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A Classic Celebration: Blue Jeans Turn 143

Fashion would be little without the latest trends, but while many new entrants into the style world fade away as fads, little else beats a classic.

This week, the blue jean—clearly a classic in its own right—celebrates its 143rd anniversary this week. Denim has come a long way since then, yet its vintage appeal remains, and with no end in sight.

To put the timelessness of blue jeans in perspective, these bottoms that are equally popular with celebrities, construction crews, teenage guys, and moms on a girls’ night out, actually originated the same year the Jesse James gang started robbing trains.

It was May 20, 1873 that businessman Levi Strauss and Nevada tailor Jacob Davis received the patent to create denim work pants that were reinforced with copper rivets at the points of strain. These were the first iteration of Levi’s 501 jeans. Today, jeans come in a multitude of washes, finishes and fits, in price points that range from budget to luxury.

Jeans are consumers’ top pick for bottoms when they want to look and feel good in their outfit (32 percent) and when they want to be stylish and fashionable (25 percent), according to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor Survey. And jeans are the most popular for running errands (50 percent), work (32 percent) and dinner (31 percent).

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To honor the latest anniversary, Levi’s created a limited edition 501 jean and trucker jacket that launched on May 1 (as in, 5/01). The limited edition pieces feature unique constructions and custom washes. The company says that while most jeans are sewn together first, then washed, the finish on these limited edition pieces vary by washing the fabric first, then stitching the garments. This results in unique product where no two pairs are the same.

“The inspiration for this unique design approach came from our archives and studying vintage, lived-in, patched, and reworked 501 jeans,” the company noted. “Each garment in the collection has an authentic look, paying homage to the original blue jean and Levi’s commitment to craftsmanship.”

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Nearly one in four consumers (22 percent) say they purchase Levi’s jeans most often, according to Monitor data, followed by Wrangler (8 percent), Lee (6 percent), and American Eagle (3 percent).

On average, consumers own about six pairs of denim jeans, according to the Monitor data. And more than two in three consumers (68 percent) say they “love or enjoy” wearing denim.

Feltraiger is a newer brand in the men’s wear market. Daniel Feldman, co-founder, says the company is looking to offer a collection of timeless goods that would have worked as well 50 years ago as they would 50 years from now. That translates into collections that veer away from trend-driven pieces.

“To us, this means the product that we create has to be special,” Feldman says. “We have moved away from our core collection of classic basics and are moving toward creating more pieces that feel special in style, fabrication and quality.”

While Feltraiger might be offering more classic styles, consumers looking for the latest denim trends on sites like Popsugar will find a dizzying array of choices. There are kick-flares—cropped and flared with fraying at the bottom, optic-white jeans, as well as embellished, deeply distressed and fringed jeans (and yes, the two are very different)—among many others.

The U.S. denim market is worth about $13.7 billion, with the average consumer willing to pay about $40 for a good-fitting pair of jeans, according to the Monitor research. Consumers making $75,000+ are willing to pay significantly more than their lower-income counterparts—$51 versus $35.

The NPD Group’s Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst, noted last year that Millennials represented opportunities in the U.S. denim market. He said providing a broader mix of product that appeals to a wider audience would help rejuvenate the category.

Most consumers say they are most likely to purchase relaxed (27 percent) or regular fit (19 percent) jeans, followed by?boot cut (17 percent), skinny (14 percent), and slim (7 percent), according to Monitor data. More than eight in 10 consumers say cotton-rich jeans are the most authentic (89 percent), softest (88 percent), most sustainable (88 percent), comfortable (87 percent), breathable (87 percent), trustworthy (86 percent), high quality (85 percent), and fashionable (80 percent).

While Feltraiger offers raw selvedge styles, Feldman says he sees the market moving in a different direction.

“I think the raw selvedge market was huge a few years ago,” he says. “I honestly feel like most people want immediate satisfaction and when given the option would rather buy denim that is comfortable, and already worn in and distressed. I think washed and vintage style denim as well as sweatsuit denim and denim with stretch will be the area that grows as raw denim will really be left to the market of enthusiasts.”

 

This article is one in a series that appears weekly on sourcingjournalonline.com. The data contained are based on findings from the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor Survey, a consumer attitudinal study, as well as upon other of the company’s industrial indicators, including its Retail Monitor and Supply Chain Insights analyses. Additional relevant information can be found at CottonLifestyleMonitor.com.