10 Denim Innovations That Made Your Jeans Better

The History of Why Your Favorite Jeans Look so Good

Woman smiling in jeans
Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

If you're one of the many people who practically live in your jeans, you already know how essential this all-American wardrobe staple is. What you may not realize is that your favorite pair of jeans wouldn't be nearly as stylish, comfortable or flattering if not for these had-to-happen denim innovations. Let's count down the top 10 genius moments in denim fashion design that made your jeans look so darn good.

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Stretch Denim

Sarah Jessica Parker in sexy Jordache Jeans
Michael Thompson/Jordache Jeans

Where would the rear ends of America be without stretch denim? The first stretch jeans hit the market in the 1970s and were an instant fashion sensation with consumers who were tired of baggy, unflattering, droopy jeans. Stretch denim innovated the humble jean by incorporating a small amount of elastane (also known by the brand names Spandex and Lycra) into standard denim cotton fabric. The result was a new kind of stretch jeans that ingeniously hug the body's curves and provide a high degree of flexibility and "give". This small change in fabric construction ushered in a new era of sexy, body-conscious jeans styles and gave birth to the modern designer jean industry.

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Designer Jeans

Brooke Shields in Calvin Klein Jeans ad campaign
Calvin Klein

Whether you love designer jeans or can't believe the price tags, you can thank fashion designer Calvin Klein for kicking off the designer jeans era. In 1980, the Calvin Klein brand cast a 15-year-old Brooke Shields in a commercial featuring their new, form-fitting jeans. After Shields delivered her immortal tagline, "Nothing comes between me and my Calvin's", consumers bought the jeans like crazy -- and other fashion designers took notice. Designer jeans became a true status symbol and a few brands like Calvin Klein, Jordache, and Gloria Vanderbilt were among the first to profit from the trend. Today, you can shop for high-end jeans from dozens of expensive designer brands, from 7 for All Mankind to Dolce and Gabbana.

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Skinny Jeans

Street style skinny jeans
Christian Vierig/Getty Images

Skinny jeans, so-called for their tight fit from the waistline right through to the leg and ankle, became the must-have jean for women around the year 2000. While skinny jeans had been around since the 1970s, they were largely worn by male musicians, from punk rockers The Sex Pistols to hard rocker Bon Jovi. When the grunge era of the 1990s ended, however, women were ready for a return to a more body-conscious way of dressing. Fashion icons such as Kate Moss started stepping out and being photographed in the new skinny jeans and soon everybody had to have a pair. Today, "skinnies" have evolved from a trend to a wardrobe staple that women wear to the office and for casual and dressy occasions.

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Boyfriend Jeans

Street style in boyfriend jeans and crop top
Kirstin Sinclair/Getty Images

Boyfriend jeans are inspired by the way a pair of men’s jeans would look on a woman if she borrowed them from her boyfriend. This style first made fashion waves in 2008, when Katie Holmes stepped out in then-husband Tom Cruise’s straight leg jeans. The early boyfriend jeans were casual clothing -- fairly relaxed or even baggy versions of a classic straight leg jean, often seen with rolled cuffs worn with a wide men's style belt. Today, many designers offer an updated, slimmer fit of boyfriend jean that's more stylish and better designed to flatter a woman's figure.

Learn how to buy the right boyfriend jeans for your body type.

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Curve-Friendly Jeans

Levi's 300 Shaping Series
Levi Strauss & Co.

More than a century-and-quarter after Levi Strauss first gave us the blue jean, in 2010 the Levi's Jeans brand introduced its first shaping series of denim. Designed mainly as a shape-sensitive alternative to skinny jeans, these jeans were cut to solve a number of jeans complaints shapely women shared with the brand, from gapping waistbands and unflattering backsides to jeans that flattered one part of the figure but not others. Today, several major denim brands offer jeans specifically constructed to address the curvier women's figure flattery needs, including plus-size jeans.

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Maternity Jeans

Paige Denim Skyline Maternity Skinny Jeans
Paige Denim

Not so very long ago, if you were pregnant and wanted to wear jeans, the best option was to buy a giant pair of jeans -- possibly men's -- and try to cinch the waist around or underneath your belly with a belt, to hold them up. Then came the rise of media interest in celebrity pregnancies in the late 1990s, when a whole bunch of stars including Angelina Jolie were photographed "expecting". With this increased attention on celebrity mommies, fashion designers recognized an opportunity in the market. Several high-end designer jeans brands jumped into the new category of maternity jeans, producing styles that could fit a woman through her various stages of pregnancy and the trend has trickled down to mass retailers. Today, you can shop for a range of maternity jeans, from affordable styles by Gap and Old Navy to those from higher-end brands, including James Jeans and Seven For All Mankind.

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Body Contouring Jeans

NYDJ jeans

Since the advent of Spanx in the year 2000, women have increasingly chosen to wear "shapewear" underneath their clothing, to smooth curves and create a slimmer look. Certain, clever denim designers responded to women's desire for body-shaping effects in their clothing by creating jeans that perform like they have built-in shapewear. These new, body-contouring jeans, from designers such as J Brand and NYDJ, rely on super-stretch denim and ingenious stitching techniques to visually reshape a women's body, flattening the tummy, slimming hips and thighs and lifting the rear end.

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Eco-Friendly Jeans

Woman in jeans walking on the beach
You can feel good about wearing these eco-friendly denim brands. Quim Roser/Getty Images

What if taking care of the Earth is as important to you as looking fabulous in jeans? Luckily, in the last several years a number of jeans brands have recognized this need in the marketplace and made eco-conscious denim design a reality. "Green" jeans brands and lines, such as Levi's WaterLess collection, set themselves apart by producing jeans from organic cotton, recycling materials and using fewer precious natural resources to produce new jeans. The result is vegan-friendly jeans that are still fashionable but come with less of a price tag for Mother Earth. That's a win-win for everyone.

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New Denim Fabric Washes

Levis Acid Wash Jeans
Levi Strauss & Co.

What would Levi Strauss, inventor of the modern blue jean, say if he could see a pair of acid-wash jeans? We'll never know -- but we're thankful that today, jeans come in a wide variety of fabric washes. The wash of jeans simply refers to the shade of the denim fabric. Jeans manufacturers can achieve many different hues of blue by literally washing the fabric in certain dyes, bleaches or other agents that affect the denim color. Over the years, popular washes of blue jeans have included rinse (the dark indigo you see in dark denim jeans), vintage or aged (a faded blue that looks pre-worn), distressed(to create effects such as whiskering, spot-fading, abrasions and baked-in creases), stone wash (the jeans are literally washed with small stones that break down the fabric's color for a mottled look) and acid wash (treating jeans to an acid bath to achieve a stone wash appearance).

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Colored Jeans

NYDJ Clarissa Colored Stretch Ankle Skinny Jeans in Pink Petal

Colored jeans in every rainbow shade have been popping up in denim designers' collections for the past several years. While each season has its trendy shade (such as pink jeans for #BCAM Breast Cancer Awareness Month), it looks like colored jeans is a denim fashion category that's here to stay. They're certainly a great way to work more color into your wardrobe and can be mixed and matched to create plenty of different looks, as part of casual or more dressed up outfits.