Jeans, originally blue jeans, also dungarees, are trousers made from denim. Originally a loose-fitting worker’s garment, particularly for cowboys and farmhands, the jean was adopted by other trades, then by youth, and finally by large segments of the United States’ population.
Blue jeans remained pants for workers through the 20th Century. However, by mid-century, they began to be used as around- the-house (or garden) working attire by the American middle class. Of more significance was their adoption by iconoclastic teenagers as a symbol of nonconformity. In an era when “nice” boys and girls were expected to wear socially-approved clothing, tight jeans and leather pants and jackets were the unofficial uniform of rebellious youth. A well-known documentary feature showed kids modeling “good” and “bad” clothes.
Blue jeans gradually gained in stature and lost their stigma, but they were still considered casual wear. In an episode of the highly popular sitcom I Love Lucy, Ethel refuses to accompany Lucy downtown until she has changed into appropriate clothing, telling her friend that she has never gotten on the subway wearing her blue jeans and is not about to start.
By the end of the 1960s, things had changed. Middle American routinely wore dependable, hard-wearing jeans by such companies as Wrangler and Levi-Strauss in informal situations.
In the 1970s disco era, blue jeans hit new heights: a clever marketing campaign touted “designer jeans”, with the name, initials or logo of the designer being worn not on an inside label, but prominently displayed on the back pocket. Blue jeans became an overnight status symbol.