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Jeans are a staple of fashion. Now, depending on the brand, style, and coupled pieces, jeans can be a suitable bottom for almost any occasion. However, jeans did not always enjoy a spot in high fashion (and we aren’t just talking Texas Tuxedo), they actually began toward the bottom of the fashion food chain.

Jeans - A historical social climber

Similar to gin, which started out as a lower class drink (think Hogarth’s lane and later rose to the aristicractic class of England through consumption by the Royal Navy and troops around the Empire in gin and tonics), jeans have also made a rise from working class into larger acceptance among the middle and upper classes.

The jean fabric was originally designed for working class people in the 1600’s (although some suggest examples of jeans even earlier). The term, jeans, is thought to come from the Italian city of genoa, pronounced “jean-o-a”. The durable jean fabric made it ideal for laborers as the sturdy cloth could take a beating without ripping or tearing. If it did, patching was often easy and successful. A monumental shift and improvement to the durability of jeans came with Levis Strauss introduced riveted jeans in 1873 while working in San Francisco. Turns out those little copper rivets you see on jean pockets really do help the strength of the trousers and allow them to perform much better on the job. And if you have ever wondered about that little pocket in 5-pocket jeans...it was for your pocket watch.

This riveting fashion invention (excuse the pun) received a US patent and the jeans went into mass production, however it would be almost a century later until they climbed up the fashion social ladder. In the 1950’s jeans started to make their way into more mainstream wardrobes outside blue collar days at the office with their popularity in the “Greaser” clicks and gangs. Think John John Travolta and his blue jeans in the musical film “Grease”. However there was still social tension (and therefore lack of widespread jean acceptance) with the more preppy social classes which were depicted in the film and literary classics such as “The Outsiders”...’Stay Golden Ponyboy’, anyone, anyone?

Shein Raw Hem Bell-Bottoms Jeans
  • Shein Brand
  • Pants Category
  • Shein Shop
  • $ 3600 Price

From the greasers who were on the fringe of social acceptance, jeans moved right along to the hippies in the 60’s. Bell bottoms were synonymous with Woodstock and the counterculture movement which was popularized across the country. It’s difficult to picture Matthew McConaughey in khakis in “Dazed and Confused”. But we digress…

Fast fashion forward to today and a pair of Saint Laurent boyfriend jeans could run you over $800. And even though US Dollar Currency actually contained denim until the 1990’s one pair didn’t always cost this many Benjamins. 

Saint Laurent Boyfriend jeans
  • Saint Laurent Brand
  • Jeans Category
  • mytheresa Shop
  • $ 62300 $ 890 Price

Jeans are unique in that they are in some ways still a most basic and historic clothing, but also because of that same time and simplicity, over the years they have been dressed up and down in maybe more styles, cuts, washes, looks than most garments. We mentioned bell bottoms already so let’s start with cuts.

A cut above - or below

Bell Bottoms

When we think bell bottoms we think hippies, or maybe it’s the other way around. Either way bell bottoms, also called flare or flared jeans, made their mark in the 1960’s. The style actually originated in the navy among sailors who wore wide leg trousers which sometimes flared at the bottom to make a shape of a bell. The loose bottoms were convenient and easy to roll up when doing messy jobs on the deck and could even be a life-saver - if thrown overboard, the pants could be easily removed, tied at the ends, filled with air and made into a life preserver. Bell bottoms are often worn long, with the bottom of the ‘bell’ close to touching the ground. 

Bootcut Jeans

Bootcut jeans are exactly that, cut so that they can be worn over boots. Originally this style was popular among workmen and workwomen, so it could fit over work boots, it is now acceptable for any outfit. They may even be, and often are, worn with shoes other than boots or booties. Before bootcut jeans, an easy fix was to actually cut the bottom seam of tighter fitting jeans so that they could fit over boots without scrunching up at the top. 

Skinny Jeans

Skinny jeans burst onto the scene in the late 2000’s but they have shocked and awed since the 1950’s. Elvis Presley wore jeans considered tight for the time and started a fashion trend that spilled over into women’s fashion in the 1960’s. The leg of the jeans became smaller at the knee and tapered at the ankle. By modern standards these jeans would not be considered skinny jeans at all, seeing as today’s skinny jeans are called that because they are so tight they serve as a second layer of skin. The 1970’s gave way to bell bottoms and flared jeans and skinny jeans returned in the 1980’s among heavy metal bands sporting acid wash skinny jeans. The jeans made a triumphant return in the late 2000’s and have become an acceptable item of clothing for both men and women. The tight form hugging jeans have also been known as drainpipes, cigarette pants, pencil pants, and many other monikers. 

Mom Jeans

Extremely high waisted light-blue jeans, possibly with pleats and an elastic waistband, became known as “mom jeans” because your mother definitely owns multiple pairs. The straight leg relaxed-fit denim pants came into fashion in the 1890’s and remained stylish among older ladies well into the 2000s, when fashionable young people favored low-rise flared leg jeans. In the 2010’s, however, the staple item in the closets of mom’s all over America made a surprising comeback. Younger generations started wearing this style of jean with a modern and fashionable twist. 

