The 90s wouldn’t be the 90s without denim. Specifically denim jeans.
Denim became a popular fabric that was incorporated into jackets, vests, overalls and jumpsuits.
Here’s the deal though:
No matter your stylistic interpretation, I know full well you’ve worn a pair of jeans at least once in your life, or at least you have a pair stashed in your wardrobe. They’re just so damn resilient!
Jeans are praised for their way of adapting to all trends and styles throughout the many decades since they were first innovated. In the 90s, they formed part of the preppy, the classic, the grunge, and the hip hop subcultures. Among many others.
Today, 90s style cut and shaped blue jeans are referred to as dad jeans. They are a highly popular trend worn by all generations. They range from Gen X’ers and Gen Y’ers who never took them out of their closet from when they purchased them in the 90s, to younger generations who want recreate the 90s aesthetic.
A Brief Timeline of Jeans
Way before actors such as Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio were rocking trendy jean outfits in the 90s, low income land workers were the only ones wearing them; and not for fashion, but for work. Jeans were officially invented by Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss in 1873, specifically with the purpose of being used in the work field.
Jeans were introduced into the fashion industry in the 20th century, beginning in the 1940s. They began appearing in magazine covers as stylish outdoor garments for yard work, and within children’s wear. They were considered easy to wash, sturdy garments ideal for being at home and doing daily chores.
In the 1953 film The Wild One, Marlon Brando stylishly wears blue jeans. In the 1955 film Rebel Without a Cause, James Dean famously appeared wearing a dark blue pair of jeans. During the 50s, jeans represented masculinity and a sense of toughness.
In the 60s, jeans became symbolic of freedom; favored by hippies as a style that was linked to youthfulness and the love movement.
In the 70s, jeans were the clothing item of choice by many musicians, famously by Bob Marley. During the 70s, jeans evolved into a symbol of American sexuality.
In the 80s, high end luxury brands dived into the world of blue jeans, and began incorporating them into collections.
Jeans changed within the 90s, heavily influenced by the grunge fashion aesthetic. Typical jeans were baggy, worn several sizes larger, casual, informal, and even ripped. Baggy, low-rise jeans were especially popular within hip hop fashion culture. Popular music genres became the biggest pushes of jean trends during the decade.
Evolution of Jeans in the Nineties
Early 90s Jeans Trends
After the end of the 80s and the beginning of the 90s, many American brands began mass producing blue jeans in new authentic styles. This made jeans an icon of American fashion during the decade.
In the beginning of the 90s jeans styles included straight leg, mid to light wash denim, and were a classic favored by the likes of Brad Pitt.
These jeans are still a classic, and were favored by adults in the initial years of the 90s.
The Levi’s 501s were perhaps the most popular pair of blue jeans in the early 90s.
Jean shorts were also a popular trend that began in the early 90s. These shorts were wide, knee length, and usually had some excess pieces of fringe denim on the lower hems.
Acid Wash Jeans
Acid wash jeans also became highly trendy in the beginning of the decade, a popular style among younger generations.
Other popular trends included:
- Tommy Jeans
- Guess Jeans
- Wrangler Jeans
During the beginning of the 1990s, Levi’s reintroduced button-fly jeans as a style that was originally designed in 1954. The new structure took over and replaced zip up jeans.
Mid 90s Jeans Trends
In the mid 90s, more stylistic interpretations began taking form among blue jeans in the form of small accessories and decorations.
Fob chain accessories
While hip hop fashion was all about excess and the more bling the better, others adapted this idea in more minimalistic versions. A fob chain hanging from the pocket of your jeans, as worn here by Leonardo DiCaprio in 1993.
Ripped and patchwork jeans
During the mid 90s, many major elements of grunge fashion began fully developing. Ripped, and rugged looking jeans were a huge trend. This went hand in hand with the idea of casualwear, effortlessness, and grunge raves.
