This is a bit of a loaded question in the denim scene where words like “timeless”, “vintage” and “heritage” are used regularly in almost any product description, brand blurb or article you read, including those written by me. Fashion is, by its very nature, transitory, so how on earth can it be timeless? There is a pervading feeling in the denim scene that we do not follow trends or pay any attention to fashion, I have heard and read those exact words numerous times from a variety of people working in the industry and posting on forums, but I’m not sure if I believe that to be true any more.
When I say “any more” that is not meant to imply that I believe that something has changed, I think that there has always been half an eye on customer tastes and influences. The statement of “we do not pay attention to fashion” cannot be strictly true as if anything we create and follow our own trends within the micro environment that is the denim and work wear scene, is it a coincidence that so many brands have released so many slim and skinny cuts in the last few years? Is it a coincidence that so many brands have produced multi coloured, 70’s style checked flannels for the past year or two and less buffalo or hombre checks? I don’t think so, I think that just like every other part of the clothing industry there is half an eye on customer trends, it’s just that we don’t like to admit it and they are far harder to spot.
For some reason this idea of ignoring fashion, not taking note of trends and proudly stating the vintage and heritage nature of what we wear is what gains respect. Does this mean that we are actively dismissive of innovation though? Well no, how can we be when we embrace things like over dyed denim in slim cuts, polycotton stitching, Kevlar stitch biker jeans and synthetic indigo (amongst other dyes). So what is the deal here, are we just blowing steam and working on our aloof coolness by claiming a distance from following trends? Maybe not, I think it is just an issue of perception and degrees.
It is without doubt that most denim heads and fans of work wear will have a preference for classically designed and traditionally manufactured clothing, that is the very essence of being a denim head in terms of “the look”, but that is all that it is, simply a preference. Whilst I don’t believe that we completely ignore fashion I do think that it is far less keenly followed by people who like this kind of thing than by folks who do not, and the proof therein is that year on year tastes don’t really change. It is a measure of subtlety in the things we love, a slim cut blue jean made from heavy Japanese selvedge only differs from a straight cut blue jean made from heavy Japanese selvedge denim in terms of fit, whereas back in the real fashion world tastes and looks are radically altered in look and manufacture, sometimes multiple times in a single year. Changes in how the denim scene popularises certain aspects of clothing are small, seemingly imperceptible to people not intimately familiar with how things should look, and that is the key. It is not so much that the denim and work wear scene ignores trends and fashion so much as it creates its own, but these trends do not come crashing through as roaring torrents of complete revolution anywhere near as much as they do so often in high fashion, or even in yearly bursts as they seem to on the high street. They come through as a tiny ripple on the surface of the pond, but a ripple which continues for years rather than weeks or months. Taking slim cut denim as the example, it came to prevalence in this scene about 5 years ago and has stayed ever since, gaining ground mainly amongst younger and slimmer denim heads than me.
One of my favourite phrases is “evolution not revolution”, and I believe that this is what we do here in the denim community when it comes to fashion and trends, changes are subtle and for the better, they are intended to grow the market and often become permanent rather than passing. We denim heads are not so much pushing against the tide as we are moving so slowly that it appears we are stationary and proud to be so whilst the planet rotates beneath us.