How Women’s Jeans Have Evolved in the Century We’ve Been Wearing Them


Mohit Kamboj

If there’s one thing that every woman can agree on, it’s the difficulty in finding a good pair of jeans. Compounding the issue is the fact that jeans trends tend to shift every few years, meaning the perfect pair you’ve been wearing for months will be way out of style by the time you need them again.

However, this is how jeans have always been for women — and the history of women’s jeans proves it. Here’s a look at how women’s jeans trends have evolved since they were first introduced in the 1930s.

Before Lady’s Levis

Levi Strauss invented the denim jean in 1873 when he used metal rivets to hold the seams of his work pants together, and it was a veritable revolution in Western menswear. At the time, women were still expected to wear skirts, and it took another 61 years for the same company to release any style of jeans expressly designed for women. Prior to the release of Lady Levis in 1934, women were forced to buy men’s jeans or borrow from their husbands, brothers or fathers, which meant that many were accustomed to wide, loose silhouettes. Thus, the first Lady Levis tended to favor a simple Western style, with straight legs and a mid-level rise just above the hips..

Marilyn Brings Us Skinny Silhouettes

It didn’t take long for designers to tailor jeans more closely to the female form. In the 1950s, the first pair of skinny jeans was seen on none other than Marilyn Monroe in her film “River of No Return.” Unlike styles of the previous decades, these jeans were snug against Marilyn’s hips, highlighting her incredible figure and making men and women alike fall in love with denim all over again. In response, women began buying jeans in record numbers, allowing them to become staples of women’s fashion.

Jeans Get Political

Through the 1960s and ‘70s, women’s jeans experienced a revolution similar to that going on with the flower child generation. In contrast to the straight-legged, stiff jeans of the past few decades, jeans during the “hippie” era tended to rise high up to the natural waist, hug tight through the upper thighs and flare out wide past the knees. So-called bell-bottoms surpassed fashion and became a statement of a political ideology directly opposed to the conservatism of previous generations.

The Mom Jean Revolution

For most American women, jeans were a utilitarian article of clothing — they were more comfortable and practical than skirts and fussier forms of trousers. However, beginning in the 1980s, jeans became something more. Starting with Calvin Klein’s notorious jeans ad starring a 14-year-old Brooke Shields and including style icons like Gloria Vanderbilt, Jordache and Princess Diana, the sexualization of jeans during the 1980s was incredible. During this decade, jeans were high-waisted and tapered to the ankles, with a slight bagginess around the knees. This style eventually became known as “mom jeans,” because so many moms in the ‘90s and 2000s accustomed this style with youth and attractiveness.

The Rise of the Low Waist

With a few exceptions, the history of women’s jeans has primarily featured styles that are mid-rise or higher, but the 1990s rebelled against all previous fashions — including the height of denim jeans. As the decade progressed, waists became lower and lower, until jeans rested below a woman’s hip bones and intentionally revealed more intimate areas. Perhaps the rise of the teen pop star is to blame for this particular jeans trend, as Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson and others were often seen sporting frighteningly low-waisted jeans.

Jean Diversity for All

Today, women’s jeans options are incredibly diverse. All styles of jeans popular over the past century of fashion are available for women to purchase, plus several styles that are new to right now. Women can experiment to find jeans that perfectly fit both their bodies and their personal styles, allowing everyone to feel powerful and beautiful in their own pair of denims.

It’s easier than ever to find jeans that fit, thanks to the rapid evolution of jeans styles through the past few decades. Women can and should celebrate how far we’ve come in our fashion trends — before looking ahead to the next jeans trend to follow.