Home Fashion Industry Financial The history of denim: is it going through an identity crisis?

The history of denim: is it going through an identity crisis?

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WWhat type of jeans are there at the moment? A fashionable youngster may say low slung and loose, while his older brother says otherwise. Ask industry experts and they’ll likely tell you skinny jeans, with the data to back it up.

But set foot in any store where they sell denim, and among the shelves you will find an array of silhouettes and styles: mom, dad, boyfriend, girlfriend, skateboarder, stove pipe, 90s, sculpted , cigarette, puddle, patchwork, contrast, thin, split. The question of what is elegant can be better phrased in the negative: what is not?

The trend cycle is said to come to an end every 20 years, and while there is some truth to that – low rise jeans, for example, haven’t been popular for that long – the adage starts to seem overwhelmed. Nowadays, new styles are emerging and being recycled at breakneck speed. So fast, in fact, that sometimes they seem not to move at all, like a colored spinning wheel turned into a blur of brown: everything is relevant at once.

Such a landscape, where nothing is “in” or “out” as much as chosen or not, presents clear gains for fashion as a form of self-expression. But what else can the assortment of jeans sold today say about this moment in history? Denim, after all, has always been a cultural weathervane.

Jeans for you (and you and you)

Classic jeans as we know them today – stiff, pocketed, blue – were patented by Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis in 1873. For decades, they were primarily worn by workers and modified to meet their needs. : additional stitching for reinforcement, copper rivets to keep the pockets from tearing, belt loops and zippers for ease of wearing.

It wasn’t until the 1920s and 1930s that jeans lost their strictly utilitarian associations. Borrowing the so-called edge implied by clothing class associations, Hollywood cowboys such as John Wayne and Gary Cooper gave denim an air of fictionalized rebellion. Trace the history of American denim over the next hundred years and you get a glimpse of 20th century iconoclasts: oilers, hippies, rock stars, rappers and hipsters.



Tall buyers have a long way to go before their access mirrors that of taller buyers – evidence, without a doubt, of a pervasive fat phobia.

This century has had its share of denim-clad cultural figureheads, but aside from the occasional ban on the dress code in the office, jeans have for the most part lost their subversive associations. Everyone wears them.

E-commerce has changed that. As Lorraine Hutchinson, retail analyst for Bank of America, said: The ability to manufacture new styles and test them in the market today requires much less financial risk than it ever has ever been. So why limit the options?

Several fast-growing retailers seem to have made this their entire business strategy: Shein, a fast-fashion brand popular with Gen Z, announced that it was adding some 1,000 products to its website every day – a staggering number that has raised concerns about the climate and union activists. (As of Wednesday, there were over 6,600 styles of women’s jeans available.)

Despite ambitious claims that sweatpants are overtaking “hard pants,” the global denim market is only growing. According to Global Industry Analysts, it was worth more than £ 45bn in 2020, and it is expected to grow an additional £ 15bn by 2026. That leaves us where we are now: every style of jeans we could. dream, available immediately.

Is more really more?

The ‘personal’ style, as opposed to the trend, is a popular idea today, perhaps because it suggests some kind of social progress – a movement towards a world in which fashion is inclusive, accessible and less dogmatic. . This is a particularly attractive proposition for consumers who feel ignored by most of the retail market.

Lauren Chan, model and size advocate, said that when consumers can’t find well-made, stylish clothes for their body, “the message they get is that they are not worthy of it.” That’s why, in 2019, she founded Henning, a clothing line for sizes 12 and up.

While freedom of choice is crucial for our well-being, having too many choices makes us anxious

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Unlike, say, Shein, where more is more, Chan is on a mission to essentialize: to provide access to high-quality commodities, as opposed to access to everything. (For spring, she presents just one style of denim jeans: a vintage-inspired rigid straight-leg pair.)

“The plus size market is largely made up of pieces that are semi-trendy, toned down versions of what general fashion has been offering for the past year,” Chan said, “because plus size fashion is often a bit late to adapt to these trends.

Tall buyers have a long way to go before their access mirrors that of taller buyers – evidence, without a doubt, of a pervasive fat phobia. But in the long run, it may be interesting to wonder whether having virtually endless choices – and endless trends – actually reflects the ideal of the average shopper.

In his 2004 book, The paradox of choice, psychologist Barry Schwartz has suggested that while freedom of choice is crucial to our well-being, having too many choices makes us anxious.



But the pursuit of personal style as the singular pinnacle of fashion perhaps goes too far in this philosophy, and the way it is currently being metabolized is having alarming environmental effects.

“Although modern Americans have more choice than any group of people before, and therefore, presumably, more freedom and autonomy, we don’t seem to benefit psychologically,” he writes.

In a recent study (now under peer review), he and his research associate Nathan Cheek explored a new hypothesis, which Schwartz explained over the phone: they would like, they treat choice as a statement about who they are.

As a clothing lover, I don’t need his research to know that what he offers holds true for many: the overwhelming opportunities for aesthetic self-expression are both a gift and a curse, capable of ‘incite joy as much as fear.

Georg Simmel, who is said to have published one of the first official “fashion theories” in 1895, believed that fashion is defined by the push and pull between the desire to conform and the desire to stand out.

This tension, he said, is critical.

“Fashion only exists insofar as one of the two poles does not ultimately prevail,” wrote Sergio Benvenuto, an Italian psychoanalyst, of Simmel’s theory.

Perhaps this is the reason why, as Anna Wintour once said, “Fashion can make people very nervous”. Dressing is walking a tightrope with ourselves on one side and everyone else on the other.

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“The absence of a trend is the trend”

Katrina Klein has been designing jeans for almost 20 years – for J Brand, Rag & Bone and now her own brand, ASKK NY. She remembers perfectly every micro-trend she has witnessed: colorful, patterned, embroidered, destroyed, mustache. Right now, she said: “The lack of trend is the trend.” And she doesn’t think that’s a bad thing.

“People don’t really want to be dressed like everyone else,” she said.

Individualism: This seems like an almost too obvious place for this investigation to land. As modern technology continues to provide access to abundance while pushing us into increasingly secluded corners of existence, it makes sense that fashion – a famous reflection of the times – follows a similar trajectory. .

But the pursuit of personal style as the singular pinnacle of fashion perhaps goes too far in this philosophy, and the way it is currently being metabolized is having alarming environmental effects.

“Just because fashion and consumption overlap doesn’t mean they are synonymous,” said Drew Austin, a writer who covers urban planning, technology and social change, in an interview last month. “Every culture throughout history has used clothing to express itself, and this is arguably even more important in cultures and subcultures where fashion is less captured by consumerism – where it plays its part best. means of communication and improvement of public space. “

“Wear it your way” imbues clothing with a social purpose outside of the language of status. But as an all-fabric fashion philosophy, it has clear costs. Unlimited choice is not a fashion utopia: not for consumers, not for garment workers or supply chains, and not for the planet. A thousand styles of jeans, in other words, won’t save us.

Constraints, on the other hand, can present a creative opportunity, said Schwartz: “They are exhilarating in a way that simple novelty could never be. “

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.