A short history of the skinny jean

Author: Bec Isijanovski   Date Posted: 28 October 2016 

What would we be wearing if Kate Moss hadn’t stepped out in a pair of skinny jeans with her rocker boyfriend in 2005? Thankfully we will never have to find out, writes Bec Isijanovski.

Skinny jeans have been ubiquitous for a decade, worn by everyone from musicians to politicians, even by royalty. It’s the trend that refuses to die, and no one is happier about that than us.

The skinny jean silhouette first appeared in the form of cigarette pants (think high-waist, slim-leg), popularized by the likes of Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe. In the 50s, jeans were typically called "dungarees" and didn’t quite have that tight-fitting, ankle-strangling form we've now become accustomed to, nor the ease of comfort (it was heavy-duty denim back then).

A decade later and denim in the 60s was characterised by bootcuts, flares, and high-waists with experimentations with patchwork and embellishment...not a skinny drainpipe in sight. While the "Greasers" and "Beatniks" had cut a fine, subversive form in slimmer styles, it was the music scene that brought skinny jeans as we know them to life when bands like The Clash, The Sex Pistols and The Ramones began to wear them as an unofficial uniform. It was the punk rock era and nothing said “rebel” like a good pair of skinnies. 

Skinnies became synonymous with the music scene of the 80s when heavy metal bands such as Bon Jovi and Guns N’ Roses were at the height of fame, donning super-tight skinnies with leather jackets and big hair for performances, interviews and album covers. This paved the way for the emergence of grunge, which continued into the next decade but somehow left skinnies behind in the change over (to our memory, you never saw Kurt Cobain in a pair of skinnies; he was more a loose-fitting jean and nana-cardigan type of guy).

The skinnies trend continued to lose traction for most of the 90s (think high-rise, straight-legged "mom jeans" sported by the casts of Beverly Hills 90210 and Friends) but made a strong comeback in 2005 when our aforementioned fashion sweetheart, Kate, wore a pair out on a date with then-boyfriend and former front-man of the Libertines, Pete Doherty.

TIME magazine reported in 2006 that "fashion trailblazer and model Kate Moss cleared the path for 2006's biggest trend: the skinny jean", while the December '05/January '06 edition of Paris Vogue featured Moss in an embellished Dior Homme jacket paired with, you guessed it, skinny jeans. Kate is now credited with single handedly spearheading the skinny jean trend as we know it; she was hardly out of her Superfines and Sass and Bides save for donning shorts and Hunter wellington boots for Glastonbury.

Skinnies were no longer just a music scene trend; they became universal and available to all on the high street. This extended to men when the emo movement of the late 2000s made it acceptable for guys to wear eyeliner, grow their hair well past their eyes, and wear jeans so tight that everything in their pockets (and other places) were perfectly visible. The black shades kept things subversive.

Skip forward to the 2010s and the total skinny jeans takeover is complete, with everyone from Kim Kardashian to your grocery store cashier wearing the same cut of pants (skinnies are nothing if not egalitarian). Even the future Queen of England has been spotted in a pair of slim-fitting indigos. And, while fashion trends come and go in the blink of an Instagram feed, Moss continues to valiantly sport her signature skinnies with black blazer combo.

Skinny jeans are the perfect partner to any high fashion or casual street look, and are a versatile choice for the changing seasons, too So, Kate Moss, for bridging the skinny-jean gap between the music scene and the high street, we salute you.