The Evolution of Denim Over the Past 100 Years

Courtesy: J. Crew

In the fashion world, trends seem to come and go like seasons. As a result, it can be incredibly hard both mentally and financially to keep up with the ever-changing atmosphere of pop culture style. 

One article that never seems to fall out of fashion, though, is denim. Invented in the late 1800s by none other than Levi Strauss himself, this iconic fabric has graced a century’s worth of generations with the comfortable safe-haven of good ole’ blue jeans. 

While denim has hung around in the hearts of consumers since its introduction into the scene of mainstream fashion, the ways in which it has presented itself have changed considerably. In order to take a comprehensive look at what is arguably America’s most-loved trend, we present to you, collegiettes, the evolution of denim over the past 100 years.

The 1920s

While the style of the 1920s is typically remembered as being a time of fringe-covered flapper dresses and pinstriped suits, denim jeans were equally as prominent in society. This labor-friendly fashion provided ranchers, farmers and miners a new everyday ensemble. 

Courtesy: Library of Congress

The 1930s

During the 1930s, denim maintained its western feel while still primarily serving individuals with labor-intensive lifestyles. However, the heavy influence of popular western movies introduced the nation to the idea of denim as a form of women’s wear.  

Courtesy: Fashionista

The 1940s

Almost all aspects of life in the U.S. during the early 1940s were affected by World War II. As a result of over hundreds of thousands of American men being drafted into the war, women were left to fill the newly vacant jobs across the country. This introduction of women into the workforce inspired many changes in women’s fashion, including the increasing popularity of denim. 

Courtesy: Vivien of Holloway

The 1950s

The mid-twentieth century marked the official transition of denim from a clothing item of functionality to one of mainstream fashion. Stiff denim jeans featuring a thick cuff at the ankle quickly gained popularity among the youth of America. This trend rapidly cropped up across many fashion advertisements of the time and was heavily reinforced by cultural icons such as James Dean, Elvis Presley and John Wayne. 

Courtesy: Levi’s

The 1960s

The 1960s were arguably one of the most influential periods in American history. From this era, two closely-related major social movements heavily influenced the evolution of denim: the counterculture movement & the flower power movement. 

The counterculture movement was composed primarily of college-aged students and was launched as a protest against the social and political state of the nation. Participants of this movement sought to challenge societal norms, partially through their appearances. These individuals began sporting bright colors, loud patterns, flared jeans and other trends we now associate with “hippies.” Toward the end of this decade, the counterculture movement gave life to a new crusade: the flower power movement. Although relatively similar in nature, this movement focused specifically on promoting a culture of non-violence and heavily encompassed the symbolism of the flower. Flowers began appearing in embroidery on denim jackets and jeans. 

Both movements resulted in a unique change of course for the direction American fashion was headed.

Courtesy: iTunes

The 1970s

Due to the late 60s flower power movement, the introduction of glam rock and prevalent television shows of the time (The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour & Charlie’s Angels), bell bottom jeans dominated the nation by the 1970s. 

Courtesy: Amazon

The 1980s

In the following decade, denim underwent yet another dramatic change in the US. By the early 1980s, the public was eagerly swapping their once-beloved bell bottom jeans for the high-waisted, acid washed and tightly-pegged style.  

Courtesy: Seventeen Magazine & National Geographic

The 1990s

Quite possibly one of the most iconic eras in fashion, the 90s were a period flooded by choker necklaces, mood rings, high-top converse and band tees. Fashion was heavily swayed by the rise in popularity of the grunge subculture, which was primarily perpetuated by punk-rock bands such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam. 

In particular, denim reached what was perhaps its peak popularity during this decade. “mom” jeans, oversized denim jackets and (of course) denim overalls were seen in masses. 

Courtesy: Fuse TV

The 2000s

Similar to the polarized switch of jean styles seen between the 70s and 80s, the 2000s brought about a transformation to denim previously unseen throughout the 1990s. The new century was marked by denim miniskirts, heavy embroidery and the extremely low-rise cut.

Courtesy: Harper’s Bazaar

The 2010s 

By the 2010s, denim had seen hundreds of variations in style. It was during this decade, however, that denim seemed to finally find a comfortable spot in America’s closets in the form of the “wearable” skinny jean. This casual trend of jeans has featured a variety of washes and cuts while overall successfully occupying classrooms, offices, streets and hearts across the nation. 

Courtesy: Hollister

While the future of denim is unknown, one thing remains certain: this long-loved fashion development won’t be exiting the main stage anytime soon. If anything, we can expect to continue to see a rise in admiration among wearers. 

Share your favorite decade of denim along with this article, and be sure to tag Her Campus FSU in your posts!