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In recent years, you might have heard someone say “skinny jeans are out of style.” Despite the extreme popularity of skinny jeans and jeggings a few years ago, they are now said to be synonymous with being out of touch. So what is the style now? It could be wide leg jeans, or straight leg jeans, or even low-rise. Denim trends are ever-changing, especially in the social media age. But the evolution of jean trends has been ongoing since the beginning of the blue jeans.

The Invention of Denim

It was the late 1600s when denim was first created, though it was accidental at first. Weavers in Nîmes, France were attempting to replicate another fabric called serge when they made a mistake that led to the creation of what we know today as denim. At the time, it was called "serge de Nîmes," which translates to "serge from Nîmes." As it became more widely used, it eventually took on the name denim.


Source: Hawthorn

Throughout the 1800s, denim existed in the form of overalls, which were commonly worn by laborers and miners. In 1873, Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis revolutionized workwear by putting metal rivets on denim pants, a small detail that made what we know today as blue jeans. Denim was already a popular fabric for men’s workwear, but this tiny change would allow them to become more popular than anyone expected at that time.


Source: GQ, IMDb, and IMDb

It was not until the 1950s that people in the US began wearing jeans for reasons other than their functionality as workwear. Jeans quickly became synonymous with pop culture icons like Elvis and James Dean, making them cool and rebellious to young people. Boxy, cuffed styles took off because of the celebrity influence, and soon people began embodying the “bad boy” persona through the wearing of jeans. In 1952, Marilyn Monroe appeared on screen in her film River of No Return in jeans, marking the initial rise of jeans in womenswear.


Source: The Guardian

In the 1960s, jeans began to stray from the rebellious connotations and entered the mainstream. For much of this decade, cigarette style jeans swept women’s fashion. Mid-decade, flared jeans began to see a rise in popularity. Fitted in the waist and flared out at the leg, this style was seen on prominent figures like Cher, Twiggy, and ABBA. But it was not until the 1970s that this style of denim fully took off in the general public.


Source: Esquire and Wikipedia

In the late 70s, the punk scene began to gravitate toward more slim-fitting jeans. Levi’s 505s, which have been popularized again today, became big in the music scene. More fitted and low-rise than most of the jeans of the 70s, 505s became synonymous with punk during this decade. In 1976, the Ramones’s album cover depicted each member wearing a pair of 505s, a huge moment for straight-leg jeans.

In 1979, the TV series The Dukes of Hazzard unknowingly made history by dressing Catherine Bach, who played Daisy Duke, in cutoff denim shorts. This style swept the country, even taking on the name “Daisy Dukes.” Cutoff jean shorts became common both in the south and in the punk scene in the wake of the show.


Source: Glamour and Medium

The 80s brought about the rise of name brand denim. Calvin Klein jeans rose to popularity with Brooke Shields as their model, bringing glamor to the denim industry. The iconic line "You know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing" stuck out in people's minds for years to come. In addition to Calvin Klein, brands like Jordache made their mark on young people's style choices. With noticeable embroidered pockets, everyone knew Jordache jeans when they saw them, and they were seen for much of the 80s.

Acid wash jeans also took off during this decade. Though this style was seen as countercultural in its early days, it caught on with the general public. Guess was one of the first big brands that jumped on the acid wash bandwagon, and the advertisement of this style by Guess signaled the start of acid wash taking off.


Source: Who What Wear and One Block Down

The 1990s brought about a rise in looser fitting jeans. The mom jean was first popularized in this decade, a style that consisted of looser legs with a more fitted waist. Mom jeans were also typically higher-waisted than other denim styles of the time.

Denim's connection to rebellion and subculture was as strong as always in the 90s. While the mainstream denim trends began to lean more toward the side of looser fits, the rise of Hip Hop and skater cultures both took this to a new extreme. Extremely baggy jeans found a life within these spaces. Hip hop artists like Tupac and Notorious B.I.G. popularized the style among the culture of hip hop fans, and skaters were quick to adopt the trend as well.


Source: Glamour and L'Officiel

The early 2000s brought about the rise of low-rise jeans. The trend began in the late 90s but did not come fully into the fashion zeitgeist until the turn of the century. Celebrities like Paris Hilton, Christina Aguilera, and Destiny's Child popularized the style, and for extra flair, many wore them with thongs peaking out in the back.

Embellished jeans were another trend that took over during Y2K. No matter the style of denim, the addition of rhinestones and gems was a common way for people to add a touch of glamor to their jeans. More commonly worn by women, this trend took over for much of this decade.


Source: Who What Wear

The denim trend that defined the 2010s was undoubtedly skinny jeans. Throughout the decade, the tighter the denim, the better. Styles leaned more toward high-waisted, a complete departure from the decade before it. The ultra-tight fitted jean trend even paved the way for jeggings, a way for jeans to become even skinnier by making them stretchy. Everyone from models to the British royal family wore skinny jeans, and like clock work, they became nearly obsolete by the end of the decade.

As we make our way through the 2020s in the age of social media, trends move faster now than ever. Everything from Y2K low-rise jeans to 70s flared jeans have come back into style, but it is hard to say which trends will define this decade. It has been predicted that in the post-pandemic world, people will continue to gravitate toward more comfortable styles. Regardless, it is safe to say that the ever-changing world of denim will not slow down anytime soon.

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