A History Lesson: The Evolution of Jeans

Back at uni and in the midst of my dissertation, fashion history, costume history and pattern cutting lessons seem to be swallowing me up. Taking the lead for a post on my blog, here's a little history lesson for y'all, on the evolution of everyone's go-to wardrobe staple: the denim jeans. Jeans are undoubtedly one of the most valuable features of wardrobes everywhere, regardless of age, sex, ethnicity or taste. This humbly versatile item of clothing has come a long way over the years, being constantly evolved and moulded to keep up with demand.

Miner’s Wear in the 1800s
The history of jeans date back to the nineteenth century when cotton plantations, gold mines, slave labour and a rise in trade created a demand for durable, comfortable and hard-wearing trousers that wouldn’t rip at the first strain. In 1873, Jacob Davis, a tailor from Nevada, joined forces with designer Loeb Strauss and put “stress points” at various places on labourers’ overalls to make them more hard-wearing. Loeb later changed his name to Levi and henceforth the brand Levi Strauss & Co was born.

Cowboy Jeans of the 30s and 40s
Throughout the 30s and 40s jeans progressed from being a labourers’ uniform to a favourite staple of casual daywear. During a time when cowboy films were a leading genre of the cinema, young men increasingly demanded to wear the jeans that their heroes donned on the big screen.

Counterculture of the 50s
With Hollywood stars such as Marlon Brando and James Dean looking effortlessly chic in jeans, during the 1950s they soon became a symbol of counterculture amongst youths. During this era jeans had such a rebellious label attached to them that some schools in the US went as far as banning students from wearing denim. This was when jeans also became more tapered. Whilst they may not have been as tight as the skinny jeans of today, with the like of Elvis Presley sporting slim-fitted denims, jeans throughout the 50s took on a much more tapered look.

The Hippie Revolution of the 60s and 70s
The slim fitting jeans of the 50s quickly gave way to an entirely new look, demanded by the hippy movement, flower power and ‘free love’. Bell-bottom jeans were the jeans to wear if you were young in the 60s, which gradually progressed to the stone-washed styles of the 70s.

Punk of the 80s
The 1980s saw a profusion of denim enter the mainstream and the fabric became less associated with high-end fashion. It was not uncommon for jeans to be ripped and torn on purpose in the 80s to conform to the punkish look.

The 90s and Onwards
Baggy jeans came to the forefront in the 90s, bred out of the ‘Madchester’ bands such as Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses, once again inspiring and representing youth culture like no other fashion item has managed.

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