It has long been said that the more things change, the more things stay the same. That seems particularly true when it comes to denim and how women continue to find ways to keep it in their hearts as well as their wardrobes.

Take Marianne and Samantha for example, a mother and daughter duo that often shop together and even swap their favorite bottoms. “I like to think that I’ve passed along my love of jeans to Samantha,” the forty-five year old association executive shares. “Even though she is barely a teenager, I predict that she has already cultivated a life-long obsession for denim.”

Both Marianne and Samantha will be in good company throughout their lives. According to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor™, female respondents of all ages overwhelmingly indicated that they would wear a pair of nicelooking jeans to a range of venues, including restaurants and the office.

“Women will always love denim; no matter what their age,” says James Bradbeer, president of Lily Pulitzer. “Denim is a true American classic that can be worn for virtually any occasion. Lilly Pulitzer’s consumers are women on the go; they’re looking for something versatile, from dress down to something more polished,” adds Bradbeer.

Where Women Would Wear Jeans
  16-24 25-34 35-55 56-70
Dinner out 77% 78% 74% 56%
Work 77% 70% 69% 71%
Dancing 75% 71% 74% 47%
A religious service 37% 33% 37% 21%
A business meeting 21% 20% 25% 29%
A wedding 9% 9% 8% 5%

As women have evolved, so have their beloved jeans. “Denim has clearly stepped up and out, and has evolved both as a fabric and as a fashion component in a woman’s wardrobe,” observes Betsy Thompson, director of public relations for Talbots, the national retailer. “Our customer sees denim as a staple and as a wardrobe update. It stands up to a lot of wear and tear, is easy to care for and generally develops more character with each wearing; need I say more?”

The answer is “no.” According to the Monitor, two out of three female respondents cite jeans as their first pick for casual wear. When asked if jeans were part of their pasts and not their futures, an emphatic 85.5% said jeans were definitely in their future.

“Denim has survived so many decades of fashion change and has withstood the test of time,” says Brent Green, author of Marketing to Leading Edge Baby Boomers. “It has now taken on an iconic image.” Green is quick to point out that denim first curried favor with younger consumers for its antiestablishment edginess. “Think back to the 1950’s and the images of James Dean; jeans became a symbol of a backlash to authority,” he details. “It’s all about that image of challenge.”

“There was a time when denim and “blue jeans” were considered slightly rebellious, very casual and symbolic of all things carefree and youthful,” concurs Thompson.

The evolution of jeans over the last fifty years is a reflection of the prevailing culture. Blue jeans, as they were called in the very structured Fifties, had their place mainly as weekend wear or for working around the house. The Sixties and Seventies blew the door on denim wide open, as consumers adopted freer lifestyles and more carefree wardrobes. In the statusobsessed Eighties, women clamored for “brand name” jeans like Sassoon, Jordache and Gloria Vanderbilt, just to name a few. Denim went darker and cleaner in the Nineties as Americans pared down from the excesses of the prior decade. In the value-oriented new millennium, denim became available in stylish options at virtually every price point from mass market retailers to the ever-growing field of premium denim dealers.

“Today’s Boomer has grown up with jeans and jeans have grown up with her and adapted to her likes and needs,” Green concludes. While this slightly “older” consumer shares many similar feelings about denim with her younger counterparts, she differs slightly in her views on fit and price, according to Monitor. A significant 59% of female respondents aged 56 to 70 proclaimed fit as the single most important factor they considered when buying a new pair of jeans, compared to 31% of those aged 16 to 24, 42% aged 25 to 34 and 39% aged 35 to 55. Older respondents also displayed greater price resistance than their younger counterparts; on average, they spent less on their typical jean purchases ($31.28) and declared a lower threshold for how much they would pay for a pair of jeans that they loved ($55.05). Perhaps not surprisingly, the youngest age group displayed the least financial restraint, spending $37.15 on average for jeans and citing an average $68.62 as the top dollar that they would pay for jeans that they absolutely loved. This group aged 56 to 70 was the one most likely to wear jeans to a business meeting. Twenty-nine percent indicated to the Monitor that they would wear denim to a meeting, compared with 21% of those 16 to 24, 20% aged 25 to 34, and 25% aged 35 to 55. “It depends on the woman, but jeans allow her to express her individuality no matter what the occasion,” Green offers.

“Denim is a great fit for women’s lifestyles. Even better, it’s evolving with the times,” tells Bradbeer from Lilly Pulitzer. “Each season we continue to explore different treatments, techniques and embellishments, adding to its appeal.”

Denim’s appeal is ingrained in a woman’s genes and keeps them coming back for more. As Thompson sees it, “Clearly, denim’s youthful allure has become an ageless obsession.”

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.

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