The Death of Denim?

Clare Kane | May 26, 2015

Jeans/Goonies never say die!

Want to know what your jeans say about you? Only good things, I promise. Oh, and can we all collectively agree: jeggings don’t count.

Next time you’re in a public place, count the number of people wearing jeans.

Wherever you are in the world, around half the population will be rocking the true blues at any time. Now fast forward fifty years. Will half of us still have our legs encased in denim?

Maybe not. Because jeans might be over.

It seems hard to believe, but evidence is mounting that the unifying power of denim is dying. Jeans started as the garment of America’s West; the practical trousers of cowboys and miners; the daring statement of holidaying east coasters down on the ranch.

Then they became cool. James Dean wore jeans as a slap across the face to the sartorial establishment. Students adopted them in the 60s, groovy disco-goers wore them flared in the 70s.

By the 90s, however, they were wallpaper. So ubiquitous that they became part of life’s scenery. Like a can of Coca-Cola, they were a unifying symbol: whoever you were, you wore the same thing (except, of course, if you were in Calvins — that was elite gold Coca-Cola).

But society has a stifling effect on subcultures. One particularly damning way of numbing the threat of alternate lifestyles is by subsuming them, making their otherness common. Where Levi’s were once overtly casual, calling to mind manual work and dusty landscapes, jeans are now so thoroughly sanitized that we can wear them to work — drawing the line, really, only at weddings and funerals. Like leather jackets and bandanas, the frisson of danger jeans once provided has now faded.

Don’t believe me? Look at the numbers. For the first time sales of jeans in the U.S. (the land of the free and the denim-clad) have fallen. And what has risen? Sales of yoga pants, by almost the same amount.

This tells us two interesting things about fashion and society. One, we constantly push the boundaries of what is acceptable to wear in public: jeans were workwear, yoga pants were designed for the gym. Two, what constitutes cool has undergone a radical change over the past decade.

Where we once idolized badness, considered smoking, drinking and erring along criminal lines cool, we now worship the smoothie, the six pack and the self-righteous selfie. Mark Zuckerberg had to go to a meeting in pajamas because turning up in jeans wouldn’t have meant anything.

I have faith, however, that jeans won’t die. Like the Goonies, great trends never do. They’re cyclical, and the more enduring they are, the harder they hold on. Jeans are the fabric of our lives. They weather stains and crotch rips and disastrous love affairs with more aplomb than Lululemons ever will. They certainly project more style.

But if, in fact, leggings become the norm — the new uniform of moms and dads and babies alike, and jeans die out among the masses, then won’t it be that much cooler to put on a pair of vintage 501s? The answer is yes. Fellow denim devotees: there’s no need to be worried.

Speaking of denim devotees, let’s take a trip down memory lane to the closets of Rajni Jacques, Felicity Sargent and Leon Bridges

Image shot by Tommy Ton for Style.com

  • Ally Frazier

    Denim Forever!!

  • The day leggings become a staple of dad closets, I will gauge my own eyes out. We thought scrotum-brushing swim trunks were bad?!

    • Amelia Diamond

      yesterday my dad made me think about dads in sweatpants and… arhgoihgohs”h

  • Thamsa

    Denim will never die

  • Subrina Ejoke

    What would Midwestern men wear as dress attire now? Haha!
    I live in the Midwest and 90% of men consider jeans dressy. I can hear their world crumbling right now.

  • Cate

    Um. People have been wearing boots for the past, uh, two thousand years? Basically since cobblers tools were advanced enough to create them. People have been wearing white dress shirts, particularly men, for like three hundred years. Men have been wearing a variation on the suit since the late 1600s. There are certain articles of clothing that have clearly stuck around and have risen above trends.

    So, yeah. Demand for jeans might go up and down, but there is no way they are going anywhere. It seems way more likely that leggings are the trend here, so let’s not getting ridiculously dramatic.

  • amg

    I think this begs the question – have women completely given up on looking put together in public? Leggings have become the Juicy Couture sweats of our time – soooo over it!

    • Jin

      I think you can look put together in leggings. Maybe it’s just that what is “put together” has changed.

  • CrosslyStitched

    Blame the children. Recent research has shown that children are wearing less denim. In some cases it can be attributed to sensory issues but with my kids it’s that buttons and zippers slow them down and denim constricts their movement.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/12/fashion/jeans-some-boys-shout-no-way.html

    • Amelia Diamond

      kids these days!

  • I think the thing about jeans is that there are so many different options. Dark denim, light denim, black- there’s just so many options. And that’s not even going into different fits! But with leggings/ yoga pants, light wash isn’t an option and you can have skinny or boot cut leggings, but not much else. I think that jeans will be around for a while, if only because of their versatility.

    • and let’s face it, boot and wide leg leggings don’t look good on everyone…

  • Lindsey Cook

    Jeans will always beat out leggings, because they are comfortable but they also look good. People who put effort into how they appear and leave their gym clothes at the gym will always come out on top.

  • Well it feels like, in Ireland anyway, denim is making a comeback! Ripped knee jeans and heels…The mom jeans…denim shorts… denim on denim (jeans & shirt)… denim jumpsuits…its all a huge trend right now. So for me it’s denim til I die!!
    Tara – http://www.runninginheels.eu

  • You guys, I wrote a similar piece on my blog last year! http://www.charmystique.com/2014/08/denim-singing-the-blues.html

    Seriously though, #denimforever.

    • Leandra Medine

      cool! can’t wait to read

      • Would be so honored to have you read and hear your thoughts!

  • Ajnira Muminovic

    Is it crazy to think that they might never come back? ( jeans are not green friendly, not comfortable as yoga, not that minimal)

    xx
    majnira.com

  • Hillary Eisenberg

    I have also noticed this trend and appreciate the insight from this article. I know that great denim pieces will never die, but I’m curious to see how far athleisure will go. You inspired me to write a piece today on my blog: http://shopahillic.blogspot.com/

  • I’m a huge fan of denim, I’m from Kentucky after all, and while I agree it may be seeing a decline I don’t think it’ll ever fully go “out of style”. They’re a classic piece like leather jackets and chucks.

    Josh – The Kentucky Gent
    http://thekentuckygent.com

  • Denim IS the foundation of my wardrobe/life – It can’t be over! The love affair will never die.

  • margotpascal
  • Lisa

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  • Anya van Wyk

    Jeggings so don’t count!