24

I'm currently writing something set loosely in the 1970s. One character refers to another (who is not present) in a disparaging way. The insulting phrase includes the detail that this person only wears skinny jeans, because the reader is meant to notice that a character introduced later is "skinny jeans guy". However, I've created a problem for myself in including this detail.

After some research, I have indeed confirmed that skinny jeans existed long before the 1970s, and were very much out of fashion at the time, so the spirit of the insult would make sense in-universe. However, through this research, I also learned that they didn't start being called "skinny jeans" specifically until 2005. Almost every source I read on the matter was happy to point this out, but is entirely silent on exactly what they were called in 1970.

Would anyone happen to know this small factoid? I looked for a more specific place to ask this (such as a 1970's fashion knowledge hub) but if there was a better place to look, I must have missed it.

17
  • 5
    Not quite sure what you mean by "skinny jeans". As I remember, there was no particular term for them. There were just ordinary jeans, ones with slightly flared legs (sometimes called "boot cut", as they were meant to go over boots), and the fashionable bell bottoms. There were also people who "pegged" their pants, sewing up the seams to make them tighter than normal, though I don't remember if that was commonly done to jeans.
    – jamesqf
    Aug 23 at 4:48
  • 2
    @jamesqf on Wikipedia, they're listed as Slim-Fit pants although I've not heard them called that before, personally. Many names are listed, but no specifics as to when certain names were popular. Wikipedia was one of a few sources that I looked through, and I'm currently still looking.
    – 916
    Aug 23 at 5:03
  • 2
    why would they have a special name for them?
    – jwenting
    Aug 23 at 7:34
  • 2
    I strongly suspect the answer is just something blandly descriptive like "tight jeans".Hard to show either way, though.
    – Andrew
    Aug 23 at 7:48
  • 3
    We called them "straight leg jeans" when I was a kid. Or rather "straight legs." The names of different blue jeans styles are all messed up. "Straight leg" jeans actually follow the taper of the leg - they get narrower below the knee. "Boot cuts" are actually straight - they stay the same width from the knee down. Bell bottoms flare below the knee - they are the only ones with an accurate name.
    – JRE
    Aug 23 at 7:51
39

In the 1970's there were 3 basic poles of jeans in the USA:

Levis, Wranglers, and "Designer".

If you wanted to wear fully tight jeans, you were probably wearing "Designer jeans". These were largely worn by women, as the traditional jeans, being positioned as work pants for manual labor, generally weren't designed to fit women very well. The name is due to the fact that they often had established fashion designer labels on them, like Armani and Calvin Klein.

The typical points of ridicule on designer jeans were that they were orders of magnitude more expensive, and for men, that they were "women's jeans". Often designer jeans were clarified as "skin-tight designer jeans", but its reasonable to assume there's a high likeleyhood of "skin-tight" applying if someone just says "designer jeans" in the 1970s.

One specific type of designer jeans I remember from the 70's was the hip-huggers. These were generally designed to top out at the top of the hips, and be particularly tight along the hips and thighs.

Levis are of course the "OG" jeans. People who wear them would sometimes identify them by their model number (501 being the "base model", as it were), but more often by how they diverged from the 501. Divergences would be things like buttonfly, bell-bottoms, boot-cut, etc.

Wranglers were a cheaper alternative to Levis, often proudly worn by people who believed strongly that spending a lot of money on jeans was antithetical to the concept of jeans. Wrangler wearers generally held designer jeans up to particular scorn. Wrangler and Levis wearers had a tendency to be tribal about it, and you'd find arguments between them that sounded a lot like PC vs. Mac or Coke vs. Pepsi arguments.

So what today would be called "skinny jeans", the closest thing to them cut-wise in the 1970's (in the US at least) would have been called "skin-tight Designer jeans".

15
  • 2
  • 1
    @AllInOne - Hah! I really like that, because it looks like it was written in 1976 (aka: The High 70's) and specifically names 2 of the 3 "poles". The third was clearly not an option for the writer, which makes sense because he balked at the price of the Wranglers.
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 23 at 15:11
  • 6
    The kinds of jeans I wore in the 70's were straight-leg jeans - designed to be tucked into cowboy boots (to allow view of the fine leather and stitching of the boot top), as opposed to boot-cut jeans which were designed to be worn over boot tops (to prevent manure, sawdust, sand from falling into the boots). Both distinguished from 'flare' leg jeans which were just boot-cut wannabe's and bell-bottoms. Yeah we still had then in the 70's.
    – Arluin
    Aug 23 at 17:31
  • I was going to say that they were called "jeans", but yeah, I'd agree that "designer jeans" is more appropriate. It got really over the top in the 80s (Gloria Vanderbilt jeans, anyone?), especially when you could start buying pre-torn jeans for significantly more than "regular" ones. I coulda made a lot of money selling my well worn, torn jeans!
    – FreeMan
    Aug 23 at 18:41
  • 3
    From the song Lord, It's Hard To Be Humble; "I guess it has something to do with the way that I fill out my skin-tight blue jeans," Mac Davis, 1974.
    – JohnHunt
    Aug 23 at 19:27
13

This is from Wikipedia, showing Elvis Presley wearing drainpipes: Slim-fit pants/The 1950s.

