A century ago, women wore ankle-length skirts and gowns, wide-brimmed hats, and pointy-toed footwear with two-inch heels. But 1908 was also the year Marquis Mills Converse founded the Converse Rubber Shoe Company, for which generations of musicians, actors and Average Janes are grateful. Grateful not just for the comfortable shoe that could be both casual yet athletic, but for the jeans, sneaker and tee shirt look Converse helped cement into America’s fashion annals.

Over the years, the simple uniform that served so many for so long has evolved. And just as there are basic jeans, tees and sneakers, so, too is there premium merchandise in each of the categories.

Average Number Owned
Tee Shirts 23.6
Denim Jeans 8.2

Why the sweeping adoration? The Tobe Report’s Alison Sokolove, fashion editor, says the look “speaks to all genders, races, ages and socio-economic groups because of its timeless versatility.”

Statistics bear out Sokolove’s theory. On average, women have eight pairs of jeans and about 24 tee shirts in their wardrobes, according to Cotton Incorporated’s Lifestyle Monitor™.

Levi’s Loreen Zakem, president of Levi’s Brand Wholesale, says the jeans, tee and sneaker look serves as an iconic fashion expression that embodies originality and style.

“Everyone from indy rockers to Hollywood ‘it girls’ are sporting this style with increased frequency these days,” Zakem says. “The look is so versatile and has such a relentlessly youthful spirit that people from every age group and walk of life embrace it.”

Converse sees its Chuck Taylor All Star shoe as one that’s functional, yes, but also democratic, as it has admirers throughout music, sports, art and the broader culture.

The shoe that garnered appreciation from pro basketball players from the 1920s to 1940s became the hot shoe of rebellious style icons in the 1950s, especially when finishing off the jeans and T-shirt antiuniform. Later, bands like the Ramones, the Sex Pistols and the entire punk movement added to the antiestablishment reputation of Converse. Since then, the brand has entered design collaborations with several celebrities and celebrity designers including John Varvatos, Junya Watanabe, Camilla Engman and Giles Deacon. And famous wearers include Patti Smith, Hedi Slimane, Sienna Miller and Miley Cyrus.

Just as denim and t-shirts span a range of price points, so too do Converse footwear and apparel. In 2006, the Converse by John Varvatos apparel collection of premium men’s and women’s sportswear was introduced to high-end department and specialty stores. And last month, Converse launched its One Star collection of sportswear and shoes at the upscale discounter Target, in a move to reach the discerning mass market customer.

No matter how much money is spent, the jeans, sneakers and tee shirt ensemble still resonates with today’s adults, says Sokolove, because “this is an easy, comfortable, yet stylish way to express oneself.”

At Up Against The Wall stores, the look these days has more of an urban street vibe.

“It’s a different lifestyle among our customers than the old look of the skinny rocker guy from Brooklyn,” says Anhtu Lu, women’s buyer for the 24-store chain. “Our customers are looking for skinny jeans to pair with colorful footweaar. They like super colorful sneakers with colored jeans, or basic skinny blue jeans. And they like really colorful tees with scarves and Members Only-type jackets – and big gold earrings.”

Hot T-shirts at Up Against The Wall include Married to the Mob, Hellz Bellz, Glamhead and Five Crown. Lu says women are loving the ’80s-inspired tee shirts that feature graphics like boomboxes, turntables and neon paint splashes – “kind of Run DMC meets New Wave.” Among the denim offerings, Lu says Levi has made a major comeback with its skinny jean. Levi’s are actually the favorite brand among Monitor™ respondents, preferred by 18% of women.

Zakem says the Levi’s skinny 518 and the wider-leg boot cut 518 jeans work well with low-top and slip-on sneakers. “For women, it’s really just about finding the right fitting jeans that make her feel beautiful, and pairing them with a great tee and sneakers,” she says. “Our premium denim for women – like our hand-crafted Levi’s Capital E line – is being worn with everything from super cool vintage tees to one-of-a-kind, hand-screened tee shirts. Hollywood trend-setters from Jennifer Aniston to Rachel Bilson have mastered this look.”

Getting the look just right takes time for a lot of women. When asked how much effort they normally go through when buying jeans, the Monitor™ found that 60% of female shoppers say they put in “a lot,” and 28% put in “some/a medium effort,” while just 11% put in “very little to none.”

Sokolove says the better customer is “absolutely pairing premium jeans back to a premium tee shirt, but there is also a movement of people who love to pair their premium jeans with a $10 dollar thrift store tee. Conversely, there is also a customer pairing an $80 tee shirt with $30 classic 501 Levis and standard canvas Converse Chucks.”

There’s also the old school crowd for whom authenticity rules.

Says Sokolove, “Many fashion insiders prefer the classics over the trendiest labels due to the inherent quality and timelessness of labels like Levi’s, Hanes and Converse.”

This story is one in a series of articles based on findings from Cotton Incorporated’s Lifestyle Monitor™ tracking research. Appearing Thursdays in these pages, each story will focus on a specific topic as it relates to the American consumer and her attitudes and behavior regarding clothing, appearance, fashion, fiber selection and many other timely, relevant subjects.