The Surprising Origins of 9 Jean Trends

Ripped denim and bellbottoms have some unusual origins.
Ripped denim and bellbottoms have some unusual origins. / Image by ktphotography from Pixabay

From high-waisted denim and ultra-wide legs to extreme cut-outs and double denim, jeans have seen their fair share of dubious trends (and outright fashion disasters). Here are nine (sometimes embarrassing) demin trends and where they came from.

1. Acid Wash

Like many an '80s slang term, the acid washing process has its roots in 1960s surf culture. According to CRFashionBook, the trend really took off in the 1980s, after Guess released “the first pair of ‘pre-washed’ bleach-splattered jeans.”

If you grew up in the acid jean era, you may have had a kit at home that let you create the trend yourself. You might have even matched the acid wash of your jean jacket with your pants to be extra cool. These days, acid wash is often done more subtly, but there are still plenty of DIY options.

2. Mom Jeans

Just the term mom jeans conjures up an image of high-waisted rigid denim jeans with straight (but not tight!) legs. Supposedly, the high waist was meant to cover the tummy and prevent it from spilling over the top of the jeans, creating the dreaded muffin top—but usually, all it did was accentuate any visible fat and make you look frumpy to boot.

Here's something that might blow your mind, though: According to Emma McClendon, a fashion historian and the author of Denim: Fashion’s Frontier, “In the history of jeans as a garment, that high-rise, straight-leg, no-stretch-denim [template] is actually very typical,” McClendon told Ashley Fetters at The Atlantic—not just for women, but for men as well. “The very first jeans that were really made for women—ladies’ Levi’s, from the 1930s—you could arguably call them mom jeans. They were basically 501 jeans [the classic Levi’s cut] but with a higher rise.” That basic shape endured into the 1960s. Fetters noted that the term mom jeans didn't become popular until 2003 (a.k.a., the era of super stretchy low-rise jeans) thanks to a Saturday Night Live sketch.

3. JNCO Jeans

These ultra-wide, baggy pants featured briefly in the ‘90s teen movie Clueless as the signature look for skater guys—which was exactly who they appealed to at first, before they became so popular that they could be found pretty much everywhere. Created by brothers Haim and Yaakov Revah, the jeans debuted in 1993 and eventually boasted leg openings up to 50 inches. The brand's mission? “Challenge conventionalism. Explore the unfamiliar. Honor individuality.” After becoming incredibly popular in the '90s and then falling out of favor, JNCOs have been revived several times.

4. Super-Ripped Jeans

The first pairs of ripped jeans probably happened from actual wear and tear, and some have suggested that the trend of ripped jeans originated in the 1970s with punk bands. But eventually, fashion got ahold of super-distressed denim and the trend went way off the rails: Jeans with slashes up and down the legs could be bought new, often for exorbitant prices. Sometimes the tears went beyond rips to become full-on holes in the jeans. If you're going for the distressed look, you can still buy very holey jeans today.

5. Bellbottoms

Though bellbottoms are most closely associated with the peace and love era of the 1960s and early '70s, they may date as far back at the 17th or 18th centuries, when they were worn by sailors on American Navy ships (where they were eventually phased out in the years after World War II). As Brittany King writes at The Establishment, bellbottoms rose to prominence among youth of the 1960s as an act of rebellion: "Instead of opting for the fitted pencil skirts of the more conservative generation prior, young people chose to literally wear their distaste for the current social climate on their sleeves. Thus, bold pieces like wide-leg jeans were adopted—defying the mainstream as a statement against the very unpopular involvements of the government."

6. Demin Stirrup Pants

It's likely that stirrup pants originated in jodhpurs, which were worn during horseback riding; those little pieces of fabric, and later elastic, were added in the 20th century, and were great at keeping pants from riding up as you cantered around on your horse or skied. In the '80s, stirrup pants became a bonafide fashion trend, eventually being made in bright colors and, yes, denim. Most recently, people have taken to donning them with sandals, which we're not sure we can recommend.

7. Demin Hot Pants

Denim hot pants are an extreme form of jean shorts where cheek coverage seems to be optional. According to CRFashionBook, the trend began with "short shorts" in the 1950s; then, at the end of the '60s, British designer Mary Quant designed hot pants (which might trace their history to fashion icons of the '30s and '40s). They had an inseam of a mere two inches. Hotpants were made from a variety of fabrics, including denim (notably as daisy dukes, named after the character from The Dukes of Hazzard), and were worn by men and women alike. As with many trends on this list, you can still buy a pair today.

8. Capri Jeans

These jeans can range in length from just above the knee to rising above the calf, and can be skin-tight or baggy. While it’s unclear who invented them, originally they were a tight-fitting trouser named after the Italian island of Capri before making the jump to denim. These pants can be worn by both men and women, but these days, if they're donned by men, they're often called "man-pris."

9. Pleated Jeans

Originally, according to Max Berlinger at Bloomberg, pleats in pants were "a practical design feature to increase mobility and comfort at the hip." The denim version of pleated pants became especially popular in the 1980s. Once the trend finally died out, America couldn’t get them out of their closet fast enough ... until recently. You guessed it: Pleated jeans are making a comeback. Shop wisely.