We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all jeans are created equal.
Denim is the American Dream—that idea of starting from nothing and building oneself up to success and prosperity. Just as so many people emigrated from Europe to the “land of opportunity” in the 19th century, denim came from Genoa, Italy and flourished in America. Denim is the most coveted trend of this season, worked into every fashion item from clothing to accessories, even from shoes to underwear. Not too shabby for a fabric that started as a workman’s uniform.
Even before Levi Strauss cashed in on the Gold Rush, denim was the traditional material for men’s workwear. Its sturdy nature and dark color made it perfect for manual labor, hiding signs of dirt and holding together just fine. Then when hundreds of thousands of men migrated west in the mid-19th century to seek their American Dreams, and Strauss outfitted them. Jacob Davis, a tailor and customer to Strauss’s San Francisco dry goods shop, discovered that he could use little metal rivets to hold trousers together, creating a durable pant. Strauss and Davis patented their rivet idea, put them on denim, and jeans as we know them took a new life. With the added durability, jeans were now #trending amongst the men participating in California’s Gold Rush.
So to recap, denim was born in Italy, came to America, and earned its worth during the Gold Rush. That’s the first step of its American Dream, but that doesn’t explain how its become the most important fabric of 2018. Though they were widely worn as workwear, reaching womenswear in the 1930s, jeans didn’t make their way into a more mainstream fashion circle until around 75 years after Strauss created the iconic look.
The ultimate rebel, James Dean rocked his blue jeans in just about every photo that exists of him. And it’s very important to note that at the time, denim was not in everyone’s daily rotation. The rebels without causes of the 1950s turned to jeans as a way to defy domesticity and societal expectations. It was workmen’s wear.
Denim had made its way into counterculture styles, and it lived there for three decades. In the 60s and 70s, hippy culture bloomed and with it, a growing love of jeans. Celebrities were constantly wearing jeans as well, giving youth culture more and more denim-style inspiration. Really, every vintage celeb from Elvis to Jimi Hendrix, and style icons from Marilyn Monroe to Liz Taylor flaunted their laid-back, rebellious denim vibes.
And then, finally, jeans pushed their way onto the runway in the 1980s. Infamously, Calvin Klein put a fifteen-year-old Brooke Shields in an ad, clad in a pair of their jeans, reciting: “You want to know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing.” And Calvin wasn’t alone in this marketing tactic. Gap put a bright-eyed Cindy Crawford in a denim-on-denim look, while Gianni Versace took a more shocking approach with a half-naked models Nadia Auermann and Claudia Schiffer wearing Versace Jeans Couture. Once in the realm of luxury fashion, there was no going back for denim. The sturdy cotton material is a staple in ready-to-wear season after season. It has reached its American Dream.
And really, denim has done more than fulfilled the American Dream—it represents the American ideals. It is all-American, it tells the story of modern America, and it is a material that represents equality. It’s workwear and it’s luxury fashion. It’s menswear and it’s womenswear. You can pay $5 for a pair of jeans or you can pay $5,000. Denim is about equality. Denim is about starting with rivets and becoming a beloved style.