But sales of the iconic blues fell in the past year after decades of almost steady growth.
The reason: the growing popularity of yoga pants and leggings.
The shift is due in part to a lack of new designs since brightly colored skinny jeans were a hit a couple of years ago. It’s also a reflection of changing views about what’s appropriate attire for work, school and other places that used to call for more formal attire.
“Yoga pants have replaced jeans in my wardrobe,” said Anita Ramaswamy, a Scottsdale, Ariz., high-school senior who is buying more leggings and yoga pants than jeans.
Yet the jeans business isn’t dead: Customer Growth Partners, a retail consultancy, estimates that denim accounts for 20 percent of annual sales at department stores.
But sales of jeans in the United States fell 6 percent to $16 billion during the year that ended in June, according to market research firm NPD Group, while sales of yoga pants and other “active wear” climbed 7 percent to $33.6
And Levi Strauss, which produced the first pair of bluejeans 141 years ago, is among manufacturers to acknowledge that business has been hurt by what the fashion industry dubs the “ athleisure” trend. That has led the company to create new versions of classic denim that are more “ stretchy” and mimic the comfort of sweatpants.
Businessman Levi Strauss and tailor Jacob Davis invented jeans in 1873 after getting a patent to create cotton denim work pants with copper rivets in certain areas such as the pocket corner to make them stronger. By the 1920s, Levi’s original 501 jeans had become top-selling men’s work pants, according to Levi’s corporate website.
During the next few decades, the pants went mainstream. In 1934, Levi’s took advantage of the rise in Western movies and launched its first jeans aimed at affluent women to wear on dude ranches. Then teenagers boosted popularity of the pants, first among the leather-jacket set in the 1950s and then, the hippies of the 1960s.
Until the 1950s, the pants were called overalls, but in the following decade, teens started referring to them as jeans. During that time, the pants took on a bad-boy image — popularized by “ rebel” actors such as James Dean and Marlon Brando — which led many schools to ban them.
In 1960, Levi’s began using the jeans name in ads and packaging. And during the next few decades, jeans became even more of a way for people to express themselves. In the late 1960s, hip-huggers and bell-bottoms became an anti-establishment statement. Then in the 1970s and early 1980s, jeans became a status symbol when designer brands such as Jordache rolled out chic versions.
The “athleisure” trend is the biggest threat jeans have faced in years because it reflects a fundamental lifestyle change, said Amanda Hallay, assistant clinical professor of fashion merchandising at LIM College in Manhattan.