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D BLCOK: DENIM
BY CLAIRE DELLORTO AND HAILEY GABRON
Mom, bell bottom, skater, sculpted, straight-legged, patchwork, low rise, slim, wide leg, dad, baggy, boyfriend: from fashion icons to college students alike, everyone has sported these varied jean styles. Denim is the glue that makes these garments come together. A multifaceted fabric and influential staple in fashion, denim has transcended social and economic boundaries while promoting self-expression.
In a cotton textile, denim is created through a meticulous process of collecting cotton, weaving the individual threads, and dying the threads multiple times to achieve the desired hue. Certain threads are dyed in containers of indigo and then left to dry. Eventually, these blue threads are woven with white threads to craft the denim in the desired weight, color, and flexibility.
Denim’s origin can be traced back to a small town in France and derived its name from the French word for genes - “Genoa” because Genoa rapidly produced this woven textile. America soon adapted denim fabric for tents and wagon covers during the Gold Rush of the 1800s. Workers demanded durable clothing to withstand the harsh labor conditions, and denim vendor Levi Strauss and tailor Jacob Davis collaborated to create the modern jean. Their secret ingredient to making the modern jeans we know and love was to fasten the denim with metal rivets. Today, the original jean house Levi Strauss remains synonymous with this classic American garment.
In every decade following its creation, denim has carried varying significance and meaning. Starting in the 1920s and 30s, denim was romanticized through Hollywood western characters. Presenting these denim-clad movie stars on the silver screen brought denim to the center stage for “western chic” casual leisurewear. While Hollywood started off only showing jeans on men, female celebrities such as Ginger Roberts and Carol Lombard publicly sporting blue jeans gave them a place in women’s leisure fashion as well. In the 1940s, clothing rations during WWII decreased the production of jeans, but American soldiers who wore casual pants unknowingly became models to foreigners, introducing jeans to the world when off duty. Following this, the 1950s brought a transformation of jeans into a symbol of youth rebellion as popular rock stars such as James Dean and Marlon Brando started wearing denim outfits, making them cool, edgy, anti-establishment, and a symbol of self-expression for many.
Jeans continued to be a symbol of rebellion in the 1960s and 70s as they became protest symbols for hippies and anti-war activists who wore them to show solidarity with the working class. At the same time, feminists were protesting by wearing jeans to demonstrate gender equality. Jeans transformed in style with embroidery, flare cut, paint, and psychedelic prints while becoming a symbol of counter-culture and youth rebellion in this era, leading to its banishment in many schools, an action that only increased its popularity. In the 1970s and 80s, jeans entered the world of high fashion with new styles such as Fiorucci’s Buffalo 70 tight, dark, and expensive jeans. In 1976, Calvin Klein was the first designer to show jeans on the runways, and many other luxury brands quickly followed suit. In the 1990s, denim was picked up by major fashion houses such as Versace, Dolce and Gabbana, and Dior, placing it in the realm of luxury fashion. Denim-only labels such as Diesel 7, For all Mankind, Nudie, and True Religion launched as well, keeping the denim trend alive. No longer just a working-class or rebellious fabric, different types and styles of jeans were created and began to expand into other garments.
Jeans are now classified by a wide variety of prices, the most expensive pair of jeans ever sold being $250,000. The global denim fabric market is a booming industry, with a value of 27.1 billion U.S. dollars in 2022 and a forecast to rise to almost 36 billion dollars by 2027. The global denim jeans market was forecast to be worth around 76.1 billion U.S. dollars by 2026, up from 64.5 billion U.S. dollars in 2022. The denim jeans market is a sub-category within the overall apparel market, rising with the growth of the global apparel market. Currently, Levi Strauss & Co. has revenue of close to 3.8 billion U.S. dollars and current stock of 16.8, which continues to rise even as JP Morgan analysts predict the falling of denim demand.
Now, as all fashion trends do, the evolving style of jeans is circling back around. The recent popular skinny fit and high-rise style is getting replaced by a comeback of the bell bottom flare of the 70s and low-rise of the early 2000s. Vintage Levi’s also brings denim back to its roots as consumers pay extremely high prices for these thrifted pairs. In the modern era, denim is still evolving into many different articles of clothing, as well as accessories and more, which can be used to dress up or down any outfit. The qualities of blue jeans as expressive, gender neutral, durable, versatile, and affordable are all key factors that contribute to denim’s popularity.