The Cyclicality of Denim Jeans: Part 1

Jeans are a second skin to many, including myself. For boys and girls, men and women, and dudes and babes, jeans are the epitome of style, comfort, and are often referred to as timeless. However, the varying ‘fit’ combinations of waist rises, leg openings and ankle openings across the several decades since jeans were first made popular have always evoked mixed feelings. On the one hand I am always fascinated, and on the other I frequently cringe looking at the styles of yore (especially on me, in unforgotten photo albums, in the days of glossy photographs kept safely in withering albums). It is a natural phenomenon to want to conceal adolescent fads that seem almost inexplicable today. I am a Generation Y (aka millennial) guy, so I have lived through the straight-leg, boot-cut, and have arrived at the skinny, with waist rises dropping throughout the time period. Along with my passion for collecting and observing jeans and denim styles worldwide, I am curious to see how these styles have evolved over time, in terms of ‘fit’.

Not PhD equivalent research by any means, but enough to get a hold of the way jeans trends have become almost cyclical. Thankfully, the ‘research’ is made possible by the lucrative trend-spotting already conducted by curious Georges like myself, by speaking with numerous first hand designer sources and acquaintances, and by simply having a fashionable set of parents who have lived through many more denim variations than I have my slightly-over-two-decades span of life. I was curious to learn primarily about the evolution of the ‘fit’ element of jeans, not so much the embellishments, garnishings you might say, and distress factor, which can all combine nicely into an investigation of its own.

The history of denim is fascinating, right from its unfashionable roots of the 1500s, to the patenting of its rivets in 1873 (to think these actually have  a purpose!), to the various taboos and associations of jeans with cultural elements. I have looked primarily at the last six decades, as these have been the years that have escalated the demand and popularity of jeans, and have had the most impact on today’s jeans culture. Moreover, for practical purposes, these are the decades in which I still have mortal sources to recount their experiences, who are always the best and wisest resource (with the most terrific of personalities and storytelling abilities, too).

‘Knowns’ regarding Trends in Denim Fashion

As is the case with any experiment, I have laid out a few ‘knowns’ in my background clause. The first of these ‘knowns’ is that this is a unisexual study, looking at denim influences amongst the trendy, psychographically youthful, metropolitan and internationally well traveled crowd (this is my target market, or my sample space, in marketing and statistical terms, respectively).  Despite having not lived around for many years, I have definitely kept my eyes on trends, and have noticed that although men’s fashion may be slightly behind women’s fashion, it does follow the same path, especially when it comes to jeans. So, I feel that I can rightfully assume no gender barriers to denim fashion over time. Secondly, having lived and traveled in the americas, Europes, Asias and Africas of the world, the second ‘known’ is that fashion moves westwards, an ironic twist to the fact that Easterners often want to behave in an unorthodox of Western way. I find Asia to be on top of the trend tier, with the most creative ideas for any outfits, especially jeans. Europe tends to also lead with its prowess in fashion shows and the elite aura that it exudes Northern America, for its business savvy mindset and lack of work life balance, seems to lag behind in accepting trends as they surface. Many women in my life have complained about this fact; for if they are American, they find themselves looking a little plain in Europe and especially in Asia, whereas if they are European or Asian, they see themselves looking a little too glam, or at least overdressed, in the Americas. Add this time delay to the natural slowness of men in accepting cultural trends (my first ‘known’), and you find men like myself buying outfits in Asia in 2005 and wearing them in the US in 2010 when they are just becoming a rage. I guess David Zinzenko’s detailed fitness and nutrition tips for maintaining body sizes really do come in handy to still enable one to fit into the styles over the years! (yes, guys do care and do need to work out too).

Variables of Jeans ‘Fit’

Returning to my ‘research’, if one may call it that, I have broken jeans into three identifiable parts that characterize the evolution of the ‘fit’ over time:

Waist rise: Defined as the length measurement between the crotch and waist, it is interesting to see the variations in rise from sitting at the hips and barely there to tummy tucking and belly covering.

Leg openings: This includes everything from below the butt-area to halfway down the calf, so basically what covers the knee area and its surroundings. The variations range from balloon-wide opening to the unbreathably clingy.

Ankle openings: This mainly focuses on at the lower leg, and more specifically around the ankle area, ranging from shoe-tripping flared to choking skinny.

Although I have sources and data on exact centimeters and inches that the rise is, or the diameter of the ankle, etcetera, I will leave the statistical analysis for a private study. For the purposes of trend spotting in a more perceptual and diagrammatic way, I have instead come up with hypothetical but relatively comprehensive extreme ranges for each of the three jeans arenas, and have classified trends in the last six decades accordingly, with the middle/median line symbolizing the ‘standard’ acceptable norm.  These can be noticed as follows.

Evidently, what my findings show are the definite cyclicality in denim jeans trends over the years, along with a divergence of simultaneously existing trends in the past few years. This is probably in virtue of rising populations, the wholehearted acceptance of denim jeans as a convenient must-have, the inevitably diversifying tastes, and the increasing resources for multiple designs.

Combining the trends yields an interesting pattern that correlates with historical and cultural influences, indicating how denim jeans are indeed a second skin to the populations of the world. The evolving trend is not merely created, but seems to be more a reflection of the perception of the society and its culture at various points in time. So, an interesting insight will arise from a more historical and perceptual element of analyzing denim trends. Behold, a successive article.

12 responses to “The Cyclicality of Denim Jeans: Part 1

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  5. Ah well…Life is a full circle…on that assumption we can safely say that many things including denim (a major part of our life) can be cyclical.

    • Well said Priya! Indeed life is a full circle (thus notice how when we get older, we get more babyish! – after a certain point). Denim is totally a staple to life, so it can be cyclic too! I was just surprised that when the trend comes back, at least ONE thing is different.
      [E.g. skinny jeans now vs. 60s have the low-rise effect as a difference.]
      Thanks for the comment 🙂 !

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