We all own denim in one form or another - from the trusty ever-fashionable yet ever-changing jeans to the more questionable but still trendy jorts.
We all own denim in one form or another - from the trusty ever-fashionable yet ever-changing jeans to the more questionable but still trendy jorts. It would be hard to find a wardrobe untouched by the fabric and for good reason too. It’s sturdy, practical, comfortable (in some ways) and most importantly it is extremely versatile.
Denim can be worn in a number of styles. It can be worn for work wear, casual wear and even in some cases professionally. The office/ corporate space has opened up to the idea of jeans being an acceptable option, even if only for one casual day of the week. But why has a material that was designed for practicality gradually taken over the fashion world?
A large portion of this has to do with popular culture. Denim would have traditionally been used for working labour intensive jobs, with Levi Strauss coming to popularity in the 1800’s with miners due to the reinforcements of their fabrics and the copper rivets used to reinforce the durability of the pockets. Since this item of clothing had to withstand extreme conditions and extreme workloads workers wanted an item they could depend on.
Rebellious heartthrobs like James Dean and Marlon Brando, who were popular with a younger demographic, were wearing jeans in their movies and in everyday life.
As usual cinema and popular culture helped to romanticise the idea of work wear, and by the 1930’s, cowboy and western films were gaining steady popularity. Handsome actors like John Wayne who played labourers and cowboys, were being clad in denim jeans and pushed onto the big screen. This image was projected into people’s homes and theatres giving them a new image of denim, and just how it could transcend into their everyday lives.
Cinema is a great way to start popular trends, particularly in the 1930’s, when cinema was an occasion that many would attend. Its influence was much more targeted and widespread. A new generation saw denim as an item that stars wore, in a way in which their parents probably didn’t, making it more elusive and sought-after. This new style was welcomed by men and women alike with Vogue also commenting in the 1940’s, and christening it ‘Western Chic.’
Youth culture had begun to adopt this fabric as their own, reclaiming it from a past of leisure wear and instead celebrating its roots as part of working-class history.
For a long period after that, denim was associated with days off and leisure time, but the 1950’s brought a whole new approach to the style. The children who would have grown up watching the early days of denim in movies or in their parent’s weekend-wear were suddenly donning it themselves, but giving it a whole new feel and approach.
Again, popular culture helped with this, as new rock groups like The Animals were breaking away from polished suits on evening television and opting for denim. Rebellious heartthrobs like James Dean and Marlon Brando, who were popular with a younger demographic, were wearing jeans in their movies and in everyday life.
Women’s rights and liberation activists like Gloria Steinem began wearing them to protests to show denim and the working world were not only for men and that they were also affected.
Youth culture had begun to adopt this fabric as their own, reclaiming it from a past of leisure wear and instead celebrating its roots as part of working-class history. The 60’s saw this change with the rise of anti-establishment groups and protests in aid of people the government or state had forgotten about - one of these many groups being the working classes.
Folk singers like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Van Morrison, who were singing of their plight working in labour intensive jobs, or coming from historic backgrounds of labour were wearing denim jeans on stage to show solidarity but also to appeal to a wider audience and show humility. Women’s rights and liberation activists like Gloria Steinem began wearing denim to protests to show that the working world was not only for men, and that they were also affected.
The 70s saw another huge change to denim. A more fashion forward approach over a political or social one began to surface with the birth of Buffalo jeans worn most popularly amongst the disco goers of Studio 54. From then on it was a chain reaction with Calvin Klein being the first fashion house to place jeans on their runway in 1974 and throughout the 80s and 90s supermodels wore jeans in a whole new sexy and fashionable way. Nearly all fashion houses from YSL to Fendi now have their own jeans.
The popularity of jeans, like most, came from the world of pop culture and its need to reinvent what is already there. All of this of course is done with the help of actors, models, musicians and everyone else in the public eye for that matter. Working class culture has been a continued stem for fashion, but denim is where it all began for the birth of modern leisure wear fashion. With its social roots beginning back in the 1930s, its popularity is still seen on every major runway to this day.