Denim may be the most popular fabric in the world today. According to anthropologists Daniel Miller and Sophie Woodward, “On any given day, nearly half the world’s population is in jeans.” Yet decades before Levi Strauss sold his first pair of blue jeans, denim was being used to create workwear of all kinds, for both men and women. Histories of denim often disregard its use in women’s wear, identifying it as a menswear textile first, originally used for pants. These histories also tend to ignore high fashion uses of the textile, treating them as peripheral. Such gendered interpretations miss the variety and breadth of denim’s history.

Denim: Fashion’s Frontier takes a wider view, shedding new light on the evolution of this durable cotton fabric. Using objects that date from the nineteenth century to the present, the exhibition juxtaposes examples of workwear with high fashion, street style with commercial garments, and menswear with women’s wear, in order to explore the multifaceted history of denim clothing.