Denim: Fashion's Frontier
A new exhibition at the Fashion Institute of Technology Museum

“Denim: Fashion’s Frontier,” is a new exhibition that opened on the first of November at the Fashion Institutue of Technology Museum. It explores the humble beginnings of denim and its relationship to fashion, from the 19th century, to the present. The exhibition features more than 70 objects from the museum’s permanent collection, many of which have never been on view.



Left: Walking suit, striped denim, circa 1915, USA, museum purchase, P85.35.2

Right: EDUN, dress, white and black denim, 2007, USA, gift of EDUN, 2010.7.1

Source: Fashion Institute of Technology


In addition to the history of jeans, 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.

-       Fashion Institute of Technology, NYC



Left: Claire McCardell, “Pop Over” dress, denim, 1942, USA, gift of Bessie Susteric for the McCardell Show, 72.54.1

Right: Jumpsuit, denim, 1942-45, USA, gift of David Toser, 2007.63.7

Source: Fashion Institute of Technology


Curator Emma McClendon says that despite first appearing in Vogue in 1935 as part of a spread on dude ranch attire, denim didn’t enter the fashion sphere until the 1970s. It was, however, worn long before then: One of the oldest garments in the exhibit is a woman’s jacket from the 1850s. Because of its durability, denim began as an ideal fabric for work wear— most famously in Levi Strauss & Co.’s clothing for the fortune hunters of the 19th-century California gold rush.


Left: Men’s work pants, denim and brushed cotton, circa 1840, USA, museum purchase, P86.64.3

Right: Levi Strauss & Co., jeans, hand-embroidered denim, circa 1969, USA, gift of Jay Good, 80.176.1

Source: Fashion Institute of Technology


As denim evolved from its workaday roots to wardrobe staple, manufacturers adapted both in the types of jeans they made. Today, denim is one of the world’s most beloved and frequently worn fabrics. It is speculated that on any given day, more than half the world’s population is wearing jeans.


Junya Watanabe, dress, repurposed denim, spring 2002, Japan, museum purchase, 2006.55.1. Photograph by William Palmer

Source: Fashion Institute of Technology


“At first jeans were advertised as workwear and the emphasis was on their durability. Then, in the 1930s, it became about how they were Westernwear. In the 1950s, we see ads for women’s ‘California ranch pants’ that were aimed at a suburban audience.”

-       McClendon, for Vogue.


Roberto Cavalli, ensemble, embroidered denim, spring 2003, Italy, Gift of Roberto Cavalli, 2003.45.2

Source: Fashion Institute of Technology


Eventually, jeans became all about sex (thanks to Calvin Klein). Meanwhile, denim sales and prices, ushered in by Tom Ford for Gucci’s $3,000 pair back in 1999 kept rising. Nowadays it is an everyday staple, AND iconic fashion piece.


If interested, explore the great history of denim at the exhibit!

Fashion Institute of Technology Museum, New York.

Fashion & Textile History Gallery
December 1, 2015 – May 7, 2016


-       Source: Vogue


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