Since the 1950s, when they first made an appearance in mainstream fashion, the ubiquitous denim pants (or jeans) have gone through every possible evolution in fashion. What started out as workwear for miners in America, went on to become a uniform for the counterculture movement, a gesture of rebellion, a statement of cool from style icons, eventually couture for models and fashionistas.
The denim jeans breached age divides, crossed borders, survived cultural upheavals. Everyone has a favourite cut and fit.
And each generation made them their own—there were the high-waists, the bellbottoms, the bedazzled. If you hit remind, here’s what the timeline looked like
Overalls made from denim shrunk to become what were called ‘waist overalls’, essentially denim pants (or jeans), with rivets at the edges of the pockets, to make them extra durable even with rough use by workmen
The denim pants began to make an appearance as workwear among blue-collar workers
Actors known to play bad boys began sporting them on magazine covers and in movies. Think Marlon Brando and James Dean. These were loose-fit, straight-cut, often paired with a biker jacket
A Wrangler jeans magazine ad from the ’60s.
Glamorous young women were wearing this new type of pant, straight-cut and neatly pressed, paired with graceful sweaters (tucked in), and shoes to match. Big hair / bouffant optional.
By the late 1960s, jeans came in all kinds of colours, and had begun flaring wildly below the knee. By the ’70s, they were being personalised with embroidery and applique. No more carefully coiffed hairdos either. Instead it was a time of embroidered blouses, carefree hairstyles and barefoot models (even in the ads!). Cut-offs began making an appearance; and overalls that ended abruptly in shorts.
A Calvin Klein ad from the ’80s starring Brooke Shields.
By this time, everyone was entering the game. Levis was facing competition from high fashion brands like Gloria Vanderbilt and Calvin Klein. High waists were in. Stone-washed were in. The legs began to taper. The denim started to cling.
The ’90s pop band, Girls Aloud, in the baggy jeans and fitting vests of the decade.
This was the time of the low-slung, easy-fit, almost baggy jeans. You were meant to look cool, laid-back, comfortable. These are still around. They’re now called boyfriend jeans. Think Peter Andre in Mysterious Girl.
Britney Spears sports the ultra-low-rise , ripped, baggy jeans that were all the rage in the 2000s.
The journey toward stretch and slim silhouettes began. Girls and boys baffled parents everywhere with, also, the ultra-low-rise jeans, and began to pay thousands for a pair of ripped, torn, faded baggy jeans that truly did look like they’d been through too much.
Stretch was everywhere (and still is). Jeans came with ‘whiskers’ or little streaks of marbling, at the crotch (something to do with drawing the eye) and ‘jeggings’ or denim leggings were the new jeans. For a scary little while, the pockets went missing, but thanks to strong consumer feedback, they were returned.
The mid-2010s were when the high waists reappeared, and short and cropped ankles became the trend.
Today’s jeans can be anything. Most of them will be stretchy, whether you like it or not. Baggy is in again, and as for the rips, they’ve become gaping holes (for which you would seem to pay extra). The new thing: A number of brands online will let you sketch out a design and make you a custom pair.
DENIM IN INDIA
Blue jeans took to the Indian streets in the 1970s and 1980s, via relatives visiting from abroad.
Local tailors began to replicate jeans you saw in the ads in foreign magazines, but with adjustments for the Indian body type – shorter legs, wider hips. This is something the big denim brands would only learn to do the hard way.
Flying Machine, the first homegrown brand, was set up by Arvind Mills and remained for a long time the country’s largest manufacturer of denim.
“In those years, you could also get smuggled Wranglers at Connaught Place,” says Rajesh Dudeja of Denim Club India, a B2B platform for denim manufacturers, suppliers and retailers. “In the decades that followed, domestic manufacturers and small time brands would go to Bombay, to a couple of high-end stores, pick up the latest trends and bring them back to be copied and sold.”
By the mid-’90s, international brands such as Levi’s and Lee were here and denim went much more mainstream—college students, kids.
“This was when the messaging about jeans was consolidated through advertising,” says Shyam Sukramani, founder of Korra, which manufactures jeans. “With television, the romance around the fabric also found its place.”