Levi Strauss would be shocked by your jeans. Strauss and partner Jacob Davis obtained their patent for copper riveted “waist overalls” in 1873, and, of course, birthed the blue jean. Once reserved for manual labor, jeans have since become universal. Suitable for most occasions, and worn by most people, denim’s gone global. And according to professors Daniel Miller and Sophie Woodward — chairs of the Global Denim Project, and editors of an anthology on Global Denim — “the majority of the world’s population” is wearing it right now. But with that much denim, it can’t all be pretty.
We have an abusive relationship with our indigo. Sometimes we can’t stop ourselves. We stone it and stud it, rip it and shred it, blast it with sand and douse it with acid, and expect it to stick around. We distress it and like it better that way. We shrink it and fade it, cut it off, and make it skinny or wide to suit our whims. And it keeps coming back for more.
It’s time to apologize. So say you’re sorry, starting with these 50 most memorable crimes against denim.
1 of 50
Rihanna’s Denim Thong
If you aren’t a professional pantsless pop star (Rihanna, Beyoncé, Madonna, Cher), bottoms aren’t optional. Remember: Two thongs don’t make a right.
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Mom jeans are the minivans of denim — roomy, practical, and utilitarian. Because nothing says, “I surrender” like stonewashed Capris with a pleated elastic waist. Jean in, Mom! You can raise a family without raising your waistline.
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Chanel Resort 2013 (Look 3)
Let them wear denim. Days after socialist François Hollande won the French elections, Kaiser Karl showed his Ro-Coco Chanel collection in the gardens of Versailles. Intended as a mash-up of hip-hop and Louis XIV, Lagerfeld reinterpreted eighteenth-century silhouettes in modern materials like stretch denim and plastic. Most of the girly confections were macaron sweet, but others – like this offending lacy ruffled romper – didn’t reach the royal standard.
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A perfect match for tucked-in T-shirts and sandals with socks, jorts are just like jeans but less fancy. There’s nothing wrong with Dad’s weekend uniform, but nothing right either.
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There’s modesty, and then there’s paranoia. Is there any need for an ankle-length skort? And is it even a skort anymore? Skants? Skeans?
6 of 50
Inescapable at music festivals and malls, high-waisted denim short shorts are an epidemic. But when your cutoffs cover more of your gut than your butt they’re officially a girdle. Denim granny panties are still granny panties.
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Huggies “Little Movers” Jeans
In the commercial for Huggies “Little Movers” Jeans, a toddler turns heads as he saunters down the street in a white button-down and his “denim” diaper. Accompanied by a voice-over, apparently he sounds like an adult with a European accent: “My diaper is full … full of chic. When it’s a No. 2, I look like No, 1. I poo … in blue.” He climbs into a convertible before the tagline: “The coolest you’ll look pooping your pants.” Subtle.
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Phenomenon Denim S/S 2012
If you can’t get enough denim, you could always try Japanese label Phenomenon’s layered look. It might be difficult to wear two pairs of jeans at once, but a pleated kilt/one-legged baggy short/straight-leg Capri combo works in a pinch.
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Acquacalda PicNic Pants
Acquacalda’s PicNic Pants are MacGyver Jeans. They turn your drop-crotch pants into an eating surface, and come with an attached cup-holder pocket. Because it’s impossible to hold a paper plate.
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Martin Margiela Artisanal Collection F/W 2009 (Look 2)
Absolutely the best fringed, patchwork, one-legged, one-armed bodysuit of denim scraps we’ve ever seen.
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Jeremy Scott S/S 2012 (Look 4)
We hope Jeremy Scott’s cutaway denim vest and zip-slit bike shorts come with a cassette of Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy.” As part of a Beverly Hillbillies–inspired collection that also featured chaps and fringed denim panties, this look is “so sexy it hurts.”
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Denim Prairie Skirt
Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. Unless you’ve got a horse, or sister wives, or both, you don’t need (and shouldn’t have) a tiered denim maxi-skirt.
13 of 50
Miley Cyrus, New MySpace Launch 2013
Lately, Miley Cyrus has been proving she’s a grown-up by redefining scantily clad. So the former tween queen deserves some credit for wearing an entire pair of pants to a MySpace event. Never mind that the half-jean-half-sweatpants hybrid didn’t quite add up. Cyrus ensured she’d still have tongues wagging by pairing her designer denim (Ashish S/S 2013) with a leather bratop.
14 of 50
Ed Hardy Jeans
A celebrity staple in the early aughts, Ed Hardy’s tattoo-inspired apparel has gone from Hollywood to Jersey Shore. Today, the embroidered and embellished jeans are as repellent as the guys who wear them. Brand namesake and tattoo legend Don Ed Hardy blames Jon Gosselin for ruining his good name.
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250K Dussault Trashed Denim
Proof that billionaires can be douche bags, too — Dussault’s Trashed Denim line features hand-sewn, -painted, -dyed, and -washed jeans, adorned with 18-karat-gold wallet chains, and a skull, cross, and fleur-de-lis charm set with precious stones. The Marquis Rose (with 1,080 grams of rose gold, 16 1-carat rubies, 26 0.05-carat rubies, and 8 0.05-carat diamonds) and White Gold (with 1,120 grams of white gold, 16 1-carat colored diamonds, and 41 0.05-carat colored diamonds) designs retail for $250,000 a pair. Give us the diamonds and keep the jeans.
