Denim History: 5 of the Most Iconic Denim Styles Through the Years
Jeans have become a quintessential fashion staple for just about any contemporary style, being perhaps the only clothing item to maintain consistent on-trend status throughout the ever-shifting world of fashion trends.
Upon their popularised introduction to America by Levi Strauss in 1873, denim jeans were intended as a functional and comfortable clothing alternative for cowboys and gold miners. Today, we’ll explain how they’ve evolved stylistically and practically to become the beloved fashion piece we know today – exploring denim history and the most iconic denim styles through the years in the process.
Throughout the 1920s, Levi Strauss’ now iconic Levi jeans were still best known for their practicality as men’s workwear – but by the 1930s, they had become somewhat synonymous with American cowboy imagery, taking American popular culture by storm.
As Western movie legends such as John Wayne and Gary Cooper rose to stardom on the silver screen, so too did their rugged cowboy fashion sense. As America became increasingly enthralled by the West, Levi began to tap into the new cultural obsession with targeted advertising that emphasised the brand’s relationship with the Western lifestyle. The result was thousands of Americans wearing their Levis with pride, as they vacationed at the dude ranches of California, Nevada and Arizona.
With jeans becoming a conscious fashion statement during the rise in popularity of the cowboy trend, Levi introduced the first range of female jeans in 1934 – a statement moment in denim history.
At a time when many felt female clothing manufacturers were oblivious to the fact that women, like men, had two legs, with women’s trousers not yet an established alternative to longstanding social and cultural norms, Levi’s introduction of a female range marked a significant turning point in fashion culture. Though skirts remained the more popular day-to-day clothing choice for women, Levi knew that jeans would soon be making their way into the daily wardrobe of American women everywhere.
By the 1950s, women’s denim jeans had spread like wildfire. Accelerated by the role of women in labour-intensive war efforts (where jeans had been regularly worn once more for their comfort and practicality), denim clothing had now become a daily staple symbolic of a prosperous social, cultural and political ideology in America. This meant that, by the mid-50s, the casual blue jean style had been adopted by the suburban mother and male construction worker alike.
Jeans were further popularised as a symbolic fashion choice throughout the 60s and into the 70s. The unisex, non-traditional qualities of the blue jean made them the perfect sartorial symbol for many of the fundamental beliefs and principles of 1960s counterculture, which saw a significant shift in generational beliefs towards equal civil rights.
Jeans then grew to be worn by virtually everyone who identified with this thriving cultural movement, and, by the 1970s, jeans could be seen on just about anyone, just about anywhere. This made Levis one of America’s most desirable international exports – a staple in denim history.
Since the 1970s, blue jeans have been perhaps the only clothing item to be considered consistently on-trend.
As we ushered in the Millennium, early noughties pop giants such as Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera brought the skinny jean back into the fore – which has since been revolutionised by denim stretch technology and cemented as a staple of casual and party wear alike.
Demonstrating their progressive brand mentality towards inclusive gender attitudes once more, the 2010s saw Levi’s unveil a range focused on diverse female body types – redesigning the entire denim range based on two years of extensive female customer-led research. This helped jeans to become the contemporary chic item they are today for women across the globe, regardless of age, body type or ethnicity.
Whether you’re more skinny fit or high-waisted, ripped knees or flares, trends may change throughout the years but one thing remains constant – blue jeans will always be a key part of fashion history and, indeed, global culture. What will come next in denim history?
About the Author:
Luke Conod is Managing Director of Buy Jeans and its parent company Denim Nation, providing competitively priced men’s jeans and other high-quality clothing from leading international labels.