published Monday, July 16th, 2012

Durable denim a wardrobe essential

  • photo
    Andrea Spangler, left, and Courtney Simmons pose for a portrait inside of Francesca's Collection, a clothing and jewelry boutique, in Chattanooga on Thursday.
    Photo by Alyson Wright.
    enlarge photo

When Levi Strauss crafted denim fabric into durable pants for California coal miners in the 1870s, he couldn't have imagined that designer denim would be showcased on fashion runways a century later.

Strauss created his first denim from hemp before putting twilled cotton cloth into use, says jeanswest.com.

According to the website, wearing blue jeans became more socially acceptable in the 1960s, and they were established as a fashion staple by the 1970s. In the 1980s, fashion icons had put their stamp on the versatile fabric, sending it down the catwalks.

Today, wearers can find any piece of apparel — jeans, vests, skirts, shirts, jackets, dresses, overalls and hats — fashioned from denim. It's worn in the classroom, at the office and out in the fields.

Courtney Gravett, 27, said she can't think of a time when denim wasn't a staple in her closet.

"It has evolved over the years from a more casual look of jeans and T-shirt to a more sophisticated look of skinny jeans paired with ballet flats and a lace top," said Gravett, boutique manager at Francesca's Collections in East Brainerd.

It's a fashion men favor as well.

"My 'uniform' in high school was a flannel shirt and dungarees," said Bill Fuller of Chattanooga. "When I was in the Navy, the usual uniform of the day was dungarees and a denim shirt."

Katherine Roberts Burger, owner of K Boutique on North Market Street, said she has had a love affair with denim since the 1970s when she "inherited" her sister's threadbare jeans.

"As a women's retailer, I see daily how much a great pair of jeans mean to women — the search that goes into the perfect fit for each us," Burger said. "Many any of us live and work in jeans."

Not everyone, though, is a fan.

"I loved denim when I was younger, but I cannot stand it now," said Kristi Strode of Chattanooga. "I would rather wear a business suit than jeans. Denim, even when it is a loose cut, is too constricting."

Diehard fans, though, are emphatic about their devotion to denim.

"Real denim, not that lightweight faux denim, is the fabric of life," said Pat Stewart of Chattanooga. "From the little toddler overalls to jeans, skirts, vests, dresses and even bags, denim is the comfort food of the fabric world."

Chattanoogan Laurie Shipley said she'll go to her grave in her denim jean jacket.

"The only shorts I own or wear in the summer are denim," she added. "I just bought a denim skirt at Ann Taylor Loft and, at DSW Shoes, a denim high-heel slide."

Denim will be big for fall, a resurgence not seen "since bell bottoms first came out," Gravett said.

"We will see not only classic denim looks, like a great denim jacket paired over a cute dress with boots, but colored or rainbow denim will continue to be one of the hottest trends," she said. "It's time to also see double denim. Light denim shirts paired with darker denim is a classic coming back."

The popularity of patterned denim or colored denim will change as new trends come out, she said. "But the fashion industry will always come up with new and creative ways to pair the classic look."

about Karen Nazor Hill...

Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...

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