Denim was a youth uniform in the early 1970s, but by 1978, punk had somehow given us the message that blue denim was not cool. It would be great to be able to pinpoint some interview, or NME article that started the turn away from blue – maybe someone out there knows, and can comment. But for us young girls, it was a word of mouth thing, combined with the images of bands that we saw in the music press.
Early photos of The Slits and The Ramones show the band members all wearing the (blue) denim jeans that everyone wore, although because the music press printed in black and white, we only picked up on the greyness, the blackness, the urban decay.
At that time everyone under 25 wore blue jeans and the only difference was between Levis, Wranglers, Lee, Falmers. If you were a 12-year old girl from a small English town, you’d wear cheap British Home Stores jeans; your mum wouldn’t let you go in the little boutique jeans shop ‘because it smelt of drugs.’
But within a couple of years, cool kids were dyeing their blue denim to black, finding humorous trousers that could be bought from jumble sales for 10p – bright red and yellow tartan golfing trousers, chef’s chequered trousers, tight leggings, striped pants and of course, converting to old ladies mini-skirts, spotty dresses and granny items worn ironically.
When you went out in a group as punk girls, the aim was to show your individuality. We no longer wanted to all wear the identical Falmers jeans/cheesecloth shirt combination that Jackie magazine had encouraged. Our outfits represented how creative and ingenious we were to repurpose items, alter, add or reshape clothing that had cost us next to nothing. These girls from Leicester are spot on with their different punk looks.
We also raided the army and navy stores and repurposed camouflage trousers to replace our blue jeans. In photos, punk bands strived to show trouser diversity, with the newly-available white or black Levis/Wrangler denim jeans. Or, if you were Chrissie Hynde, black leather jeans.
When bands like The Clash popularised this look in the UK, the divide between punks in black, white and dayglo and the old rockers in their blue denim jeans was set. Local entrepreneurs sewed trousers out of deckchair fabric, curtain material and the striped ticking fabric normally seen on mattresses.
Of course, the commercial world doesn’t let street fashion dominate for long, and soon jeans in different colours, styles and fits emerged. The era of designer jeans and the appeal of stretch denim did appeal to many women, including Debbie Harry who modelled for Gloria Vanderbilt jeans. When pre-ripped jeans came out in the 1980s, many of the fashion-followers went back to blue denim, which has been in and out of style ever since.