Why we’re still keen on jeans

Megan Lea 22 November 2016

Their sheer ubiquity has led us to dismiss the definitive denim wardrobe statement that are jeans. Against all odds, they have endured for over almost 150 years (Levi Strauss & Co crafting the first ‘riveted’ jeans in 1871) but not without building up something of a stigma of mundaneness and unoriginality. It is inevitable then that designers and brands have attempted to reinvigorate the staple item – we've seen a proliferation of embroidery, frayed hems and unusual cuts over the past couple of seasons. But this is no novel development, rather the next cycle in the periodic reinvention of jeans.

Over the past century and a half, jeans have been repeatedly re-imagined, from the light-washes of the 1950s, modelled by young icons of the day like James Dean and Marlon Brando, to the bell-bottoms and flares of the 1970s – all of which are still available today. In the last few decades jeans have been ripped, cuffed, bedazzled, and even warped into jeggings.

It was not purely the styles that evolved over time – their function and socio-cultural status did too. While their original design and purpose was as men’s work jeans, they have now successfully crossed over such gender boundaries, becoming in many ways the ultimate unisex item. During the 1950s and 1960s they came to represent youth empowerment. The year 1992 saw the first ‘Jeans for Genes’ Day, a nationwide appeal to raise money for care of those children and families facing genetic diseases. Jeans appear to have only gained in cultural and political standing.

And yet they have still retained their inherently personal quality. For me, the search for the perfect pair is a herculean undertaking, swarmed as we are by such variety and choice. Each new design or trend merely expands their usefulness and desirability. Jeans are in no danger of fading anytime soon; there is as much chance of socks or jackets worming their way out of our wardrobes.

For all these evolutions, and even because of them, jeans have retained their status as the most widespread and popular fashion item. Even more incredibly, despite their popularity, they are still able to capture and reflect personal taste. They are a cultural icon – an ‘everyday’ icon but an important one nonetheless. At the very least they deserve our respect, not to be typecast as a humdrum item of clothing but a dynamic piece of apparel.