My favorite item of clothing in my wardrobe is a pair of Signature Bootcut Elm Dark Blue jeans. And they should be. I paid more for them than most things in my wardrobe! I believe I even got them on sale with an additional 10% discount on my Macy’s card and they still cost me around $150. And the craziest part? They aren’t the top of the list for most expensive jeans. That prize goes to a pair on eBay that sold for $60,000 to a collector. But for day to day, there are plenty of people paying $400+ for a pair of jeans.

This is particularly funny to me as it has been within my lifetime that jeans have been accepted as fashion items at all. And it should be noted that they still aren’t accepted as professional wear, except for in circles where casual is the style of dress. In fact, I can wear a $30 skirt and $25 blouse from Zara and be acceptable in most professional situations, but my $192 (retail price) jeans are a no-no.

So I began wondering a couple of things lately:

  1. When did paying $200+ for a pair of jeans become acceptable?
  2. Why is denim itself seen as a ‘casual’ fabric?

I got the answer in the Voguepedia archives.

Contrary to popular believe, Levi Strauss did NOT invent the denim fabric, but he did popularize denim dungarees in America. Denim as a textile was invented in Nîmes, France, in the middle ages. The word denim, itself, is a shortening of the phrase “Serge de Nîmes” (meaning cloth from Nîmes). It was a Bavarian-born immigrant, Levi Strauss, who brought this durable fabric to California with him and created workwear for those panning for gold daily. Therefore, the origins of jeans themselves were casual – they were the clothing of the labor workers from early on.

Over the years, many work-wear designers used denim as their staple fabric:

Until the designer-denim craze, jeans had been part of the American uniform for more than a century. The stalwarts of the industry—Levi’s, Wrangler, and Lee—were the work and play attire of schoolboys, cowboys, mechanics, and rockers of both sexes. (from Voguepedia)

It was 1967 when Fiorucci introduced jeans to his collection in Milan. Even though his brand doesn’t exist today, Fiorucci was one of the defining designers of the disco era (from the song He’s the Greatest Dancer, “He wears the finest clothes, the best designers heaven knows: Halston, Gucci, Fiorucci…”). These jeans weren’t like the work jeans at all – they were fitted, stretchy and sometimes flashy.

Following hot on Fiorucci’s heels were MacKeen Jeans (also defunct, but the designer’s son is behind 575 Denim) as worn by Charlie’s Angels and the famous Sasson jeans that can be found today in all of their high-waisted gorgeousness on sites like Etsy and eBay. Gloria Vanderbilt and Murjani also followed suit. Denim was well established as a casual, yet hip item for women by the end of the 1970′s.

I’m old enough to remember the Brooke Shields ads for Calvin Klein jeans. A little perverse for its time (now teens in provocative ads is standard), Shields told the public that nothing comes between her and her Calvins. More than a little innuendo there that these jeans were, indeed, tight enough to justify going sans undergarments.

But we still weren’t paying the same premiums for Jordache, Calvin Klein and Guess jeans. They were definitely getting pricier, but nothing compared to the late 90′s. Of course, we needed to go through those awful acid and stone wash eras and fall kind of out of love with jeans all in all before they made a roaring comeback.

In fact, it wasn’t until the late 90′s that I started to hear rumors of regular people spending hundreds of dollars on a pair of jeans. And in the early 00′s, Joe’s Jeans, Hudson Jeans, True Religion and Paige Denim (amongst others) started to appear. These jeans were special. Unlike the brands before, the denim was lightweight and comfortable. Their cuts flattered a womanly curve. And we had a choice between straight leg, boot cut, slim, midrise, highrise, lowrise, boyfriend, flare, crop, wide leg, skinny, super skinny and more. I used to dread trying on jeans – I always had to size up and they still wouldn’t fit me well. But when the new crop of jeans came along, I was excited to go jean shopping.

Most ironically, I used to own one or two pairs of jeans and now I own a dozen. When they cost $50, I didn’t care. Now that they are $200, I have an overabundance. Either way, they are no longer the jeans I knew growing up. I am guessing that is the reason why they are the same price as other fashion items: they ARE a fashion item.

So, in essence, I started paying $200 for a pair of jeans when they started being worth the investment. I’m still baffled over their casual stigma, though. ;)

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