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Are Those Mom Jeans? Four Formerly Hot Designer Blue Jeans from the 70's and 80's

By Edited Jun 19, 2015 2 2

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Jordache, Sasson, Gloria Vanderbilt, Calvin Klein and others.

What do these designers have in common? They all designed “status” blue jeans in the late seventies and early eighties and they were all the rage. Who can forget the iconic commercial featuring Brook Shields, or the stitching used to distinguish between the blue jeans? Denim, which had been around for a century before the designer jean craze[1] and was used for work and casual wear, took on a whole new dimension. Teenagers and fashionistas (or teenage fashionistas) begged and pleaded with their parents for a pair, or used all of their summer work money to buy one pair of the must have jeans.

I was a teen in the eighties when jean-swooning was in full swing and oh how I wanted a pair.

I begged my mom to buy all of the top jeans brands for me. She took one look at the price tag and laughed. Needless to say, my dream of being a multi-designer-jean-having-diva died before it began. She did relent and agreed to buy me one pair as part of my back to school shopping. Excited, I gathered up blue jeans from all of the designers, determined to find the perfect pair. Off to the dressing room I went, ready for my jean coronation. I expected that I would be there all day (or at least 30 minutes) trying them on one by one, examining them from all angles.

Long story short, none of them fit. I was a size 7/8 junior but if they made it over my hips they was too big in the waist! Like today, many jeans weren’t made for girls with curves. I had to settle for “second tier” jeans… Bongos. Remember those? They are still around. They were probably the best fitting jeans ever, but I remember feeling not quite cool enough when I wore them at the time. 

[RELATED: Levi 501s: How to Look Cool]

Now that I don’t care about brand names anymore and concentrate instead on clothes that are well made and look awesome on me, I can look back on those days with amusement. American blue jeans as designer wear had a moment, if you will. People were moving away from Levis and other jeans as a work uniform and toward the European aesthetic which focused on form and tightness fit.[2]

Although there were a number of top jeans brands, the competition was fierce and companies relied on attention getting, often provocative advertisements to catch the fickle eye of the consumers.[2] The height of the designer jean craze may long be over, but lucky for us their commercials live on in infamy! Let’s take a decadent walk down designer blue jean alley, and look at the top four old school designer jeans commercials shall we?

4. Jordache

“You’ve got the look I want to know better. You’ve got the look that’s all together. Working. Playing. Day or night. The fit that’s right. The Jordache look. The Jordache look.” (Okay. Is it sad if I admit that I didn’t even have to see the commercial to resurrect the words?) Three brothers from Israel created the then jean designer powerhouse in 1977 after they received insurance money from a store fire. The name, “Jordache,”is sort of an amalgamation of their names. In an effort to stand out in a market saturated with designer jeans they used a significant portion of their annual sales and threw it into advertising. All of the major networks banned the original commercial which showed a woman riding a horse like Lady Godiva, naked from the waist up, wearing Jordache jeans.[2] It was enough to create the buzz that they needed. Though not the hot brand they once were, Jordache still sells jeans and other clothes, and Heidi Klum is their celebrity sponsor. Her jeans commercial is cool with her dancing and all, but it can never surpass the disco dancing that concluded this classic commercial. Enjoy.


3. Sasson

Ooh La La Sasson! The designer jean craze wasn’t just for women. Men also got in on the act. One interesting tid-bit about Sasson is that the brand was bought out by Jordache in 1983 after it went bankrupt.[2] The company was also sued by famed hair stylist Vidal Sasson for $25 million dollars over “misappropriation of the name.” The parties settled after Sasson agreed to pronounce their name as “Sa-son,” instead of “Sa-soon.”[3] Who can forgot their jeans commercial starring New York Rangers hockey players? Those smooth moves and amazing special effects! Sasson also sold women’s jeans. Today there are online forums where people talk about how fabulous they were and how they want them back. This jeans commercial represents the cheesy best of the brand at that time!