Elvis Presley wearing drainpipe jeans. In the 1950s; the waist was higher than on modern skinny jeans.

The 1950s

Drainpipe trousers re-emerged in the 1950s, with popular Western stars such as the singing cowboy Roy Rogers, The Lone Ranger, The Cisco Kid, Zorro and Gene Autry and actresses Marilyn Monroe and Sandra Dee wearing their pants very slim to the ankle from 1955 onwards. Tapered jeans became most notable with country music stars and with the birth of rock and roll in the 1950s, when Elvis Presley donned slim-fitting jeans and shocked the country.

9
  • 7
    I think the fact that they are called "Drainpipe Trousers" is perhaps a clue that this is likely a BE-only term.
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 23 at 12:47
  • 2
    There seem to be plenty of references to drainpipe pants and drainpipe jeans as well, including this New York Times article (behind a paywall unfortunately). Finding a source definitely written in the 1960s is difficult though. Aug 23 at 13:06
  • 1
    Drainpipes were a throwback to an earlier era, so definitely uncool so a pretty good insult ... unless completely unknown where your character is. Aug 23 at 19:28
  • 3
    They don't look all that skinny. Slim-fit maybe, at best. Aug 23 at 23:57
  • 4
    My London, UK secondary school (Alleyn's School, Dulwich) which I joined in 1963, had a standard uniform of a grey suit. The printed dress code forbade "drainpipe trousers", jackets with vents, and shoes with pointed toes ("winklepickers"). The expressions of "Teddy Boy" youth culture which the code was intended to stamp out were several years out of date by that time. I recall the Teds wore drainpipe trousers (the kind that come with suits, not jeans). Aug 24 at 9:07
7

After doing more research, and reading the responses, I believe I've come to two reasonable conclusions:

1: There are simply many names for it depending on time and location, following no other pattern than a description of the pant. Previous commented answers include "skin tights" (Fred), just "tight jeans" (Andrew), and "straight legs" (JRE), all of which are reasonable (if you'll forgive me basing this on opinion).

2: As I continued to do more research, I stumbled across a source that stated (in an English speaking country, at least) these pants were called "drainpipe jeans" in the 60s. Being that that's only a decade away from the target date, I think my research on the matter is enough for a fictionalized 1970.

Many thanks to all who took the time to share your ideas! I will probably use a little bit of all of them. If more needs to be done, or there are more suggestions, I'll keep an eye on this page.

5
  • 2
    Yep, I remember drainpipes, although mainly, IIRC, referring to trousers - as in "He's wearing drainpipes." That's in the UK, might be different elsewhere.
    – TheHonRose
    Aug 23 at 10:33
  • 1
    @TheHonRose - Does appear to be a UK-dominated term. Of course that may be what the OQ wanted. We don't know.
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 23 at 15:41
  • 1
    I was wearing drainpipes (jeans) in the late 70's in the UK
    – Steve Ford
    Aug 23 at 20:25
  • 3
    Drainpipes is correct. In The Who film 'Quadrophenia' (if memory serves), you see the protagonist - having pre-wet his drainpipes for the added shrinkage as they dry - trying to pull them on with great difficulty.
    – mcalex
    Aug 24 at 7:59
  • Having spoken with a "fashion away female" who lived through the 70s, stovepipe jeans
    – Fred
    Aug 24 at 16:59
3

Your question appears to include historical fiction. I.e. the story is fiction, but set in a historical period, and you are looking for information for your story, rather than just the single question of what they were called. Thus, I am reading into the intent of your question. Rather than discuss what was, I'll focus on what was common and where.

The equivalent of "skinny jeans" would have been uncommon in much of the country. Today's "skinny jeans", essentially all women's jeans, and most men's jeans have some amount of synthetic material - nylon, polyester, lycra, etc. This creates a more form-fitting look that is also comfortable, since it will stretch and move. infobloom

1970's jeans for the common person generally were 100% denim cotton. They would often be advertised as "shrink to fit". Levi's would be purchased fitting, but also just a little big, vs. a little small. Because they would shrink when wet, so if they were already too tight, they'd shrink and not fit at all. Cotton does stretch a little bit. (Today's jeans are pre-shrunk.) When buying shrink-to-fit, one common practice was to take a shower in your brand new jeans. Let them dry on you, then run them through the dryer to finish them off. Then, you've got very form-fitting jeans. These would be quite tight. Shrink to fit seems to have died out in the 1980's.

