This exhibition was fascinating. I never thought there was so much history that went into the making and marketing of denim. The history of how it evolved and became one of the most famous textiles used for decades was really cool. The exhibition started off with the production of denim. The cotton in the fabric makes it very thick, durable, stiff and easy to clean. The material is often associated with the color blue, which fades back into white. Essentially, the blue would be on the outside and the white on the inside. This was a process known as rope dying. This ‘typical’ blue colored material was known as selvage denim, which was the traditional version since they were made on old looms. Nowadays, Denim comes in all types of fabrics and colors.
"I have often said that I wish I had invented blue jeans: the most spectacular, the most practical, the most relaxed and nonchalant. They have expression, modesty, sex appeal, simplicity-all I hope for in my clothes." -Yves Saint Laurent
Denim was first produced in the nineteenth century and was primarily an item of work wear. Levis Strauss alongside Jake Davis marketed their metal riveted jeans during the California Gold Rush. The first pair of jeans was called Levis 501. By 1890, the double arch was added, which helped with its significant and unique look until today. However, by the 1950s, a red Levis tab was added to create a more distinctive look for the denim brand. The red tag can be seen on many of Levis’ jeans today. By World War I, denim was used for a variety of different functions. From prisoner uniforms to naval uniforms to fashionable women’s wear, denim was everywhere! It was interesting to see that even during that time, these pants were unisex. Both men and women loved the fabric. A new material that was similar to denim emerged, but had more air and was a plain weave; that was chambray. Many of the women’s wear were made from this fabric. It was interesting to see how Denim gave rise to a new culture in America. Western wear emerged due to the Hollywood popularization of the five-pocket jean worn by a cowboy. Play clothes were made for both men and women, which empowered women to work out and go out. World War II popularized denim even more and iconic figures such as Rosy the Riveter was a symbol of morale and boosted women to join in the war effort. Rosy was seen as wearing a denim jumpsuit, which many started to imitate.
During the 1950s, the rebel biker image emerged. Many teenagers would wear the Levis leather jacket along with denim jeans. This caused unrest and many thought it was horrendous, and anyone who associated with this look was against society. By the 1970s, denim became a trend due to the hippie look. It was interesting to see that jeans started getting sexier. This was because of Calvin Klein. All designers centered on tight fitting jeans with emphasis on the female body. During the 1980’s, designers such as Gerbois started experimenting with acid and stone washing, which caused many problems, since it was not very environmentally friendly. Ralph Lauren, Donna Karen, Moschino, Vivienne Westwood all started to produce acid washed denim. By the 1990s, denim represented the gang culture because of sag jeans. Many counties banned this exposure.
By 2000, denim started retailing for much more, which made it a lot more exclusive. Tom Ford (Gucci) made the first expensive jeans, which cost up to $3800. This stunned the media. Now, denim can be stretched or decorated and is still one of the most popular fabrics. It’s really interesting to see how each culture and decade had a different interpretation with denim. The evolution of the fabric changed the world of fashion. Now, Japan is the most important hub for denim production and set the tone to what’s happening to the denim market today.
If you're in New York and haven't seen this exhibition, then you definitely should. There's much more to those pair of jeans you're wearing than you think.