Boyfriend Jeans

When women abandoned traditional skirts and dresses, they started wearing pants that mirrored mens trousers. It wasn't until the 1950s that women started wearing pants that flattered their figures. Fast forward 50 years and now women can wear women’s jeans inspired by mens jeans. Boyfriend jeans are relaxed fit denim pants that look like they came out of your boyfriend’s closet. The jeans are loose and sometimes slouchy, which is similar to the cut of men’s pants. Katie Holmes started a late 2000’s boyfriend jeans trend when she walked around NYC in jeans that looked she had borrowed them from then-boyfriend Tom Cruise. Other celebrities picked up this trend which then filtered out to everyday fashion. 

Wide Leg Jeans

Wide leg jeans are often called baggy jeans because they are extremely loose in the legs. Unlike flared jeans and bell bottoms, wide leg jeans have the same large circumference from the top to the bottom. Baggy pants such as Hammer and parachute pants were very popular in the 1980’s but it wasn’t until the 1990’s that baggy jeans caught on. JNCO brand jeans became synonymous with wide leg jeans and usually had embellishments and extra large back pockets. Hip hop artists favored wide baggy jeans, causing their fans to adopt the trends. Wide leg jeans also caught on with skaters and people on the punk scene.

Cropped Jeans

Cropped jeans are frequently confused with capri pants because they are both shorter than a normal length pair of jeans. Cropped pants end above the ankle but just below the calf and sometimes flare out slightly at the bottom. These pants are versatile and can be worn with many different types of tops and kinds of shoes but if they don’t hit the exact right part of the lower leg, they can give the look of cropped legs. Wear at your own risk. 

Low-Mid-High Rise

In 2000 Britney Spears debuted a pair of jeans with a waist that sat well below her navel and hips and a trend was born. The low rise jeans, also known as low riders, originated in the 1960’s but the 2000’s brought the low waistline to an extreme. Mid rise jeans are worn with the top of the pants on the natural waistline. High rise jeans sit above the natural waistline and sometimes at the top of the hips and above the belly button (see: mom jeans). 

These different cuts of jeans can be matched for any type of occasion, but also any body type too. While all women can look and feel good in any time in any style, great care often goes into finding the “perfect” pair of jeans, as done in videos such as this one:

A brand new look?!

Oh how times change. Long ago the denim material in jeans was favored because of its durability and anti-ripping qualities even after long days on the job. Now, many of the most popular, and expensive, jeans come “pre-stressed” to give a nod to worn through time (but not really fooling anyone). To achieve these desired results, jeans are sometimes washed with abrasive materials or worked on with sandpaper. Modern manufacturing techniques have even included laser cuts to distress jeans, however hand tearing and ripping is often also done in factories around the world lacking such sophisticated equipment. 

Distressed Jeans

When distressed jeans first became cool among punk rockers and heavy metal enthusiasts, you had to do it the old fashioned way - wear a pear of jeans long enough for natural wear and tear to take over or get dirty and get to ripping and destroying a good pair of jeans yourself. Ah, how times have changed, now the process is conveniently done for you and you can walk out of a store with a brand new pair of ‘old’ jeans. And, it’s not just rock bands or groupies who wear ripped, if you have a celeb sighting in the thirty-mile-zone (TMZ) she is more likely than not going to have a few rips in those jeans. 

Destroyed Jeans

Take distressed jeans one step further and you have destroyed jeans. These jeans have rips, frays, worn patches, multiple holes, and sometimes are held together by only a few stubborn threads. These jeans will definitely cause an older person in your life to ask why you would spend money on clothes with holes in them. 

Shredded Jeans 

Shredded jeans have horizontal cuts with frayed edges They give the wearer a casual look, like they’re so easygoing they can’t be bothered with small fraying holes in their jeans. The shredded look can be achieved by cutting straight lines with scissors and then attacking the edges with rough sandpaper. 

Slit Knee Jeans

Slit knee jeans describe exactly what they are: jeans with a slit in the knee. These jeans have a clean cut as if made by scissors in each knee. You often see this slit knee style on moto jeans or skinny jeans that have a sleek yet rugged look to them. The slits are trendy so fit into the distressed arena, however they are not too disturbing visually.

Busted Knee Jeans

Busted knee jeans also describe what they are: jeans that look like your knee busted through the legs. While slit knee jeans have a hole that could be stitched back together, busted knee jeans sport a frayed hole that would need a patch to cover. Busted knees can be found on jeans without any other alterations or in conjunction with slits, rips, tears, and other alterations.

