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8 Iconic Moments in Denim History

Author: Bec Isijanovski

Since their conception denim jeans have become a wardrobe staple the world over for their versatility, durability, simplicity and enduring indigo appeal. But they haven’t always been the everyday safely stylish and comfortable choice of civilians.

Our beloved jeans were once a symbol of youth revolt and rebellion (the cool kid’s uniform, if you will) and have been seen on everyone from rockers (The Ramones) to pop stars (Madonna) and supermodels (Cindy, Christy, Naomi, et al).

Like a Hollywood child celebrity, denim has had an interesting and chequered history, but also some fine redemptive moments. To wit, our list of the Top 8 Iconic Moments in Denim History...

Who's the boss? Covering his 1984 album “Born in the USA” is Bruce Springsteen’s bottom in a washed out pair of Levi’s styled with a red cap tucked into the right hand back pocket. Shot by Annie Leibovitz, the album cover helped to boost sales of Levi’s and Springsteen’s quintessential all-American image.

Anna Wintour's First Vogue Cover (November, 1988). When Israeli model Michaela Bercu turned up to her Vogue shoot a little on the heavier side after a vacation in Israel, fashion history was made. Instead of a matching Christian Lacroix skirt that no longer fit, a pair of stonewashed Guess jeans were the fill in. Nothing like a winning wardrobe backup.

Jane Birkin makes everyday denim a thing. She personified 70s Parisian cool and quickly became a style icon known for her off-duty, laidback luxe look, mostly incorporating flared jeans and a simple tee. She toted a trademark straw bag until she became the inspiration behind the high-fashion leather Hermes Birkin bag. Denim and luxury joined hands that day.

James Dean - rebel in blue jeans. In his Levi’s 501s, leather jacket and white t-shirt, James Dean was the symbol of youth rebellion in the 50s. His looks in the youth-angsty Rebel Without a Cause, and while playing a ranch hand in the Oscar nominated movie Giant, made him a star while jeans won out for “best supporting cultural icon”.

Thelma and Louise. Adding some early-90s styling to the mix is Thelma and Louise (aka Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis). The high-waisted, straight-legged look with tank top remains iconic over two decades on, representing wild female rebellion. And let’s not forget Brad Pitt in his denim jacket and cowboy hat.

Girl-next-door wins Swayze in denim shorts. Every teen girl with an insecurity problem found confidence in watching Jennifer Grey get the guy (aka Patrick Swayze) in 1987’s Dirty Dancing. She donned jean shorts, denim pedal pushers, tank tops and white sneakers for practising her kicks, which caused the super-cool Swayze to declare, “Nobody puts baby in a corner”.

Britney and Justin double-denim ensemble. These two rocked the red carpet at the 2001 American Music Awards with denim on denim on denim. If it’s true that imitation is the highest form of flattery, Katy Perry scored major brownie points in 2014 when she appeared on the MTV VMA red carpet in essentially the same get up as Spears, while Pharrell Williams and Helen Lasichanh fronted the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards in double denim, too.

Kim K and Kanye step out for ice-cream. A few days before they tied the knot, this Hollywood couple stepped out in a coordinated denim ensemble. No one knows exactly why, but this caused quite the pap frenzy and made headlines. What a time to be alive.

While our beloved denim jeans have had a colourful and often controversial past (Brooke Shields saying, “Nothing gets between me and my Calvin’s” for Calvin Klein aged 15 was risky, to say the least), we won’t hold it against them personally. In fact, it’s the versatile nature and iconic possibilities that make us so excited to be denim makers at this point in history.

Imagery credits

Bruce Springsteen - Collin Kottke

Jane Birkin - Bertie

James Dean - all credit to photographer

Thelma and Louise - Metro Goldwyn Mayer

Dirty Dancing - all credit to photographer

Britney and Justin - Jeffrey Mayer x Wireimage

Kim and Kanye - Marc Piasecki X GC images


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