"Designer Jeans" may have some polyester, such as the ones listed on this ThePeopleHistory site:

Polyester is normally lower-cost than cotton, it was and is more common in higher-priced jeans.

While stretch materials have been around since the 1950's, they weren't commonly used in clothing until the 1980's when spandex became very popular. HistoryOfJeans

Additional information on materials-- study.com

Where is the story set? Where is the character from? How about their family or friends? Do they travel? What is their income level, and compared to their friends? "Commoners" would have a different opinion than the wealthy. While "hand-made" clothes from a common person would be considered cheap, "hand-made" by a tailor would be very high-end to a wealthy person. Maybe these jeans are hand-made by his mother/grandmother or a tailor?

Folks in the "flyover" states and small towns and cities would have a different type of common clothing than the fashion in metropolis areas. They have a different common store. Think K-Mart and Sears compared to Nordstrom, Diesel, White House Black Market or many of the boutique shops.

This information, combined with the other answers should give you a nice, plausible, and helpful information for your story.

1
  • "Shower"? A nice hot bath is one thing, using pliers to close the zipper another, and never letting those fabrics touch water again another… Aug 25 at 18:27
2

As other pointed out, drainpipes. Or at least that was the commonest polite term used in UK/Ireland in the 70s for these jeans.

Earthier phrases were used, depending on the wearer. Balls cutters and suchlike.

1
  • 1
    In my area of SE England in the 70s, ball cutters were also known as "Cross-Your-Heart" jeans because, like the eponymous bra, they would "lift and separate".
    – Spratty
    Aug 26 at 13:48
1

Hot pants or hip huggers are what I have heard skinny jeans called. I never knew what skinny jeans were until one of my kids explained it to me. I've only heard them called hot pants or hip huggers

2
  • 6
    I've always thought of "hot pants" as being shorts (of any material) and Wikipedia seems to agree.
    – Steve Bird
    Aug 23 at 19:49
  • 6
    "Hot pants" were definitely shorts, not trousers. I'm afraid I'm old enough to remember them. ;-)
    – TheHonRose
    Aug 23 at 22:16
1

My memory of the time was coming out of the late hippie era with the iconic pure bell-bottom jeans which were usually tight above the knee, then belled (not flared) out to usually past the shoe tip. So tight above the knee, belled below. Naturally (like that or not) "tight" was tighter in women's bell-bottoms than men's.

Starting into my high school years bell-bottoms were done, but a more reasonable, and very comfortable "flare" style had evolved from them. The flaring seldom reached the toe of your shoe, usually just covered the laces.

But a few years later, even before I graduated, flared jeans were out. What replaced them were the straight-legged jeans referred to in other answers. By the time the 80's began, they had a corollary for people who just weren't going to wear those uncomfortable things called boot-cut which were also basically as described above in other answers. Straight-leg jeans were called "jeans" by most people after flared jeans went away, while boot-cut jeans were called just that.

Both styles had more room in them above the knees than bell-bottoms or flared jeans did. Levi less so than Wrangler, to the point I found Wranglers very uncomfortable as nothing was held in place. Unlike Blowfly's Rollo, I did not like a fresh pair of baggies.

At the end of the 70's designer jeans had not become much of a thing, at least not in Ohio. I believe that's because they had to evolve in response to the late 70's standard jeans having more room inside above the knees. A couple years of that and women (just doesn't seem like a male-driven demand, does it?) demanded more form-fitting jeans. For the obvious reasons. And designer jeans stepped in to handle that.

DJ's were much tighter above the knees and given what they were responding to (my take anyway), they chose to be tighter than the straight-leg jeans. Bear in mind straight-leg jeans are still "frumpy" in that they usually can get pushed up some, crumpled might be a better word, right around those delicate ankles. As hard to see a girl has a well-turned ankle wearing that kind of thing as it is to see she has a nicely shaped bottom when there's intentionally extra room there... (think: the difference between flat panel pants and pleated pants... mom and grandma wear the pleated pants). And given that they were female driven to be tight anywhere real form desired to be shown off, they just kept getting tighter. About 1989, I picked up a couple kids, cousins of my boss, to bring them to an outing and they somehow got on the subject of their mom's "fat jeans", jeans that weren't tight much, said they were OK when I asked if she'd been wearing them just then when I picked them up and that I thought they fit her very nicely, just not like her good ones that didn't make her look fat at all.

My bet is that Lisa wasn't the only woman calling some jeans fat jeans and others being much more her going out jeans. 2005, for sure? I wager "skinny jeans" as a name took about that 16 years plus another 2–3 before 1989, to develop out of "fat jeans" for non-tight ("non-taut" might be better), and be given an actual name that suited the concept. And "fat jeans" would have disappeared then.