Frayed Jeans

Frayed jeans do not have a seam on the bottom of the leg, causing the fabric to fray. The unfinished edge gives the jeans a casual look without rips or tears. Frayed jeans can have small natural frays or longer frays that look like an intentional fringe. This style obviously lends itself to a more casual look or outfit and can sometimes have an outdoors or nature feel to the outfit. 

Are jeans washed up?

Jeans originally were dyed indigo blue and lost color as they were washed and the dye leaked out. Now, jeans are dyed and then washed specifically so the color runs out. The fabric is washed a certain number of times to achieve a desired look or “wash.

Dark Wash Jeans - Most Formal.

Dark wash jeans are the classic indigo denim pants that are never too dressed up or too casual. These are the perfect jeans for casual Friday at the office, Sunday dinner at Grandma’s, or a meal at an upscale but casual restaurant. 

Light Wash Jeans - Informal.

Light wash jeans retain very little of the original blue dye due to numerous wash cycles. The well worn look is great for wearing with spring pastels and summer brights. 

Mid Wash Jeans - Just Right.

Mid wash jeans are not as formal as dark wash jeans nor are they as casual as light wash jean. The medium blue jeans are perfect year round and for almost any occasion.  

Life’s a bleach sometimes

In addition to washes, bleach treatments can be applied to jeans as well. Gaining popularity in California in the mid 1900’s, jeans were often prized if they had been naturally bleached by the elements, often salt water, by beach goers and surfers. Of course, like in many other aspects of jeans, this authentic wear which could take a long time to produce is completed in the production process in a single wash cycle.

Bleached Jeans

Bleach lightens the colors in fabric and in jeans, bleach is used to create shapes and designs. Jeans are frequently bleached on the thighs and knees to give a well worn appearance. “Whiskers,” or numerous horizontal bleached lines on the top front of the jeans, was a very popular trend in the early 2000’s. Other bleached styles include splashes, acid wash, and an even bleached color. Sometimes bleached “spots” are employed to give the look one might expect on a painter’s pants. 

Acid Wash

Few words conjure up as clear an image of the 80’s as “acid wash jeans.” The denim is washed with chlorine and pumice stones to achieve a unique color mix of dark blue and almost bleached white. This trend started in the late 1980s and faded away like...dye in an acid wash. These jeans are favored today for Zack Morris Halloween costumes and looking like an extra who wandered off the set of an early days MTV show.

Jeans to dye for

The fabric cut and sewn into jeans have been dyed indigo since it’s creation a few hundred years ago. The creators used real indigo imported from Pakistan to get a deep blue hue. The color is now made with synthetic dyes which means jeans can be dyed with other synthetic colors.  

Colored or Dyed Jeans

Denim pants are commonly called blue jeans but they can be bleached and dyed any color or pattern. Gray and black jeans are easy to find and pink, red, green, purple and even magenta jeans can be found as well. Dyed jeans keep an outfit casual with a splash of an unusual color.

Jazzing jeans up

Jeans come in many different cut and colors but sometimes they’re not unique or interesting enough. Jeans can be embellished to spruce them up or add some personality to otherwise plain jeans. People have been embellishing the denim since the days of Woodstock when patches, embroidery, and tie dye appeared on jeans. In the 1980’s rhinestones and metal studs appeared on jeans and in the next decade fashion designers embellished jeans in an ode to 1960’s hippie style. Embellishments on jeans have gone through cycles, just like anything else in fashion.

Embroidered Jeans

Stitching different color threads into shapes can add a ton of pizzazz to a pair of jeans. 

This technique, known as embroidery, has been around for literally thousands of years when ancient humans sew together furs and skins and then used the thread to make shapes and designs. Many cultures throughout human history have employed embroidery to decorate their belongings. The handicraft art became popular on jeans in the 1960’s and 70’s and made a comeback in the late 2010’s. Embroidered jeans add a touch of of uniqueness and creativity. 

Patched Jeans

Distressed, destroyed, and ripped jeans come in and out of fashion so what do you do with your jeans with multiple holes when holes go out of fashion? Patches can completely transform a pair of jeans. Patches come in various shapes, sizes, colors, and patterns and first became fashionable as opposed to practical in the 1970s. Peace signs, flowers, catch phrases, and other fun patches started to cover jean pants and jackets. Today patches generally do not have a political message but roses, sunflowers, rainbows, and hearts turn a plain garment into a pair of relaxed peaceful hippy inspired jeans. 

Bedazzled Jeans

The 1980’s were a time of bright, vivid colors, big hair, and images of opulence, even if it was fake opulence. Fashion leaned into this image of great wealth through excessive jewelry and rhinestoned clothing. Rhinestones and silver studs were attached to jeans and no outfit was complete without a bedazzled jean jacket. The look returned in the early 2000’s when jeans with large gaudy rhinestone designs on the back pockets were all the rage. 

Jeans wrap up

Well that about does it for jeans. They are the essential part of almost all wardrobes and truly in the fashion “jeanome”. We could write more but we’ll let you browse some styles and outfits for yourself on DressLikeMe.

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