Bell-bottomed, skinny, wide-legged, distressed, high-waisted or low-rise—jeans come in as many varieties as people can dream up.
Blue jeans have been a staple of American wardrobes since at least the 1960s. The denim pants were apparently invented in the 1870s as durable work pants for miners. They were popularized in the 50s, and have been a symbol of youthful rebellion ever since.
The latest jeans debate comes as fashion blogs crow over the death of the skinny jean. I promise skinny jeans still exist, the proof is in my closet, although they may no longer be cool. And thank goodness. It can’t be healthy to wear a pant so tight you have to peel yourself out of it, as was the trend when I hit middle school. Admittedly, skinny jeans did become more bearable with the rise of jeggings. It seems like any skinny jean these days is at least 40 percent stretchy material. Those tight-enough-to-be-vacuum-sealed skinny jeans are definitely not 100 percent cotton.
I’m also glad low-rise jeans and whale tails are out of vogue. What an admirably bold trend, but higher-waisted jeans are so comfortable. You don’t have to stress out about how low they might slide, or worry about how your hipbones look today because your hips are all the way covered by your pants.
It is funny to watch the high-waisted ‘mom jeans’ that were the height of uncool when I was a child become a stylish trend. That’s the beauty of fashion though; wait long enough and the trend will come back around.
Fickle fashion trends aside, I think what makes jeans such a staple is their broad appeal. Anyone of any age can rock a pair of denim pants. Babies and grandmas both look cute in jeans. They’re also, impossibly skinny jeans aside, comfortable. Jeans are flexible, stretchy, durable.
I think I love jeans most for their versatility. What other pant is appropriate in so many situations? Certainly not easily wrinkled linen pants. Sweat pants, while comfortable cannot be as formal. Slacks could never be so down to earth, and the ever dorky khaki will never be as cool. You can wear jeans to a rock concert, to weed the garden or to meet your boyfriend’s parents. What’s not to love?
To me the biggest drawback of jeans is the same drawback facing most of the fashion industry: the environmental cost of clothes and the potentially exploitative labor conditions used to make them. Creating clothing uses a lot of water. Fast fashion moves clothes from the catwalk to the landfill at a breathtaking pace. Clothing companies are also notorious for outsourcing the production of clothes to locations where workers can be overworked and underpaid.
One of the easiest ways as a wearer of clothes to reduce both textile waste and worker exploitation is to resist the urge to buy the latest and greatest trend and keep the clothes you wear longer.
What better item to practice the philosophy of purchase-less-use-longer than jeans? As a pant, they tend to be more durable than other clothing items. Holes in the knees can be patched. Jeans with holes in the thighs can be turned into cut-offs for the sweltering summer months.
Their durability also makes it easier to find a nice pair of used jeans than other clothing items. With the cyclical nature of fashion trends, used jeans are a good way to dress both sustainably and fashionably. A pair of vintage 90s mom jeans are probably easily suited to meet the high-waisted trend of the moment. That said, I’ll be hanging on to my skinny jeans, thank you very much. Give it a decade or two and they’ll be cool once again.