Did you know that denim was invented by somebody who was trying to replicate corduroy? Think about how many pairs of jeans you’ve had over the years. Now compare that to the number of items you’ve ever owned made from corduroy. Denim, glorious denim, has come a long way – the same, happily, cannot be said for corduroy, consigned to the sartorial scrapheap by everybody but the most fervent of fusty librarians.
Ubiquitous, utilitarian and iconic, denim is a fabric with ever-evolving references. First invented in the 19th century in a French town called Nîmes, it later became the work wear of choice for American laborers and mine workers in the ’20s, due to the fact that it was a hardy and durable twill that could withstand tough conditions, shifting into pop culture via cowboys. It was in the ’50s that it became a symbol of rebellion, thanks to the likes of James Dean, Marlon Brando and of course Elvis Presley, The King of Rock and Roll (and double denim). So macho it was that denim became as homoerotic as leather, cropping up regularly in the fetishistic drawings of artist Tom of Finland. But it wasn’t until Marilyn Monroe shimmied into a pair of Levi’s in the film The Misfits that it begun to shed its hyper-masculine connotations and was absorbed into women’s wardrobes too. Now, according to the book Denim Dudes, more than 50 percent of the world’s population is wearing jeans at any given time.
While we can trace the history of denim, designers, as ever, are looking to its future, and are currently negotiating a tricky time when sportswear is emerging as a decade-defining trend. Rather than abandoning it – because seriously, who could imagine a world without denim? – they’re finding ways to reinterpret it, using it to create a new impact in our wardrobes.
Burberry Prorsum has sought to harness the qualities of denim for something more sophisticated, incorporating it as a key fabric for spring/summer 2015. Fitted lightweight denim jackets replaced shirts, and the classic Burberry trench was reimagined in – you guessed it – denim. Prada, too, took denim as the fabric as choice for unusual outerwear, with a selection of deconstructed jackets as part of a relaxed, ’70s-style collection. Saint Laurent looked to the same decade, with pale, lithe punk boys strutting out in cut-off denim shirts and jackets, their spindly legs squeezed in skinny jeans. Indeed, fashion critics called this season’s denim “haute,” high fashion conveyed through a fabric famous for a lack of pretension.
The re-emergence of denim as a trend to be reckoned with makes a lot of sense, in a way – it represents the other end of the spectrum in a futuristic world of wearable tech and newfangled fabrics we don’t quite understand. Denim is authentic; denim is friendly. And unlike poor old corduroy, will never go out of style.