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?
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.
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
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.