16 of 50
Balmain Ankh Jeans S/S 2009 (Look 10)
A relative bargain at $8,700, Balmain’s bedazzling jeans are patched, appliqué-d, ruched, studded, and stoned. With their oversize ankh, Balmain’s Egyptian look is more desperate than Desperately Seeking Susan.
17 of 50
Denim Thigh-High Boots
If denim-covered thighs are what you’re after, it’s much easier to start from above than below.
18 of 50
Louis Vuitton S/S 2010 Look 36
Hostel Youth. Louis Vuitton’s Spring 2010 collection was a sporty mash-up for the backpack and hacky-sack set, styled with oversize Afro wigs à la SNL’s Gilly. Exit 36 was a culotte suit in ombré, fringed, monogram denim. Not enough LVs? Just add the matching camera bag and clogs.
19 of 50
Acne Armor Jeans S/S 2010 Look 1
For a more Game of Thrones and/or C-3PO look, opt for Acne’s armor jeans. Bolted with silver nickel plates, they’ve been spotted on Kylie Minogue and Chloë Sevigny.
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Eric Glennie Denim
Fashion innovator Eric Glennie needs to cut it out. Inventor of the patented “congruent” necktie (seen on Mike Ditka and Shaquille O’Neal) and the “EricDynamic” baseball cap, Glennie’s also hacked at denim. With square, circular, and spiraling cutouts at the thigh and knees, his “knicker knockers,” “wraparounds,” and “saddlebags” are hanging by a thread.
21 of 50
Sexy Denim Jumpsuit
Perfect for a pit crew (in a porno), the sexy denim catsuit is what strippers wear to the grocery store. We don’t even want to guess how you get them faded from your boobs to your knees.
22 of 50
Revitalizing the whale-tail trend of the early aughts, the bikini jean combines an ultra-low-rise hip-hugger with a built-in denim bikini bottom. Made in Brazil and sold in Japan, they ought to come with a complimentary wax.
23 of 50
Cheap Monday Eiffel Tower
There are regular high-rises, and then there are monumental ones. Cheap Monday’s Eiffel Tower boasts a fourteen-inch rise. The high-waisted skinnies already look like a corset with legs, but it’s the extra-long zipper that takes them over the top. Comment dites-vous camel toe en français?
24 of 50
Airbrushed Denim Jacket
The airbrushed denim jacket is graffiti’s ugly uncool cousin. As outmoded as a boom box and scrunched bangs.
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J. Smith Esquire’s Alice Mask F/W 2009
Part of his all-denim show at Barcelona Fashion Week, milliner J. Smith Esquire’s Alice Mask is perfect for post-apocalyptic zoophiles. Shaped like a gas mask with elephant ears and an extra-long trunk, the garment is available by special order only.
26 of 50
Lee Cooper x Jean-Charles de Castelbajac Project 100 Teddy Bear Coat and Chair
Forget the carpet matching the drapes; does your coat match the upholstery? British denim brand Lee Cooper marked its centennial by collaborating with designers on a collection of one-off pieces for a charity auction. Jean-Charles de Castelbajac used twenty shades of denim to create his teddy-bear jacket (a look he debuted in 1974) along with the matching armchair.
27 of 50
Ralph Lauren Denim Bustle Skirt S/S 2003 (Look 48)
Ralph Lauren’s floor-grazing bustle skirt was made for the cover of a romance novel – but not much else. If you aren’t grappling Fabio on a hay bale, proceed with caution.
28 of 50
A.C. Slater outgrew his acid-wash Cavaricci’s and you should too.
29 of 50
Christian Dior S/S 2000 RTW
A riff on Blaxploitation films and riding gear, Dior’s denim-heavy spring 2000 show also launched the label’s iconic Saddle Bag. The dominatrix denim — logoed and slashed and printed on silk — was torqued into halter dresses, jackets, and skirts. Later came Nick Knight’s soft-core girl-on-girl (Gisele Bündchen and Rhea Durham) ad campaign.
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The Denim Wedding Gown
We’re all for unconventional brides, but maybe your “something blue” shouldn’t be your wedding gown?
31 of 50
The Canadian/Texan Tuxedo
Done right, double denim can be très chic (see Chloé S/S 2010), but it can also be un peu trop. Like pairing navy and black, head-to-toe denim should be carefully considered. Not all denim matches.
32 of 50
Soulful Commandoe Carrot Tops
Soulful Comandoe’s Carrot Top jeans are about as attractive as Carrot Top himself. Fitted through the hip, baggy to the knee, and tight around the calf, with attached suspenders, they’re straight-up funny-looking.
33 of 50
Mother Denim Landscape Jeans
Skip the postcard and buy the jeans. Printed with a tropical mountain scene and lush florals, Mother Denim’s Landscape Jeans prove you can take it with you. Because every woman wants her butt described as panoramic.
