Jeans dropped from high fashion in the 90s and Calvin Klein and other designer jeans manufacturers (actually, this is the 90s, so the proper word is brand) changed their focus from jeans to underwear and perfumes. Jeans were out and khakis and combat trousers were in. It seemed that America – and by extension everywhere else – thought of war rather than work as representing the blank reality of cool.
As jeans were nudged aside in the mainstream, they again became a subcultural uniform. This time it was the hiphop and skateboarding subcultures that took them as their own. Jeans were worn loose and became progressively baggier, as if they were some kind of evolutionary defence mechanism designed to make the scrawny teenager seem larger and more menacing than he really was.
At the other end of the spectrum was Steve Jobs. The computer world believed – and still believes – that they somehow exist outside normal society, that they transcend capitalism. So it is fitting that Jobs’ standard outfit was blue jeans and a black polo neck: he can’t be an evil businessman because he doesn’t wear a suit. Because the computer software and hardware industry made and makes so much money, this informal look spread to other industries.
As always, politics followed the people making the money. For photo opportunities Bill Clinton tended to wear chinos indoors and jeans outdoors. Ever image-conscious, Clinton’s choice of jeans was meant to show that he was both cool and rugged in a sensible way. After Clinton, jeans became a staple of the political ‘business casual’ wardrobe. As a Yahoo! Finance article puts it, “jeans are now a legitimate part of the global power-dress lexicon, worn to influential confabs where the wearers want to signal they're serious—but not fussy—and innovative.”
In 2001, the oldest surviving pair of Levi’s jeans, dating from the 1880s, was sold on eBay for $46,532. That year would mark another come-back for the classic Levi’s blue jean in high fashion. The Strokes, representatives of a new Me Generation, were a fashion sensation, changing the cut of trousers and bringing jeans back as signifiers of rebellious cool. The band was like a glossy photo shoot brought to life, full of the stock gestural rebellions of smokes, booze, scruffy hair and jeans.
The fussy look of The Strokes’ ripped Levi’s started a craze for decorating jeans with any old tat to make them seem new. Sequins, bleach, gold scribbles, embroidered dragons, dyes, studs, washes – anything to justify the price tag. And the price just keeps going up. While cheap jeans are still sold, the trend for hugely expensive jeans seems only to exist because rich people won’t feel comfortable paying a low price for them.
The range of jeans styles available is enormous. Jeans are a perfect example of the limitations of consumer choice: You may choose to wear what ever you want as long as it’s jeans.