Back to the 70's though, in Ohio. In my experience, anything store brand or close was just "jeans" and as best as I remember, they were fairly tight. Some had flares, but still were fairly tight above the knees, maybe to save cloth/cost. Until flares had died out and straight-leg jeans took over, whereupon straight-leg jeans got called "jeans", generically. I truly remember nothing in the 70's as tight as skinny jeans, and the only things as tight as designer jeans would be in the 80's were store brand jeans.

The upshot is, at least from the standpoint of what I saw in Ohio and on TV, there were NO skinny jeans in the 70's, neither by name (of course... 2005) nor by actual construction. There WERE tight ones, but just that, tight. Not meant to stick to the body. It wasn't until the mid-80's anyone even talked about "painted on jeans" (whereupon a couple of men's magazines literally did that, and then it became an occasional artist thing).

My take on what drove it was female desires. My wife is not alone in having answered my question about "Would you rather have comfort or look good?" with the latter. And then prove it. Women will also spend far more than the average man on a piece of clothing. Those two factors, along with a couple years that must have been horrifying to them in which the jeans that were tight above the knees disappeared and only frumpy ones were available to most or all of us, created the designer market, I believe. Until that existed, there had been tight, in the places of greatest interest and for men as well as women, jeans, but not tight everywhere. I have no memory whatever of anything really approaching "skinny jeans" in the 70's. Even the old hip-huggers didn't qualify: they were more about lowering the waistline a lot and having to be very tight to stay in place, though doing double duty as a great reason to have them, and being tight on the thighs too, but out of habit so-to-speak. Without them, the designer jeans market might not have taken tight to its "logical conclusion", but they were not in any way skinny jeans, especially since they fell into the bell-bottom era and had belled legs.

The closest I remember in the 70's would have been Capris, very, very tight all the way down, but almost never made in jeans since the point was the tightness and jean material of that day was just too solid to really be tight like that. Brushed denim (mid-70's, dead early in the 80's) had to be developed before Capris could be made of anything considered denim (brushed denim was all that denim-like, really). If I were to guess, as designer jeans makers tried to seem Euro even if they might not have been, and Capris were definitely fairly gone as a major thing in the US by the end of the 50's, though never gone altogether, not at all, that maybe Capris were still in in Europe, and gave the "designers" an inspiration that lead to the ludicrosity of skinny jeans.

Don't get me wrong. I love a woman's form being utterly on view. I love a woman saying "I only wear pants to keep from being arrested, so I wear something that makes me just as naked." But skinny jeans look ridiculous.

Just like head hair has a purpose beyond wacky styling (it helps give one's head a more pleasing shape, if one's head is... unfortunately shaped), pants have a similar helping hand to offer. Or both, of course, can just be worn without that concern.

And I just flat do not remember them in the 70's at all. So I think there isn't a great true name for you to use in the story. The best I can suggest is a tangential reference, something like "If he had the hair and 200 extra pounds, his jeans would let him look like Elvis. He's even got the sneered up lip, from regarding the rest of us. He doesn't seem to get that the odd man out isn't everyone he sees, it's the odd man, and man, when it comes to odd... !"

As you can tell, not an author. But I did live through the 70's and just don't remember any skinny jeans or anything like them.

4
  • 2
    What's uncomfortable about boot cuts? I've been wearing boot cuts for 50 years. They don't strangle my ankles like straight legs, they don't tangle the feet like bell bottoms, and they go over the boot shafts perfectly (like they are supposed to.)
    – JRE
    Aug 24 at 7:32
  • I remember an ad on TV decades ago...80s or 90s... about a woman taking off her jeans to show another pair underneath. She said "I can wear (brand) under (brand) but not the other way around" promoting that this brand was tighter.
    – JDługosz
    Aug 25 at 18:37
  • @JRE yea, "boot cut" refers only to the bottom of the leg. It is orthogonal to other features. I.e. you can get "boot cut" that's also "relaxed fit" or "slim fit" or "low" or whatever.
    – JDługosz
    Aug 25 at 18:40
  • This is the best answer.
    – axsvl77
    Aug 25 at 23:35
0

In the midwest U.S. in the early-to-mid 1960s, for boys/men the super-tight customized jeans were "pegged" (as @jamesqf comments above). Kids (or their moms?!?) could do this at home, to plain jeans, keeping the cost waaaay below any sort of designer stuff. These were typically paired with black heeled boots, maybe with metal taps, reaching above the ankle. Also black leather jackets, though these were not cheap. Maybe tight white T-shirts (just like in the movies, indeed...). Anyway, yes, "peg-leg" or "pegged-leg" or just "pegged" jeans.

0

Sasson and Jordache were the popular tight designer jeans of the second half of 70's early 80's and often referred by the brand.

1
  • 1
    I think the question is about the generic term for them rather than a specific brand name.
    – Steve Bird
    Aug 25 at 21:19

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.