Icons – The 5 pocket Denim Jean

Trend Illustrated – Icons

In our Product-Icon series Trend Illustrated explores the enduring appeal of apparel and gear that has withstood the test of time.


The 5 Pocket Denim Jean

We start out with one of the most iconic pieces of clothing there is, the Five Pocket Denim Jean. A piece of clothing that spans generations, geography, gender and class. It has clothed everyone from presidents to pop stars since it’s beginnings in the nineteenth century American North West, where it was an indispensable item of clothing for lumbermen, cowboys, railroad workers and miners.

TrendIllustrated.com-Icons-The-Denim JeanThe Story

The original Denim Jean, was invented by Jacob Davis, a tailor of Latvian decent. Originally a ‘waist overall’, they were tailored especially for a woodcutter who was too big for regular overalls which he said wore out too quickly, hence the need for rivets which Davis then added. Later, when the popularity of his invention became to much to handle, he went into business with Levi Strauss, who had been supplying him with cotton duck canvas and denim, from his family’s dry goods store in San Francisco. The Denim Jean then went onto become a hugely successful item of work clothing for miners, railroad workers, and cowboys populated by Levi Strauss and Co. and in similar variations by Blue Bell (Wrangler) and Lee.

In the twentieth century denim grew to become the cultural icon that we know now, first as an item of teenage rebellion helped by the economic boom, the American movie industry and growth of youth culture in the 1950’s, and then  later in the 60’s and 70’s, where it became with synonymous with fashion and youth culture. From there it’s popularity spread to the rest of the world and in particular Europe, all the time remaining true to its roots as a staple of American workwear. The 1980’s saw a huge growth in the popularity and influence as denim was reinvented for a new consumer. Fashion brands such as Marithe Francois Girbaud, Jean Paul Gautier, Calvin Klein, Guess, Diesel and Replay looked more creatively at the possibilities of denim and transformed it for an 80’s pop culture consumer. Stone washing was invented in Italy to replicate the look of a washed and used pair of Jeans and Levi Strauss and Co. re-discovered the romanticism and allure of the 501 and represented their brand with clever marketing. This was a new market and denim began to command high prices as it sat next to designer brands in department stores and boutiques.

By the 1990’s however the fashion market had moved on and denim began to lose some of it’s appeal as it was replaced in many a man’s wardrobe by sportswear, cargo’s and khakis. The fickle fashion consumer had lost interest and the bigger denim brands in an attempt to maintain market share and sales fell back on the tried and tested.

The early 2000’s saw another resurgence, this time leading to the biggest ever peak in worldwide denim sales in 2007, as denim became an essential part of every brands portfolio. Authenticity became a byword as many new brands looked to what had made denim great in the first place, led by the Japanese, who seemed more than anyone to appreciate the authenticity and history of denim and the inherent qualities of indigo. They had for many years being buying up the discarded original American denim shuttle looms and vintage American denim jeans, which they then replicated with characteristic precision. Brands such as Evisu, Edwin, Samurai and 45 RPM began to champion the use of raw selvedge denim and natural indigo and instilled into the denim five pocket the integrity and quality that had once being the essential ingredient in a pair of jeans.  In the U.S Earnest Sewn, PRPS and Paper Denim followed suit and in Europe,  Nudie, G-Star, Denham and Levis Vintage, did the same.

As the twenty-first century progresses Denim continues to re-invent itself as new technologies and new generations continue to have their impact.
If you feel the need for more on Denim then watch out for our infographic-Denim report, coming soon, where we will illustrate some more the history of denim’s and look at the state of the denim business today.

What is an Icon?

A cultural icon can be an image, person, place, building or a piece of clothing. It is something that is easily recognizable by a wide group of people and something that has endured the test of time, meaning, it is unlikely to disappear quickly having proved it’s importance over a long period. This often means that the design of an icon is one that has evolved almost to the state of perfection and has become a reference point for a particular genre. An icon is also something that has come to be regarded as having special status or significance to a place, a group of people or a period in history.