These details included patches of different fabrics carelessly sewn onto the jeans, large rips, and fringed bottoms. Kurt Cobain made headlines when he wore this pair of stylish grunge-esque jeans.
Acid Wash High Waisted Jeans
Acid wash, high waisted jeans also became big in the mid 90s. These were more put together and ideal for the casual everyday get together.
Above is Michael J. Fox posing for a teen magazine wearing a pair of stylish, classic acid wash jeans.
Skater jeans were another trendy style aesthetic of the 90s, as skate culture continued to develop among the youth generations. The flared bell bottom of skater jeans grew wider as they moved into the late 90s. Watch out for puddles!
Late 90s Jeans Fashion
Boot cut jeans
Boot cut jeans became the most popular style in the late 90s. This style consisted of straight, slightly less baggy jeans that were paired with all fashion styles, both day and night.
Bell bottom jeans make a comeback
Tight at the waist, and extremely baggy at the legs jeans also became a big trend during the late 90s, especially in the punk rock and metal subcultures. The end of the decade saw multiple new jean designs and interpretations.
Darker wash jeans
Darker wash, indigo colored jeans became the most popular towards the late 90s. The decade ended the same way it started; with classic, dark wash, straight jeans becoming the most sought after.
Above is Johnny Depp wearing a classic pair of dark wash jeans in the late 90s. Skinny jeans also made a comeback in the late 90s, very reminiscent of the 70s denim trends.
Modern Jeans Trends
Recently, 90s fashion has made a huge comeback through vintage jeans. Many contemporary denim brands have begun releasing 90s inspired jeans onto the market. The grunge look is without a doubt back in style, especially among younger generations.
There are contemporary versions of the classic fabric patches and wide trouser jeans, very reminiscent of the 90s trend. Justin Bieber has been seen wearing grunge style, ripped, acid wash jeans on numerous occasions.
90s Jeans Brands
Levi Strauss & Co. is an American clothing brand that was founded in 1953. The company began mass producing blue jeans early on, but significant years of the brand began in 1960.
Throughout the 60s and 70s the popular stonewashing technique started to get implemented on designs by the company. The company grew into one of the highest selling jean companies in the world.
In the 1990s, Levi’s was not the only brand mass producing jeans. Competition from other brands, producing less quality, cheaper alternatives began affecting the sales rate of the company. This as well as some debt problems and internal company issues caused Levi’s to suffer financially throughout the decade. However, the brand was still a celebrity favorite and has remained iconic to this day.
Diesel is an Italian retail fashion brand that was founded in 1978. Founder Renzo Rosso began his work in fashion by making his own blue jeans, specifically bell bottoms, using his mother’s sewing machine. He began selling his designs to close friends, and later began attending fashion school. He founded the brand in 1978 and in 1990 got permission to distribute to North America.
The company grew throughout the 90s, and by 1999 had opened flagship stores in big cities like New York City, San Francisco, London, Rome, Berlin, Barcelona, and Paris. It became one of the most recognizable denim brands of the 90s, used for costumes in movies and streetstyle.
Calvin Klein was founded in 1968, and by 1990 had developed into one of the most important higher end brands that had been working with the concept of blue jeans.
Throughout the decade, the brand worked with jeans and denim throughout all their collections. In 1993, Mark Wahlberg took part in a campaign with the brand that became highly successful, and drew in many men seeking to replicate his image of effortless masculinity. Jeans became very symbolic of these concepts.
GAP is an American clothing retailer that was established in San Francisco in 1969, but now is found worldwide. The brand has become a giant within the world of retail, and owns multiple other well-known brands such as Old Navy and Banana Republic.
Gap is said to be one of the brands that ‘ruled the 90s’. They offered stylish yet basic products to a market that was seeking versatility and comfort, in the age of grunge and laidback style. They became a staple basic for everyone of different subcultures; you could not go wrong with a pair of GAP jeans. Here is a 1991 Gap denim advertisement.
What’s your favourite 90s jeans styles and trends? Let me know in the comments below.