Whether you’re male or female, chances are you own a pair or two of jeans. They are arguably the most popular clothing item available today due to their versatility. In the United States alone, there are about 450 million pairs of jeans sold each year. There are jeans that can suit any occasion and they can be worn all year long. They also match with just about any top, making them an easy pick when you’re changing on the go.
Where did this popular denim clothing style originate? Throughout their nearly 150-year history, jeans have seen an evolution that is closely tied to pop culture and ever changing trends. We’ve seen certain jeans disappear and never come back while others made a comeback stronger than ever before.
Whether it’s a hip and cool bell bottom or low-rise scandal, we’re covering the evolution of jeans from a rugged work clothing item to an everyday fashion statement. These days, there are jeans for women and jeans for men, making them extremely popular.
1873 – How It Started: The Birth of Jeans
Jeans started out as overalls, a practical clothing attire in the 1870s that was thick enough to protect farmers and laborers from dirt and other objects, and also protected the skin from the sun. Jeans were invented by Levi Strauss, a businessman, and Jacob Davis, a tailor. The overalls were created as a practical application to mining in the Gold Rush and other types of hard labor. Any man in the United States who was working hard with their hands owned a pair of overalls made out of jean material.
1920s to 30s – Wild Western Fashion
Fast forward to the 1920s and 30s, and jeans continued to be a staple work attire among hard working laborers, such as cowboys and miners. But jeans had not entered mainstream culture yet. Remember, jeans really started to blow up alongside the trends of pop culture, as can be seen by the first films to emerge on the Wild West. In these Hollywood movies, glamorous actors could be seen wearing Levi’s jeans. Shortly thereafter, Levi’s became a brand name as the first clothing attire to have a tag with its name on it.
Magazines such as Vogue began to feature models wearing Levi’s jeans, making them more than just a practical piece of clothing for work. Suddenly, they were a fashion statement to be made.
1950s – Pop Culture Influences What’s Cool
Enter the 1950’s, and jeans are no longer a worker’s attire. Now, only the cool kids wear jeans. We’re talking about the cigarette-smoking, gel-slicked-back smooth talkers you see in the movies — and who everyone wanted to mimic in real life. Rebellious teens in particular took this opportunity to take over jeans as their style, with an anti-establishment personality to boot.
1960s – The Hippie Woodstock Era
The hippies answered the cool kids with their own bell-bottomed jeans style in the 1960s, brought upon by Woodstock, peace, and love. They were particular to low-rise jeans or jeans with large bottoms, as well as denim jackets that were embroidered with patches.
1980s – Designer Denim Arrives
In the 1980s, the fashion world took hold of denim jeans, as they appeared in big-name ads like Calvin Klein. Suddenly, every designer wanted to incorporate denim into their designs. These jeans became known as designer jeans, and were more expensive and had unique features such as skinny legs, rips and cuts, and the washed out look.
1990s – Baggy Mom Jeans
In the 1990s, music genres like grunge and hip hop spearheaded the rise of baggy mom jeans, which were high-waisted and sometimes ripped.
2000s – The Low Rise Era
Pop music in the early 2000s was all the rage, and every big name celebrity like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera was wearing low-rise jeans that showed off their flat stomachs and belly buttons.
2010s – Skinny Style Increases Jean Popularity
A decade into the 2000s, and suddenly everyone owns a pair of skinny jeans. This became the most popular kind of jean due to their versatility. Advanced tailor technology allowed these jeans to be made more comfortable than ever, so you could wear them to everything from a music festival to the office on Friday’s.
Today: Anything Goes
All of the styles mentioned above are still alive and well today, a testament to the timelessness and overall popularity of jeans.