In the 1970s the unthinkable happened—fashion began to embrace denim. Hippie flare captured the nation. In 1971, Levis won a prestigious Coty fashion award for its worldwide influence with denim. Dress codes were relaxed, and, for the first time, pre-wash was introduced to the market along with brand new cuts and treatments like flares, bell-bottoms, dungarees, and bibs. By the end of the decade, the first designer jeans were walking down the most exclusive runways of New York Fashion Week.
The trend toward designer only grew in the ’80s as European companies like Armani got into the game. Europeans gave new twists to the American Classic, playing around with fabric blends, fits, and treatments. A new generation, inspired by the looks they saw from Michael Jackson to Hair Bands on MTV, upped the ante for denim. Acid wash, stone wash, ripped, torn, shredded, peg-legged, cuffed, rolled, stained, painted…the first ever all-out fashion-industry denim craze truly exploded in the 1980s.
Designers took a break from the fabric through the early ’90s as vintage looks and an anything-but-the-‘80s fatigue set people searching through thrift store racks for vintage and secondhand denim. But it was a quick break, and, by the mid-‘90s, designer denim was hot once again. Who can forget Alexander McQueen’s low-rise collection that crystallized looks for Britney Spears and millions of girls like her. Guys, on the other hand, adopted wide-legged baggy jeans from rave, skate, and hip-hop looks that began to consume pop culture through films like Clueless and Kids.
By 2000, denim was once again sitting atop the throne of fashion. The young iGeneration, obsessed with individuality and personalization, opened the floodgates for an entire industry of denim specialization and customization. Special attention was paid to innovations in construction and fabrication as never before. Designer and custom-made jeans pushed further than ever before into the world of possibility, popping up not just on runways but on celebrity-filled red carpets, offices of multimillion dollar CEOs and VIP rooms of exclusive night clubs and restaurants—realms once strictly off-limits to anything denim. The decade closed more austerely with simple, dark, skinny stretch jeans defining contemporary cool, but it also left in its wake another generation defined by the jeans they wore.
Today, denim shows no sign of slowing down. Every year, new ideas, tastes, innovations, and unpredictable iconic moments in pop culture keep adding to the incredible story of modern man’s favorite article of clothing. The future holds endless possibilities for what was once a 16th-century naval outfit, but one thing is for certain -- jeans are here to stay.--Matthew Bell