Denim: Fashion’s Frontier at F.I.T.


From workwear necessity to fashion staple, denim is undoubtedly one of the world's most beloved fabrics. The cotton textile's evolution is one of astounding diversity and cultural transformation, reaching far beyond that trusty pair of jeans sitting in your closet. All this and more is currently on display at The Fashion Institute of Technology's newest exhibit, Denim: Fashion's Frontier.

Curator Emma McClendon details the evolution of the fabric in regards to changing perspectives and roles in the world, writing:

"Denim examines a variety of denim garments—from work wear to haute couture—in order to shed new light on how a particular style of woven cotton has come to dominate the clothing industry and the way people dress around the globe."

With over 70 pieces showcased, each stage of denim through the decades speaks to cultural shifts concerning gender, class, and idealisms of the time.


It all started with the worker's denim. Rare pieces from the 19th century illustrate the cross-gender utility of the cotton textile, spanning into the early 20th century in the form of naval and prison uniforms. Not until the interwar period, when financial stability shifted cultural focus to leisure, did denim makes it debut into the mainstream.

Western wear and play clothes were the first genres of fashion to feature the fabric in the 1930s and 40s. The clean-cut denim look of this era, suited for the affluent and fashion-minded, soon gave way to the 1950s biker gangs and the counter-culture denim that would rule the 60s and 70s. Denim became a symbol for rebellion and juvenile delinquency. Hippies iconically adopted it into their repertoire, patching up reclaimed denim and ripping open jean hems to make bell bottoms.

Fashion brands soon took notice, and by the late 1970s denim became a staple piece for fashion houses to make their own. We are now familiar with a multitude of luxury denim brands and are no strangers to seeing jeans strutted down the runway. From the iconic 1980 Brooke Shields Calvin Klein commercial to the 2001 Justin and Britney VMA's denim disaster, there is no doubt that jeans have cemented their position in our cultural psyche and in closets worldwide. And this fact is clearest at FIT's newest exhibit.

Fashion & Textile History Gallery, Fashion Institute of Technology
Seventh Avenue at 27 Street New York City 10001-5992
December 1, 2015 – May 7, 2016

Check out the exhibit website for more information.


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