Double Denim in the 1980s, and its Unexpected Revival

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The 1980s is certainly remembered for its fashion experimentation. One trend that really caught on in the decade was double denim. Sometimes referred to as the Canadian Tuxedo, pairing denim jeans with a denim jacket (jean jacket) or shirt became hugely popular, although the fashion look actually originates from the early 1950s.

The Canadian Tuxedo term originated from a 1951 incident where singer and actor Bing Crosby was refused entry into a Canadian hotel (in Vancouver) because he was wearing a denim jacket and jeans. Over time, this American pop culture incident became synonymous with the style.

Pop band a-ha wearing double denim in tyhe 80s.
80s pop band a-ha wearing double denim

Double denim was popularised by cultural icons of the 80s, such as rockstars, actors, and models. Names like a-ha, Bruce Springsteen and Brooke Shields were often seen sporting this look, and their influence helped make it a global sensation. It wasn’t about looking polished; it was about embracing a raw, edgy aesthetic.

The denim was often faded, acid-washed, or distressed, reflecting the rebellious spirit of the era. Torn knees, frayed hems, and customised patches were common features. Blue was the most popular colour choice, by far, although black denim was a cool choice for those wanting a unique edge.

Button badges pinned to denim jackets also became a popular look with teenagers, and they featured photos of pop and movie stars of the time and also block letter slogans and company logos. Button badges were often given away on the front of pop magazines and handed out for promotional purposes by businesses trying influence the younger generation, or “get down with the kids”.

Wearing double denim blurred gender lines in fashion, too. Both men and women embraced the 80s fashion trend, reinforcing the idea of gender fluidity and breaking away from traditional clothing norms. It represented a rejection of conformity, and a sense of individuality.

Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) wearing double denim for Back To The Future (1985).
Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) rocking the double denim style (1985)

The Double Denim Revival

While double denim eventually gave way to the new fashion styles of the 90s, it never truly disappeared. There’s no doubt that it became a fashion faux pas for some considerable time, which is why some fashion experts were quite shocked to see a revival, with the style resurfacing in various forms over recent years, often as a nostalgic nod to the past.

In 2023, the look has certainly seen a resurgence in popularity, and fashion designers and celebrities have continued to experiment with the style, adapting it to modern sensibilities.

Today, you can see double denim outfits on runways, in street style, and in the wardrobes of fashion-forward individuals. The trend has evolved, with tailored denim pieces, updated silhouettes, and new ways of pairing denim, making it more versatile and contemporary.

Remarkably, double denim has metamorphosised from a long-forgotten fashion trend of the 80s, into a timeless symbol of self-expression and rebellion that, it seems, will always have a place in the world of style.

Madonna wearing double denim in 1983. Ripped blue jeans with turn-ups, blue denim jacket.
Madonna in double denim (1983). Photo credit: Richard Corman

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