From the Wild West to Hollywood Boulevard: we explore our favourite denim outfits...
It all began in an unassuming tailor shop in Reno and a man with some measuring tape. In 1870, a woodcutter’s wife walked into Jacob Davis’ store and asked him to make a sturdy pair of trousers. We doubt either of them would have predicted us still wearing and loving them 145 years later.
From the Wild West to Hollywood Boulevard: this sturdy cotton textile has never lost its mass appeal. So, what is it about this highly durable fabric that still appeals to us today?
Well, let’s start with the Gold Rush. Who doesn’t want to pull on a pair of jeans and feel like a cowboy? It’s hard to name a single other scrap of fabric that taps into our romantic unconscious as much as indigo. When we purchase a pair of jeans it’s generally not to crosscut saw a great oak. We’re buying into the American Dream – a symbol of freedom and rebellion we can wear wherever we are.
Hollywood only fueled this frontier fantasy and as anti-heroes such as James Dean and Marlon Brando capitivated the big screen in the 1950s, rebels without a cause became inextricably linked with the clothes they wore. Hollywood stars were now the new counter-culture cowboys: clad in denim and questioning everything.
Even today, these denim icons have lost none of their magnetism: from James Dean to Marilyn Monroe and Jane Birkin to Madonna, this straightforward fabric still speaks to the rebel in all of us. Here are just a few of the most iconic looks of all time…
In 1969, American Fabrics magazine wrote: ‘Denim is one of the world?s oldest fabrics, yet it remains eternally young.’ This is arguably because of one man – Marlon Brando – the epitomy of rebel youth in a classic pair of blue jeans. 1953’s The Wild One saw Brando become a 50s pinup for disaffected youth. Wearing a studded leather jacket, tilted cap and a pair of denim jeans, his iconic look became a popular uniform for teens across America…and became so synonymous with rebellion they even got banned from schools and theatres.
Sure, everyone talks about Rock Hudson and James Dean in 1956 epic Giant, but what about Elizabeth Taylor in these amazing jeans? According to reports, director George Stevens gave Hudson a choice: Elizabeth Taylor or Grace Kelly? We’re glad he chose ET: 50 years later we’re still swooning over her in high-waisted denim turn-ups.
Four words: Rebel Without a Cause. The classic white t-shirt/blue denim combo has been copied ever since, but never bettered. In 1955, James Dean’s jeans became a potent symbol for teen rebellion. According to numerous fashion reports, Dean’s indigo jeans were additionally dyed by filmmakers. Why? They needed to make the denim appear more vibrant during the technicolour process.
The undisputed king of double denim: lighter on top, darker below the belt, of course. There are many reasons to love this 1962 look from musical Follow That Dream but what truly does it for us is his choice of footwear. Converse and denim: sheer perfection.
This publicity shot taken for 1958 Brit-satire film The Mouse That Roared illustrates everything we adore about Jean Seberg. French New Wave really did tranform denim for modern day wearers – and the jeans/breton combo is still highly desired and copied today. Without Seberg in the 1950s there would be no Alex Chung today.
Dean and Brando may have put denim rebels on the map but Hollywood women were still expected to glam it up on the big screen in the 1950s. Everything changed when Monroe styled up her high waisted Levi’s with a classic white shirt and a Storm Rider jacket in 1961. Women could be sexy and dress like the boys. As ‘mom’ jeans continue to inundate the high street this year, let’s remember the original misfit who defied convention: lost in the great expanse of the Nevada desert.
Where: pictured in Paris
We’re not sure if Patti Smith would be happy with us labelling her a ‘style icon’, but that’s what she is – and will always be – to us. Her love of a classic pair of jeans says a lot about her overall style: there’s rebellion in those rips, yet at the same time their classic fit suggests a woman who is very much aware of high fashion. A woman who likes to be comfortable in a pair of jeans and a suit jacket – and yet also loves ballgowns for ‘their cut, their architecture.’
We can’t think of many people who can pull off double denim, but Blondie’s frontwoman is definitely one of them. What’s not to love about this super-tight look from 1978? Who else could pull off an unbuttoned denim jacket with nothing underneath? Not us, that’s for sure. Debbie Harry, we salute you.
We love pretty much everything about this photo – from the indigo flared jeans to her bright orange jumper and matching Nike trainers – Farrah’s laidback Charlie’s Angels look is bang on trend this season. We wish we looked this good on a skateboard…
There is something quite ‘Jean Seberg’ about Madonna’s 1988 look – with a modern twist, of course. Madonna’s cropped platinum hair made a surprise appearance on the single sleeve for ‘Papa Don’t Preach’ and marked a dramatic change in style direction for the singer. In fact, it was a total image makeover. Gone were the 80s bangles, lace and ra-ra skirts. In their place was a French inspired 1950s gamine look. It’s still one of our personal Madge favourites.
Who needs tired-old patriarchal cowboys when you’ve got Thelma and Louise in a runaway convertible? Stonewashed denim has never looked so achingly cool. This 1991 classic redefined the western genre – and brought denim into the 90s. Putting on a pair of jeans could be just as much of a rebellious act for women.
Introducing our modern day denim icon, Alexa. She’s even collaborated with AG Jeans on two collections. Who knows, if it wasn’t for Alexa we might still associate dungarees with Oklahoma farmers in the 1920s. As it stands, they are now a staple fixture in many-a-wardrobe and we can’t get enough of them.