Skip to main content

Why Denim Trends from the 50s, 70s and 80s are Important Again

At first glance fashion from the conservative 1950s, free-spirited ’70s and decadent ’80s have little in common, but with denim as the underlining commonality, the decades are key sources for design inspiration in 2018.

Denim expert and consultant Christine Rucci, also known as Godmother NYC, can identify the links. With a career that spans more than 30 years in denim, Rucci culled together her knowledge of fit, finishes and fashion history to share three essential trends for denim in 2018.

“I am feeling very specific years that will be important for denim. This is based on looking at the fashion, political climate, art and music of these periods,” Rucci said about 2018 denim trends. “They all blend in and mix and match, yet each one has its own style.”


Images of Marlon Brando, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis conjure up a 1950’s vibe that denim hasn’t seen in some time. Here, brand heritage, classics and core denim are embraced.

And it’s in brands’ best interest to revisit tried-and-true styles, Rucci noted. If consumers’ adoration for vintage Levi’s proves anything, it’s that the jeans’ quality and fit continue to hold.

“People lost their favorite fit because brands stopped making them,” she said.

Rucci urges brands to give consumers what they want, but with an updated fit for the modern shopper. Specifically, she says designers need to pay close attention to the rise shape, the saddle—the area where the front and back rise join—and the mid-thigh, or about 6-inches below the crotch. If that area is relaxed enough, Rucci says everything else will fit.

Related Story

Classic 501-type jeans, straight leg silhouettes and slight tapering at the bottom with a tight turn up help tell this nostalgic, rockabilly-inspired story, as well as rigids and heavier weights. Rucci said key fabrics for this trend are 13 oz. (or more) 3×1 rigid 100 percent cotton, 12 to 13 oz. cotton jeans with 2 percent comfort stretch and 10 oz. 2×1 painters drill in indigo or ecru in non-stretch.

“In belt-tightening times, fabric weight is perceived as value. Heavier denim is key for this trend,” Rucci added.

Selvage denim with “busted out” seams should be part of this offering, as well as pure and custom selvage line colors to create brand identity and loyalty. “This goes back to cowboys and how they proudly displayed their brand loyalty with the perfect cuff,” Rucci said. “It’s a cute idea for modern times.”

Raw rinses with no heavy abrasions allow consumers to naturally “grow” their jeans into a personal piece as well. Rucci believes women will begin to embrace raw denim in a bigger way in future seasons. This trend evolves into summer with classic bleached indigo and chalk white denim.

Pieces from the 1980s, like mechanic jackets, painter pants and heavy weight hardware complement this greaser look. “Think of the Long Island guys in the ’80s that went to London and came back with a rockabilly look,” Rucci quipped.


Inspired by her recent collaboration with artist Ian Berry, the revival of Wrangler’s collaboration with artist Peter Max and the 1974 book, “American Denim: A New Folk Art,” which highlights designs from a Levi’s sponsored contest, Rucci believes art will infiltrate denim on a deeper level in 2018.

Art may be the spark of inspiration that denim needs. Rucci believes the denim industry needs to be more creative with denim and let the 5-pocket jean, jean jacket and vest once again become a canvas of creativity.

“We need to push beyond vintage washed looks to create works of art with sustainable energy and water saving methods, while creating newness and even up-cycling existing stock,” she explained.

Retro fits enhance the story, including women’s true flare legs with a higher rise, tight in the hips and a 21-inch leg opening. “We will also see the return of the ’70s boot cut for men with a bit of surf and skate influence thrown in,” Rucci added.

Fitted and cropped jean jackets for women and men are gaining traction, as well as denim shirt jackets and cropped blouson shaped jean jackets.

In general, Rucci says it’s the start of the reverse silhouette. “We’ve been big on top and skinny on the bottom for a while. I think we’re going to start seeing the opposite with more skinny jackets and more volume on the bottom for men and women,” she said.


If you want to know what’s coming into fashion, look at brands that are having a comeback, Rucci suggested.

“I have been going through my personal denim archives and found many pieces from the original Genius Group founded by Adriano Goldschmied. Many of the fits, shapes and details all feel right again,” she said.

In particular, rewind to 1984, a year when music and cultural icons like Sade, The Clash, Blondie and Madonna reveled in the spotlight and the denim they wore came from designers with fearless aesthetics.

“Fiorucci, Marithe and Francois Girbaud, Katherine Hamnett, Moschino Jeans and Junior Gaultier—all these brands were very important in 1984,” Rucci said.

The look is anything but simple. Mitered pockets, plaid linings and denim combined with knit sleeves, cuffs and waistbands are hallmarks of the era, as well luxury trims in silver and gold.

Hand embroidery, appliques, painting, embellishments and patching add visual interest to denim. To add modernity to the decadent theme, Rucci recommends achieving prints and patterns with eco-friendly lasers.

Fabrics like 13 oz. rigid yarn dye denim in indigo and black are key to the story, Rucci reports. Lighter weights with Tencel will add more drape, while 11 to 12 oz. super stretch will deliver a sexier shape.

After all, the ’80s skinny is here to stay in both men’s and women’s. However, Rucci urges brands to continue to offer both mid and high rises. “The high rise trend is still important, but not everyone can wear it. My personal favorites are Rag & Bone’s Skinny, Frame’s Le Skinny de Jeanne and Levi’s 711,” she said.

In addition to denim trenches, capes and long skirts, the trend also calls for the revival of the cropped baggy jean for men and women, a style inspired by a jean from 1984 by Ten Big Boys, which was part of the original Genius Group.

Rucci describes the modified 2018 version as a jean with a full thigh and knee tapering at the ankle. “It has a higher front rise with a curved back rise with enough saddle in the crotch and it sits on the waist,” she said. The style fits in seamlessly with contemporary women’s fashion. “Cropped at the ankle length, this jean can be worn with short booties, creepers or stiletto pumps,” Rucci noted.

The oversized bottoms pair nicely with fitted, cropped jean jackets. “It goes back to the style Madonna wore in the ’80s—little boys’ jean jackets worn with looser jeans and cropped baggy styles,” she described. “Cut off trucker vests will be important to balance the more relaxed bottoms.”