Denim: Popularity that never fades

Denim is a key vehicle for self-expression, it’s extremely adaptable – and as dress codes become more blurred, having plenty of dyed yarn in your arsenal is no bad thing.

Robert Redford in The Horse Whisperer, 1998 (Photo via Alamy)

For what seems like a simple textile, whose origins are remarkably humble, the journey of denim is anything but. Invented and popularized in the Gold Rush era, for its hard-wearing and durable virtues, denim and more precisely jeans have become the most ubiquitous yet complicated item of clothing to be adopted in the Western world. There’s usually a garment that defines a particular epoch of cultural history, but denim’s dynamism has meant its cultural identity has repeatedly changed throughout its 150-year lifespan.

Denim started out as the uniform for the rough-and-tumble work that was undertaken by labourers on the farms and mines of America’s Western states in the late 19th Century. However, by the 1930s the appeal of denim started to creep into more suburban households. It was initially down to freshman spending summers on ranches – who had relished and enjoyed their temporary existence at being cowboys. “It was the kind of clothing that represented the American West and it was this cachet and this sort of magical thing,” says Lynn Downey, archivist and historian at Levi Strauss & Co. But back in Connecticut or New York, the jeans stayed in the closet.

Contributor

Freddie Anderson

Published

April 2021

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