A Brief History of
Designer Jeans

Excerpted from

Dazed and Confused:
The 1970s and the Postmodern Turn

Vince Carducci

"Originally created for practical purposes by Levi Strauss & Company in the second half of the nineteenth century, blue-denim jeans were first taken up as fashion items in the 1920s by members of the Santa Fe artist’s colony in New Mexico to express their identity as cultural prospectors of the American Scene. Jeans as anti-fashion emerged after the Second World War to symbolize the rebellious independence of the Beat Generation against the gray-flannel conformity of outer-directed society. In the 1960s, jeans gained broad popularity as quintessentially American, representing a classless society where labor and leisure were equally valued and where material comfort prevailed. The individualistic connotations of blue denim stayed intact in the 1970s, when designer jeans appeared as part of a larger movement in consumption toward what may be termed the democratization of distinction, the birth of what philosopher Jean Baudrillard calls the “commodity-sign.” In addition to the value-added features of other natural fiber clothing, designer jeans carried the premium marker of haute couture branding, but at relatively affordable prices when compared to traditional luxury goods.

The rise of designer jeans was facilitated by the introduction in the 1970s of computer-assisted methods, known as “geodemographic clustering systems,” that could compile and analyze large amounts of data on the location of wealth, the distribution of population by race, age, gender, and educational level, and other indicators of purchasing power and patterns of behavior. These techniques presented information at finer levels of detail than had been previously available to purveyors of the mass market. This enabled clothing manufacturers, among others, to identify and respond more quickly to market opportunities, which low-cost, labor-intensive offshore producers could supply without needing otherwise prohibitive capital investment. The designer jean consumer was upscale (or at least aspired to be), paying double over the average price of a pair of Levi’s. While fewer units were sold, due to the smaller pool of potential buyers, profit margins were far higher than available in the traditional mass-market model.

At the same time that these smaller market segments were being uncovered, the ability to accommodate design changes was enhanced, again due to the economies of low-cost labor engaged in handwork. This served to shorten the fashion cycle, accelerating the process of product obsolescence. During this same period, polyester was pushed down market, relegated to the lower-margin segments of mass consumption. Designer jeans worked alongside the new trademarked running shoes, logo-imprinted t-shirts, and other branded items to help a reconstituted capitalism straddle the globe with renewed vigor. As part of the process, branding became a kind of system of symbolic exchange, a re-enchantment of the world, a mechanism for channeling consumption into new forms. Facilitating the flow between consumer desire and value-added products were other changes that undermined the worldly asceticism traditionally associated with America’s Protestant heritage."


I think of this because i never wore jeans growing up - they felt uncomfortable to me; a bit to rigid, so I wore slacks, bugle boys, jams, whatever... but after a trip to a vintage shop in Williamsburg about 4 years ago; i found out that i had just been wearing the wrong jeans. Now i almost exclusively wear jeans, they don't have to be vintage, or designer, in fact all my jeans are Levi's usually 501 or 505, boot cut sometimes, relaxed fit others. Mainly it's just a matter of fit, and being of the tall slender variety I've noticed that older "vintage" jeans fit me better.

On another note; this morning while i was getting dressed i accidentally yanked an old pair of work jeans i haven't worn in over a year, i got them... almost 5 years ago, before i really wore jeans, as sort of a test, and because i needed something to do manual labor in. I remember them never fitting right, to baggy in places, a little long, but they did the trick for work, and over the last few years i would pull them out whenever i needed to do some painting, general dirty work, or like a few summers ago, when i was helping Adrienne's father gut their house for remodeling.

I tried them on, and to my surprise they fit like a glove. a very worn, comfortable glove... I thought it was funny how after all these years of own them I'd finally grown into these jeans.

1 comment:

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