For the past 50 years, blue jeans have been the epitome of every day style in the Western world. But in 1873, when Levi Strauss patented the denim pant, he had no inkling of the mainstream clothing article it would become. Struass, who arrived in California as a 24 year-old German immigrant, just wanted a pair of trousers sturdy enough to last through a day of mining in the gold rush.
It wasn’t until 1934 that the first blue jean was designed specifically for women. Previously, women ranchers borrowed their husbands’ pants for working in the rough conditions of the old West, but now Levi Strauss was tailoring them specifically for a woman’s body. Over the next few decades, Lady Levi’s traveled from cowgirls of the West to department stores across the United States. By the 1960s, they were a staple in many women’s wardrobes. From the 60’s to today, women’s jeans have changed drastically in their fit and fabric, but one thing that’s remained is their popularity. Let’s take a look back at their evolution through the ages.
1960’s: Bell Bottoms
In the 1960s, young women rebelled against the full skirts of the previous decade by sporting bell bottom jeans. These mid-rise pants were fitted on the thighs and then flared from the knee down. The durable fabric of the jean was perfect for the hippie movement; they protected outdoor protesters against the elements and were sturdy and stylish at concerts. For example, at the famous Woodstock Festival of 1969, jeans were the go-to clothing article to make it through the three days of mud and music.
At the forefront of this look was 17 year-old British model, Twiggy. Her thin, boyish figure and short haircut challenged conventional women’s beauty, fitting right in with the rebellious mood of the decade.
1970’s: Wide Legs
Blue jeans moved from just the rebellious youth, to the general public in the 1970’s. Good girls, like Marcia on the hit sitcom The Brady Bunch, wore jeans around the house and to school. As jeans’ mainstream popularity grew, so did their flares, which were sometimes as wide as 32 inches around the ankle. Similarly, jeans weren’t as tightly fitted around the thigh and became wide-legged from the hip down. Color and embellishment were also trademarks of 70’s pants with sewn in side panels of different fabrics, rhinestones, studs, and embroidered patterns. Jeans’ wide legs were easy to fit over roller skates, which became a wildly popular activity in the 70’s. Farrah Fawcett became a style icon of this look after she rose to fame as the star of Charlie’s Angels. Her wide-legged jeans and feathered, blonde hair epitomized the ultimate style to 70’s teens.
1980’s: Stonewashed Denim and Designer Labels
In the jeans of the 1980’s, flares shrunk and waistlines rose, which made the look of jeans completely different from the 60’s and 70’s bell bottoms and wide legs. Along with the cut of the pants, solid colors were no longer on trend. Instead, “stonewashed,” “frosted,” or “acid washed” denim was the coveted look. Finding the right style of jeans was only one part of fashion for eighties women; it suddenly became all about the label. Designer brands like Calvin Klein, Guess, and Gloria Vanderbilt were desired far above suddenly “uncool” names like Wrangler and Lee. Especially Levi, the original jean, was certainly not considered high fashion in the 80s. Realizing this, Levi began to market themselves as an anti-designer brand: a tough guy jean instead of a hoity toity fashion pant.
1990’s: Baggy Grunge
In the 1990s, designers were no longer revered by trendy teens. Instead, musicians became the inspiration behind the fashion movement, making the grunge look soar in popularity. Rock bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Radiohead, Green Day, and Guns N’ Roses topped the music and fashion charts. Jeans became increasingly baggy, rather than tailored, and were often filled with holes and rips. Pant legs that were rolled up at the bottom completed the purposely disheveled look. Besides jeans themselves, denim was also popular in the form of overalls with one strap undone and denim jackets.
Along with their denim, women wore crop tops, flannels, and jackets tied around their waists. MTV became a popular television channel to keep up to date with both music and the latest styles. The 1995 film Clueless and the hit sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air also emphasized the fashion of the decade. Another huge part of pop culture and fashion became The Spice Girls when they flew to the top of the charts with their single “Wannabe” in 1996.
2000’s: Low Rise
After the high-waists of the 80’s and 90’s, at the turn of the millennium, how-low-can-you-go was the new tune for jeans. “Hip hugger” jeans bore a very low waist line, an extremely tight fit on the seat and thighs, and a slight flare below the knee. Teenagers went back to valuing brand names on their jeans, but in this decade, were drawn to trendy stores at the mall like Abercrombie & Fitch, Hollister, and American Eagle.
Female pop stars like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera spearheaded the low-rise movement with the pants they wore on their album covers of Stripped (2002) and Oops!… I Did It Again (2002), respectively. Peasant tops, fitted graphic t-shirts, and cropped shrugs were just some of the items that completed an outfit in the 2000’s along with a pair of low rise hiphuggers.
2010’s: Skinny Jeans and Jeggings
In the current decade, flares have gone out of style again, while women opt for jeans that are stretchy and skin tight. Jeggings, a super stretchy denim cross between jeans and leggings, have come into style. Super low rise waist lines aren’t a priority in the same way they were 10 years ago, either. Also, expensive stores like Abercrombie & Fitch are on the way out, while H&Ms and Forever 21s, which have a wider variety of clothing and jean prices less than half of A&F’s, are gaining more popularity.
Women wear canvas sneakers, ballet flats, pumps, or knee high boots with their skinny jeans today. Celebrities like Selena Gomez, Kim Kardashian, and Beyonce can all be seen in this style. As for the second half of the decade, high waisted pants may be back in full force, and overalls could be making a comeback, as well. One thing is for sure though – jeans are definitely here to stay.