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Designer Jeans

Designer Jeans

Since their invention in the nineteenth century, the durable pants known as blue jeans or dungarees were commonly worn by cowboys and farmers and, later, children and teenagers. Starting in the late 1970s, however, a new kind of jean appeared in the marketplace. Called designer jeans, they were fashioned for style rather than practicality. They were worn skin-tight to accentuate the body's curves. Designer jeans were made with combinations of cotton, span-dex, and Lycra, which allowed them to move and stretch with the body. Some were even made of suede and leather.

Traditional blue jeans were so named for an obvious reason: they were blue in color. But designer jeans came in all colors, starting with several shades of blue, black, gray, brown, olive, tan, and white. They also featured various fabric treatments, including bleached, with the color faded; acid-washed, or extremely bleached, with streaks; and stone-washed, so as to look worn. Designer jeans also offered a variety of pant leg styles, from very snug to very loose. Some pants had zippers at their leg bottoms, and others were purposefully ripped.

Arguably the era's highest profile designer jeans featured the name of Gloria Vanderbilt (1924), a celebrated American socialite and heiress of the Vanderbilt fortune. (The Vanderbilt family had been one of the wealthiest families in the United States, building their fortune in shipping and railroads in the late 1800s and early 1900s.) The Murjani Company worked with Vanderbilt to design and market Gloria Vanderbilt Jeans and sales of the sexy, super-tight-fitting jeans skyrocketed. They featured the Vanderbilt name on their back pocket and a trademark swan logo above the front pocket.

Other popular 1980s jeans brands were EJ Gitano, Jordache, Guess, Girbaud, Sergio Valente, Chic, Zena, and Sassoon. As the result of a TV ad featuring a bouncy lyric, "Ooh La La Sassoon," Sassoon jeans had special appeal for young girls. The ad conveyed the message that, if you really wanted to be part of the "in," or popular, crowd, you had better be wearing Sassoon jeans.

Designer jeans generally were more expensive than traditional jeans. Calvin Klein (1942) won name recognition when he became the first designer to market the jeans at affordable prices. Their subsequent popularity may be attributed to the manner in which they were marketed by Klein. In a celebrated 1980 television ad, fifteen-year-old actress/model Brooke Shields (1965) seductively declared, "Nothing comes between me and my Calvins." The commercial was controversial, and sales of Klein designer jeans soared.

While specific designer jean types went out of style in the late 1980s, the range of available blue jean styles remained endless.


Finlayson, Iain. Denim: An American Legend. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990.

Harris, Alice, and Bob Morris. The Blue Jean. New York: PowerHouse Books, 2002.

Rosenbloom, Jonathan. Blue Jeans. New York: Messner, 1976.

[See also Volume 3, Nineteenth Century: Blue Jeans ; Volume 5, 19802003: Baggy Jeans ]

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