Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Blue Jeans: A Fashion Look Back





Here is a photo of movie star James Dean in 1955, the year he starred in Rebel Without a Cause.  The movie caught the imagination of a counterculture that was beginning to take shape in the United States. One of the most controversial things about James Dean was that he was wearing jeans.

(Blue jeans were first introduced in the country by Levi Strauss, a German immigrant who saw a need for heavy-duty work pants for gold miners during the California Gold Rush.   He experimented with various fabrics before settling on blue denim strengthened with grommets.  The result was patented in 1873 and was worn for generations by working men, and some women. )

Before James Dean's day, jeans were not worn to church or to restaurants or to operatic performances.  But once introduced into the mainstream, or at least the mainstream of emerging youth culture, jeans took off, and people have been wearing them ever since.

Here is a picture of a beat group wearing jeans at a performance in1960.


During the 1960s, jeans became part of young people's wardrobes.  Men and women favored traditional Levi's jeans in men's sizes.  All was fine.

Then, in the 1970s, new designs in jeans were introduced, often with unfortunate results.

Flared jeans, then called bell bottoms, came into fashion.

For women, bell bottoms started out looking like this.


Then, with time, the look became more exaggerated, with this result.



The same thing happened with men's jeans.  First came this look.   


By the end of the decade, men were wearing outfits like the one below, which was immortalized on a postage stamp.




Many, many older people now have to live with family photograph albums containing pictures like the ones above, which must be a constant source of mirth to their younger relatives.

By the mid to late 1970s, it was time for another youthquake.  It came in the form of punk rock.

One very influential group was the New York rock band The Ramones.  Below is a picture of the group, around 1977, the year they released their breakout album, "Rocket to Russia."


Regular jeans were back, and about time.

But this didn't stop lamentable innovation in blue jeans styles. 

Sometime around this period, women's jeans were restyled.  The bell bottom was abolished, and the volume of fabric was basically reversed.  Women's jeans started to look like those pictured below, with high waists, generous amounts of fabric through the rear and thigh areas, tapering down the legs to the narrowest point at the ankles.


This was another fashion faux pas, and it's not surprising that it didn't last long.  Jeans like these are now known derisively as Mom Jeans.  Here are some other photos of Mom Jeans; it is definitely not a look to be recommended.


After this disaster, fashion designers went back to their ateliers. They had got the point that high-waisted jeans were not flattering.  They went in another direction.


The result, Skinny Jeans, is the topic of tomorrow's post.


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