It was the decade when...
You bought your denim at a "bar."
Rugged, tough, casual, the jean is the pant of the Marlboro Man, the Rebel Without A Cause, the Wild One. The jean is a classic pant of blue-collar Americana, an affordable, durable, comfortable piece of apparel that was anything but pretentious. Until the Aughts. Make no mistake, this was the decade of the $400 jean -- the tighter through the leg and lower on the hip, the better. Comfort and affordability be damned.
This casual pant became high fashion in the Aughts, each specialty brand contriving more and more outlandish ways to put a unique stamp on a classic formula. Elaborate back pocket embroidery was not uncommon; the rococo designs acted as a kind of crest for the brand, the way a specific tartan pattern used to separate one Scottish clan from the next, except the kilts worn in the Highlands didn't cost a month's salary. In an era where casual was all, capitalism had little choice but to make the informal formal; there had to be a new fashion pecking order, and casual wear had to become as status conscious as "designer" couture used to be. Small design variation from label to label made little overall aesthetic difference yet these minute trappings created the cache that separated one overpriced brand from the next.
I hear your chortles of protestation. "This is hardly new!" you claim. "I was wearing overpriced jeans in '84." Certainly, designer jeans have been on the market since the 70's, but the complex hierarchy of denim fashions reached an apotheosis in the Aughts; jean brands became a caste system. The once humble pants were coronated as the ultimate arbiters of chic. One didn't shop in a store for pants, one went to a brilliantly titled "denim bar," a label conjuring up not a retail shopping experience but a libidinous nightlife hotspot. A place where one didn't so much as purchase clothes as consume them, they way one would an over-priced gin and tonic. Jeans were clothes for the club, not work, and if I'm gonna spend $15 on a martini, you best believe I'm wearing expensive clothes. Young people couldn't get enough. There was, according to slate.com in 2005, such over-hype about the pants that a blue-jeans bubble was upon us. (Why was this the only bubble we saw coming?!?) Designer jean manufacturers like True Religion saw their stock go from from less than a single dollar to seventeen clams a share in under a year. Business was booming. And why? What does wearing a designer jean label say about you? Something to do with having too much money probably. But, in the Aughts's haze of excess and loose cash, anything one could do to wear their bank account on their sleeve (or ass) was fair game.
And what did these buy-a-new-flat-screen-TV-or-equally-priced-pair-of-pants pants look like? They were skinny, first and foremost. The Aughts were not kind to those large of hip and thick of loin. The trend in jeans to this day is a pair that fit like nylons; if putting the jeans on does not require elaborate yoga positioning, you're probably do in for a skinnier pair. While many find the tight fit unflattering there is nonetheless a sleek, streamlined appeal to the skinny jean, a style which is in almost every way superior to the clown-like baggy and apertured jeans of the 90's, the sort made oh-so-popular by Seattle grunge bands. Skinny jeans are, on the right individual, sexy and fun, a throwback to an older vintage style, when most clothes were fitted and slim. (A trip to a thrift shop can testify to the elephantizing of size standards over the years.) More inexcusable was the proliferation of low rise jeans, pants that all but guaranteed a million dollar shot of ass cleavage every time one sat or squat. Only plumbers used to be so tactless.
High couture denim is one trend that I suspect will persist into the Teens. However, with a society less flush with cash to burn, perhaps the pleasures of a moderately-priced pair of 501's will once again reveal itself to a newly humbled public. Then again, maybe even a distraught economy can't stop the inexorable rise of the jean to the pinnacle of the fashion firmament; those parties needing their $1000 pair will continue to fork over the big bucks in the name of fashion and status. The rest of us, well, we'll be happy with our old Levi's.
You AUGHT to remember.