34 of 50
Drkshdw Rick Owens Zip to Flare
Rick Owens’s Zip to Flare jeans are a two-in-one that’s one too many. When zipped, they look like standard skinnies with a zipper detail; unzipped, they release a torrent of wrinkled cotton from the thigh. If you can’t afford two different pairs of Drkshdws, try Levi’s. Keep the convertible in the garage and out of your closet.
35 of 50
Manish Arora x Notify S/S 2012
With their sheer overlay, appliqué, and tassel play, Manish Arora’s jeans are like a bordello lampshade you can wear. Part of the designer’s capsule collection for French denim line Notify, other memorable moments included all-over psychedelic prints, holographic rainbow foils, and beaded fish and fowl.
36 of 50
Rufskin Hustler Jean
Rufskin’s Hustler jeans offer more than a glimpse of the wearer’s assets. Guess it pays to advertise.
37 of 50
Jeggings and/or Pajama Jeans and/or Joggs
Trompe l'œil denim jeggings, pajama jeans, and joggs promise the look of jeans with the comfort of leggings, pajama bottoms, or sweatpants, respectively. We get it: Buttons and zippers get complicated, but your denim imposters aren’t fooling anyone. If you don’t want to get dressed, stay home.
38 of 50
Prada S/S 2011 Menswear Look 12
Miuccia Prada explored workwear and global uniforms for her spring 2011 men’s collection. But Exit 12 is giving us the “Folsom Prison Blues.” A denim hospital-scrub top and knee-length culottes with matching short-sleeved shirt and tie: It’s Mormon elder meets prison inmate.
39 of 50
Jeans Sandal Boots
Handcrafted by Danielle Katz in Israel, Jeans Sandal Boots are made from vintage denim. With waistband details and functional pockets, the thong sandal and pant-leg hybrids are available on Etsy.com. Or, if she’s sold out, you could always make your own.
40 of 50
Jean Paul Gaultier S/S 2010 RTW Look 1
You’re lookin’ fly, girl! In Living Color fly girl. The opener of Gaultier’s “G-spot” collection was an all-denim look — a jacket with cone-bra corset stitching, miniskirt, and a frontless skirt and/or backless apron (?) — that would make J. Lo proud.
41 of 50
The Japanese are indigo extremists. On one end, there are Big E Levi’s collectors and old-loom selvedge purists; and on the other, trend-driven fashion enthusiasts. Japrag is definitely a label for the latter camp. Their more-is-more jeans have double waistbands, gratuitous patchwork, and oddly placed pockets. It’d be generous to call them overdesigned.
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Another Asian import, bow jeans are sort of like reverse chaps. The stretch-denim skinnies have side cutouts from the thigh to the ankle and are decorated with bows running down the gap. Just don’t forget the SPF.
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Perfect for dressing down your Château d'Yquem or dressing up your Boone’s Farm, Vinderalls are overalls for your wine. Also available: Vinderhosen and Vinderpants. Because if your wine’s wearing clothes, you aren’t drinking alone. Right?
44 of 50
The Super-Shredded Ones
You might be a rock chick who wants to tear it up, but it’s easy to OD on shredded denim. If your jeans are more holes than pants, it’s time for razor rehab.
45 of 50
Phat Pants (a.k.a. Raver Jeans )
Phat pants are an update of nineties-era raver jeans, often customized with reflective tape. With their cartoonish proportions, phat pants create a footless-Gumby silhouette. And at their most exaggerated – some have leg openings of 69 inches – they look like you stole a giant’s shorts.
46 of 50
Evisu Multi-Pocket Logo Jeans
If you want to foil pickpockets or permanently lose your keys, try Evisu’s multi-pocket logo jeans. With 20 to 26 pockets a pair, you can hide your stash in plain sight. But if you just have a lot to carry, try a tote bag.
47 of 50
Dsquared2 Sex Suspender Jeans F/W 2008 Menswear Look 31
Sex suspender? More like “sex offender.” Dsquared2’s 2008 denims came with an anatomical fade and a 3-D rubber phallic insert. Feel free to bolster your bulge but don’t draw us a diagram. Although we would applaud any woman ballsy enough to wear these.
48 of 50
Gary Harvey Recycled Denim Gown
Former Levi Strauss creative director Gary Harvey is now focusing on green fashion. His “eco-couture” creations, like this ball gown made of 42 pairs of recycled 501s, are intended to raise awareness about limited resources and landfill space. We’re all for the cause, but his model looks like she’s drowning in an industrial washing machine. If you really want to turn your indigo green, donate it to be recycled as building insulation instead.
49 of 50
Erik de Nijs’s Beauty and the Geek Jeans
Not that kind of laptop. Created by Dutch design student Erik de Nijs, Beauty and the Geek Jeans are a denim prototype with an integrated keyboard, an attached mouse, knee speakers, and “motherboard” stitching. Since guys need another reason to play with their junk.
50 of 50
Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake, American Music Awards 2001
They’re black-tie blue jeans, y’all! Brit Brit and J.T. stepped out in matching head-to-toe indigo for the 2001 American Music Awards. While their love didn’t last, the pictures always will.