Even in the 1970s, when it seemed that denim was being pushed aside in favor of these other fabrics, writers, manufacturers, and marketing executives worked hard to keep denim in the public eye. A writer in the Fall 1970 issue of American Fabrics said, “Indigo Blue Denim…has become a phenomenon without parallel in our times. To the youth of this country, and many other countries in this shrinking world, Indigo Blue Denim does not stand for utility. It’s the world’s top fashion fabric for pants.” By the mid to late 1970s, the craze for doubleknits and other like fabrics began to slow. At the same time, marketing reports in various trade magazines showed an upward surge in the popularity of denim, as seen in the number of denim-clad models in print and television advertising. Those who followed clothing trends into the late 1970s were quoted in the trade papers with comments such as, “Jeans are more than a make. They are an established attitude about clothes and lifestyle.” This attitude could be seen very clearly in the “decorated denim” craze which saw beaded, embroidered, painted and sequined jeans appearing on streets from California to New York and across the ocean. Personalizing one’s jeans was such a huge trend in the United States that Levi Strauss & Co. sponsored a “Denim Art Contest” in 1973, inviting customers to send us slides of their decorated denim. The company received 2,000 entries from 49 of the United States, as well as Canada and the Bahamas. Judges included photographer Imogen Cunningham, designer Rudi Gernreich, the art critic for the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper, and the Curator for San Francisco’s De Young Museum. The winning garments were sent on an 18-month tour of American museums, and some of them were purchased by LS&CO. for the company Archives.
The late 70s saw the beginning of the designer denim boom that would dominate the next twenty years, eventually suffocating the industry. No longer the fabric of the outsider, denim became cheap and ubiquitous at one end of the scale and high-fashion at the other. As designer labels produced their sleek and upmarket versions of this functional classic, prices began to climb, fuelled by the hollow economic extravagance that characterised the 80s.
Hey ho, let’s go. Punk rockers The Ramones liked their jeans cut snug and skinny. They showed off their signature look on the cover of their 1977 record, “Rocket to Russia.” Not even ripped knees could stop those cretins from hoppin’.