If there’s a piece of fashion that belongs to the people, it’s denim. But despite its universal appeal and total ubiquity, denim has managed to sidestep a pedestrian reputation in even the most pontifical of design scenes. Perhaps more than any other style staple, it has been a reflection of our greater cultural movements and mores, the subject of constant reinvention.
In the early 2000s, a period steeped in ostentation to the point of perversion, jeans were dialed up to the nth degree: ultra-low-rise, pocketless, sand-blasted in the back and embellished with any number of revealing features. (We’ll leave lace-up-crotch detailing at the turn of the millennium, thank you very much.) Their scaled-back successor, the skinny jean, was ushered in at the same moment the alt-to-mainstream American Apparel aesthetic took flight; its grip on popular fashion was so pervasive that nearly 15 years later, the skin-tight style remains a bestselling fit. Most recently, stiff straight-legged denim and all of its familial iterations—the mom jean, the dad jean, even the girlfriend jean—have come about in a societal-values-meets-style moment that aligns with a gender-fluid future.