What is the secret of the long term appeal of this most simple and humble of working fabrics? Whilst leather, duck cotton canvas, herringbone, twill and Wabash all have their undoubted place in the work wear arena there is none to come close to dethroning denim as the absolute ruler of ubiquitous use work fabrics. No other fabric is so widely used, widely appreciated or generally accepted as denim, no other fabric engenders such iconography or builds such strong cultural connections, but why?
Today denim is everywhere and worn by everyone. It is, in clothing terms, the greatest societal leveller of them all, worn by princes and paupers alike and with equal aplomb. Jeans can be made for pennies and bought for hundreds of pounds (or dollars), more than perhaps any other clothing item the wild variation in quality requires knowledge and enthusiasm to be truly appreciated and luckily for denim it does seem to bring out that scholarly exuberance in some people. For those who just want to wear jeans and not spend too much time thinking about it there is also a myriad of options in the high street to suit every taste and budget.
Arguably no other garment is so easily tweaked to shift cultural boundaries between genres such as rock ‘n’ roll, biker, hip hop, street wear and even formality. With a change in cut, an addition of pockets, print and a change of dye the basic form and even function can be adapted to sell essentially the same product to a whole new audience, the appeal may well be general but the format is far from standard, and it is this adaptability which has maintained denim jeans at the top of the tree when it comes to most widely worn clothing items. Whether you have an inherent desire to belong and to identify yourself with a social group, a cultural movement or a particular style, or if you are simply comfortable to be one of the crowd the chances are that jeans will form part of your regularly worn wardrobe.
For me jeans are like wine. You can go into your local grocery store and buy a cheap bottle of plonk that will be (in most general terms) wine, but it will taste cheap and nasty and most likely leave you with a headache. Or you can buy an expensive bottle of quality wine and feel a palpable difference in the level of enjoyment you derive from it. To extend the analogy to breaking point I would also say the good jeans age beautifully whereas high street jeans simply wear out.
In summary, my belief about the popularity of denim is in its adaptability and availability, it stands the test of time by being subtly altered to keep ahead of trends whilst remaining utterly timeless in its most basic form. We are at a point in history where denim is so engrained in our culture that it is as natural to us as breath, as available to us as water and as commonly used as bread.