Too Tough to Die – The History of Skinny Jeans

Skinny jeans have a long and fascinating history, one which since their inception has been associated with youth and rebellion. They may now be ubiquitous on every high street, and worn by people of all social backgrounds, but even if cut into shorts for the summer, their silhouette is unmistakable, as is the attitude they project.

While French fops in the court of Louis XIV began experimenting with slim trousers, they were first worn in Britain in the late eighteenth century by the Macaronis, an early English version of the dandy, and the first youth cult to get in on the action. The modern skinny jean comes out of the rock n’ roll era, when drainpipe jeans were de rigeur for all self-respecting rockabillies, following in the wake of Elvis Presley, who had scandalised the US by gyrating in tight trousers.

The jeans retained their popularity into the 60s, as musicians from The Rolling Stones to Bob Dylan squeezed themselves into tight trousers to exude rebellion and sex appeal. If there was one thing that both the Mods and Rockers agreed on, it was that skinny jeans were cool. Outside youth subculture, even high fashion was getting into the act, as Hollywood icon Audrey Hepburn proved that women could look great in skinnys too, and Yves Saint Laurent would revolutionise women’s fashion with his Le Smoking look.

If trousers would expand their width exponentially in the hippy and disco eras, the punks demanded a back to basics approach, epitomised in the return of the skinny jean, often ripped at the knee, as modelled in iconic fashion by The Ramones. This look may have originated in New York, but was soon being rocked in the UK by the likes of the Clash, and Australia by The Saints. The skinny jean was ubiquitous again, whether worn by serious young men in postpunk bands, or very silly men dabbling with spandex in hair metal bands.

If the 90s saw hip hop and techno take over, and trouser sizes increase with the depth of the beats, the early 21st century saw a new wave of the new wave, led by The Strokes, and a corresponding constriction in trouser dimensions. Hipsters demanded ever tighter trousers, a style which has now crossed over into the mainstream, and is much pretty much where we are now.

Though we think skinny jeans look great on anyone, on any occasion, at any period of history.

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