2. Gloria Vanderbilt

Gloria Vanderbilt blue jeans were THE ones to have in the eighties. They were the epitome status, tight and expensive. The Vanderbilt name has been synonymous with high society so her jeans were too. While Jordache had its horse head logo, Gloria Vanderbilt had her swan, graceful, and ladylike. Her jeans were dark and sophisticated. Who wouldn’t want to walk around with her signature on their butt. Vanderbilt's also came in a variety of colors, although I’m not sure if they are still jeans if they are pink, or lavender. But no matter, eighties musician Debbie Harry rocked them in the Gloria Vanderbilt jeans commercial.

Truth be told, I never wanted Gloria Vanderbilt jeans. Debbie Harry was cool and all in the commercial, but I often saw ads with Gloria herself wearing her jeans. I’m sure Gloria was cool and is cool and who doesn’t love her son Anderson Cooper? I hate to admit it, but in my young teen years I was ageist. When I saw Gloria modeling her jeans, I thought she looked like an old woman trying to look cool and I didn’t want to wear jeans that old women wore. Terrible, I know! Of course I don’t think that now. Especially since now I would be the old woman sporting the jeans! Rock on Debbie Harry and the number three jeans commercial!

1. Calvin Klein

Unlike Brooke Shields, I would never have the chance to know what it felt like for anyone to try to come in between me and my Calvins. Those infamous words spoken in the 1980 Calvin Klein commercial by the then 15 year old Brooke Shields, almost weren't. Thought by many to be too provocative and potentially exploitive of children, the commercial was banned by some news outlets.[4] Shields has said that the commercial and ads were tame in comparison to other things she had done. The jeans may have been skin-tight but they were also chest high, closer to what are known as "mom jeans" today. Calvin Klein has always played with sexuality in young folks, pushing the envelope time and time again.

I was 14 at the time and while I don’t remember thinking the commercial was scandalous, I do remember everyone talking about how they needed a pair of Calvins. So I did too. Not to hate, but I always thought the way she held her head in that jeans commercial was a little strange. Shields says she can still fit into those jeans though it ain’t pretty.[5] I say, “Go girl!”

We have only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to looking back at the designer jean craze of the late seventies and eighties. There  are no top jeans brands currently out (except for maybe perennial favorite Levi’s) that come to mind immediately, or that I would target when looking for jeans. However, I can readily roll out the names of others that were popular back in the day. Let’s see…Guess…Bonjour…Joujou…Sergio Valenti...Chic…Remember those? What a blast from the past! What have I left out?



Apr 30, 2013 2:58am
It's interesting coz I don't remember any of these ads? Except maybeeeee the Debbie Harry one kinda rings a distant bell :-)... but I was a big Blondie fan. Maybe in Australia we may have had a totally different jeans scene? Levi and Lee are the two that spring to mind for me...and I think till this day it's still majorly those two brands. Always interesting to see the differences.
Apr 30, 2013 7:37am
Thanks, Chops for reading and commenting. Your jeans article was my inspiration. Yeah- this was definitely an American jean scene thing. :)
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  1. "The Invention of Levi's 501 Jeans." http://www.levistrauss.com. 28/04/2013 <Web >
  2. "Jordache Enterprises, Inc. History." http://www.fundinguniverse.com/. 28/04/2013 <Web >
  3. Jube Shriver Jr. "With Fad Faded, Sasson Jeans Seeks Bankruptcy Shield." http://articles.latimes.com. 11/10/1986. 28/04/2013 <Web >
  4. Shefalee-Nandwana "Controversial TV ad for Calvin Klein with Brooke Shields is banned.." http://famousdaily.com. 19/11/2012. 28/04/2013 <Web >
  5. Lindsay Goldwert "Brooke Shields: I can still fit into my Calvins -- from 1980." http://www.nydailynews.com. 23/09/2010. 28/04/2013 <Web >

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