Jeans was Invented a little over a century ago, jeans are the world's most popular, versatile garment, crossing boundaries of class, age and nationality. From their origins as pure workwear, they have spread through every level of the fashion spectrum, embraced internationally for their unmatched comfort and appeal. Constantly in demand, they have survived the passing of both trends and time, capturing the ethos of each succeeding decade. While their charisma springs from their legendary American roots, their commercial strength rests on innovation and interpretation in the hands of jeanswear makers around the world.
In the mid '40s, the Second World War comes to an end, and denim blue jeans, previously worn almost exclusively as workwear, gained new status in the U.S. and Europe. Rugged but relaxed, they "stand for freedom" and a bright future. Sported by both men and women, by returning GI’s and sharp teenagers, they seem as clean and strong as the people who choose to wear them. In Europe, surplus Levi's. are left behind by American armed forces and are available in limited supplies. It's the population's first introduction to the denim legend. Workwear manufacturers try to copy the U.S. originals, but those in the know insist on the real thing.
Europe is exposed to a daring new style in music and movies and jeans take on an aura of sex and rebellion. Rock'n' roll from America blazes a trail of defiance, and jeans become the symbol of a break with convention and rigid social mores. When Elvis Presley sings in "Jailhouse Rock," his denim prison uniform carries a potent virile image. Girls swoon and guys are quick to copy the King. In movies like "The Wild One" and "Rebel Without a Cause," cult figures Marlon Brando and James Dean portray tough anti-heros in jeans and T-shirt. Adults spurn the look; teenagers, even those who only want to look like rebels, embrace it.
By the beginning of the '60s, slim jeans are a leisurewear staple, as teens begin to have real fun, forgetting the almost desperate energy of the previous decade, cocooned in wealth and security. But the seeds of change have been sown, and by the mid '60s jeans have acquired yet another social connotation-as the uniform of the budding social and sexual revolution. Jeans are the great equalizer, the perfect all-purpose garment for the classless society sought by the hippy generation. In the fight for civil rights, at anti-war demonstrations on the streets of Paris, at sit-ins and love-ins everywhere, the battle cry is heard above a sea of blue.
Bell bottoms hit their peak and creativity flourishes. Customized denim-embroidered, studded and patched-becomes all the rage in fashionable St. Tropez, giving jeans a new glamorous profile. Gradually, the outward symbol of the alternative culture is integrated into mainstream society. Even "respectable" adults accept denim in their wardrobe. The jeans culture has become associated with youth, and everybody wants to remain young. Disco reigns, and denim dresses up for night. The ultimate sign of the appropriation of denim by the establishment is the designer jeans wave, which sweeps America just as the decade is coming to a close.
Designer jeans take hold in Europe, a sign of the rejection of the utopian ideals of the '70s and a return to affluence and status. A backlash surfaces in the form of "destroyed" denim, meant as the ultimate in anti-fashion but instantly a major trend. Riding the extremes of boom and bust, labels flood the market, then retrench as consumers get weary. Acid wash debuts in '86 and revitalizes the scene. In the midst of it all, Levi's launches its "back to basics" campaign. The pedigree of the 501 pleases Yuppies, who want to be seen in exactly the right label, and money-oriented executives find themselves wearing the working man's original uniform.
The high living and conspicuous consumption of the '80s proves to many to be an empty pursuit, and the beginning of the '90s sees a widespread reevaluation of priorities. Facing the next millennium, people are becoming more concerned with the environment, family life and old-fashioned values. This search for quality and authenticity helps to perpetuate the basics boom of the late '80s, leading to an interest in period originals and in newer lines that recapture the details and fabrics of the past. Once again adapting to the spirit of the times, jeans now represent an old friend, practical and modern yet linked to the purer, simpler life of days gone by.