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A History of Denim

Posted by Tabby Howes fashion blogger

5th May 2016

Cropped leg jeans, customised denim jackets, those Vetements reworked Levis that cost about a trillion pounds and were literally spotted on everyone who is anyone in the fashion industry. I only have to scroll down my Instagram feed to see that denim is absolutely huge this season. I have never been a huge fan of jeans, I had a couple of £10 Primark pairs that I wore to work, but recently they have become an absolute staple of my wardrobe. My boyfriend is to blame for my new found jean addiction. Working in a vintage store he has also in the past two years become both addicted to denim and also what I like to call a denim snob (a denim snob being an individual who possesses prejudice against particular types of denim). Denim snobbery aside, he has made me think about what exactly it is that makes a good pair of jeans. A good pair of jeans are a canvas that can be worn with absolutely anything. Due to the mass production and consumption of denim over the past 20 years, the types of jeans that we are wearing today are probably very different to the type of jeans that people were wearing pre-1970s.

Most people think that denim originated in the USA, but it originally came to the USA via France. Created by accident by the Andre family in the French city of Nîmes who were attempting to try and imitate corduroy which was a particularly popular material in Italy during this period. Fast forward to 1848 and the sturdy cotton twill weaving was picked up in the U S of A. The evolution of denim from then to now is an interesting one. The reason being that they were originally created as a working class piece of clothing only worn by minors and farm workers. Denim was a perfect fit for the type of conditions that they were subjected to and it could withstand water and most types of weather. It was not really until the 1950s that denim began to be worn by the masses.  Due to the likes of James Dean rocking a pair of Lee 100 riders in 'Rebel Without a Cause' in the 1950s, denim became a symbol of youth rebellion and individuality. Due to this portrayal, denim began to gain a particular reputation as the uniform of the anti authoritarian.  Teenagers would wear jeans to protest against the government and show solidarity with the working classes. Due to the mass production of denim, by the 1980s however jeans were a common wardrobe staple. They were also beginning to be adopted by the catwalk, with fashion houses Versace and Yves Saint Laurent including them in their collections. This of course marked a symbolic change for denim, it has evolved from an item of clothing that was made purely to serve a function, to a universal fashion trend, loved by everyone.

Fast forward to today and you can literally get denim everything: bags, shoes, jackets, shirts. I've even seen pictures of Gigi Hadid wearing an actual denim bikini. Whilst good quality denim can be expensive, it does not necessarily mean that you have to spend a lot of money on it. Most of the jeans I own have come from charity shops, and it's definitely a good place to start if you want to update the denim in your life.

Here are my top tips of what to look out for when shopping for denim.

1)    Levis Big E  -  If you come across a pair of Levis check out the red tab. If the e is a capitalised this means that they were probably manufactured before 1971. I once came across a vintage shop in Paris that had a treasure trove of Levi's items all of which possessed the big E. I managed to pick up three items for less than €20. An actual vintage-lovers dream.

2)    Are they Selvedge? You can spot a pair of Selvedge jeans by the tell-tale coloured lines that run along the outer seam. Selvedge denim is the cashmere of the denim world. It's what all the denim heads desire, being woven in such a way as to produce high quality denim known for its ability to produce beautiful fades. Also look out for jeans that were made in Japan as they have a reputation for creating the best denim in the world.

3)   Be inspired. After seeing everyone's favourite T4 presenter Alexa Chung wearing a pair of frayed, cropped denim jeans last year, I bought a pair of bell bottoms for £1 from a boot fair and hacked off the bottoms so they hung just above my ankle. Cost per wear is probably like zero. One of the must have items this spring is a customised jacket. A charity shop is the perfect place to pick up one for cheap, and then you can customise it with anything you deem fit. Patches, badges, glitter, fringing, dying, changing the buttons, the possibilities are endless!

4)   Don't be afraid of trying a different jean silhouette.  I have always been a lover of the skinny jean, but the first time I put on a pair of Levis 501s I nearly died at how small my waist looked. A classic style is much more likely to see you through the years and not just through the current fad for looser denim. And after all, the original is always the best (did you see High School Musical 2?!).

My picks from the Oxfam website - the jacket, the skirt and the jeans.

Go to the Oxfam Online Shop

Blog post written by Tabby Howes

fashion blogger

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