70ies Hippies had not only found a way to express their individuality but also the voice of a whole generation by personalising their jeans using bright colours, embroidery and patches. Finally in the 80ies and 90ies jeans had become high-end fashion when designers such as Calvin Klein, Jordache and Gloria Vanderbilt started to claim a piece of denim for themselves. Today, denim is as popular as ever. It is worn by anyone to any occasion, weather a student, a grandmother, a teenager, a lawyer or a factory worker everyone owns a pair of jeans. When trying to answer the question of what makes this garment piece so popular, its versatility and adaptability spring to mind. While, for example, leather trousers only come in one or two styles, denim trousers provide a huge range of types from boot to straight leg, high waist to low cut, ripped to stone-washed and boyfriend to skinny. Similarly, corduroys can be worn to some but not all occasions, while the jeans that were worn to work today can also be and will be worn to the big night out later that same day.
If fashion was a living being one can argue that denim is its most resilient virus, piercing through decades of human life, leaving its counterparts to the vast desert of “do you remember…”. While the corduroy and leather pants have vanished from the face of pop culture onto hangers of vintage shops, jeans have stood the test of time. Therefore, wearing jeans means more than merely making a fashion statement, it means being part of history.