We’ve seen lots of trends from the past come back to dominate runways, social media feeds, and retail stores—especially vintage markets like us. While they’ve been considered a controversial clothing item across fashion history, the history of acid wash jeans sheds some light on why it has become an item that never quite goes out of style.
Where Did Acid Wash Jeans Come From?
While acid wash jeans are most commonly associated with ’80s fashion, they began in the ’60s, during the height of California surf culture. Surfers that had grown tired of fading their jeans in the sun decided to opt for chlorine bleach and pumice stone instead.
Though this technique stayed pretty specific to the niche culture of California surfers for most of the ’60s and ’70s, by the ’80s, the style was adopted by the punk scene. After an explosion in popularity, Guess released the first-ever pair of “pre-bleached” acid wash jeans in 1981.
The style rose to such high demand that all types of denim began to be acid washed to meet the demands of all the subcultures who couldn’t get enough of the style. From jeans to jackets, you could find acid-washed denim everywhere including coming-of-age films and outfitting heavy metal bands. Its reach within various subcultures and subsections of the fashion industry itself earned it its title as one of the ‘defining trends of the decade.’
The Fall of Acid Wash
Consequently, acid wash denim fell out of fashion in the mid-’90s and was banished to the land of camp. Many people still loved and wore acid wash denim, but the style had fallen out of vogue, and thus no longer profitable for brands and fashion houses to market and sell. This meant that those who continued to include acid wash denim in their wardrobe were resigning themselves to sartorial camp—a badge of honor to some.
Acid Wash Denim: The Comeback Kid
While acid wash denim’s reputation suffered a pretty devastating blow just 10 years after its explosion of popularity, it got its groove back right before the turn of the decade when fashion designers began to sample 80’s style hits. Acid Wash Denim began to reappear on runways, closets, and social media feeds.
In 2017, Gucci Cruise gave us a look at what was to come with a pair of bleached black jeans featured in their runway show. In 2019 we saw Balmain, Stella McCartney, and Proenza Schouler re-introduce acid wash denim in three very different ways, signifying that not only is acid wash back but there is more than one way to wear it.
Beginning with Balmain, this brand elevated the typical acid wash jean silhouette by opting for a belted version and styling it with a bustier and silk coat. This showed consumers, and the fashion industry for that matter, that these weren’t your mom’s acid wash jeans. With the realization that acid wash denim could be both unique and modern, it not only made a resurgence but underwent a complete rebranding.
Stella McCartney also leaned into the resurging acid wash trend by featuring an acid wash splattered denim jumpsuit in her show. The jumpsuit is a vehicle through which the brand delivered acid wash to a specific consumer who is most interested in keeping their wardrobe unique but not at the expense of trendiness and quality. Stella McCartney’s new take on the acid wash trend delivered a once-dated clothing trend to a new audience in a classic style.
However, the most dramatic revamp of the acid wash denim trend goes to Proenza Schouler, who featured an acid wash denim high neck gown in their spring/summer 2019 collection and runway show.
The gown featured both a layered drop-waist and pockets, perfectly embodying the crossover between elegant high fashion and the casual nature that acid wash denim brings to every design. Its high neck was even designed to resemble a bandana — a detail that perfectly ties together the look of low-effort high fashion.
Something Instagram-Worthy This Way Comes
Once given the high-fashion stamp of approval, acid wash eventually made its way onto top celebrity fashion icons. The likes of Hailey Bieber, Kendall Jenner, Katy Perry, and Miley Cyrus have all stunned in acid wash denim and ignited interest in acid wash denim across social media for the last few years.
The online momentum prompted larger retailers as well as smaller brands to add acid wash denim into their collections. Designers’ sudden fascination with acid wash denim spurred consumer interest in Jordache, which has been a go-to for acid washed denim since its inception in the ’80s, as well as Sasson, Levi’s, and Stefano.
Acid wash denim is even cropping back up in menswear as evidenced by its presence in Versace’s spring/summer 2020 men’s collection. The collection fully leaned into the camp that previously haunted acid wash denim by mixing it with a tie-dyed t-shirt, leopard print boots, and a leather jacket.
Thrilling’s In-House Choices
If you’re ready to jump into the wonderful world of acid wash denim, Thrilling has a collection of over 400 acid wash pieces, so you can find the perfect addition to your unique, Instagram-worthy wardrobe. Best of all, shopping at Thrilling means that you’re supporting small, independent businesses across the United States while reducing your carbon footprint.
If you can find the acid wash addition of your dreams, just email Thrilling at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll work with our partner stores and search our offline inventory to help you get exactly what you’re looking for.
Not Your Mom’s Jeans
Well, maybe they were, but they were her favorite jeans for a reason. If you are not sure what to wear with your acid wash jeans, start by pairing them with basics like simple t-shirts, solid colored collared shirts or your favorite sweater.
Acid Wash, Overalls, and a Mini Dress—Oh My!
Acid wash denim should not be limited to jeans and jackets. Take a unique approach to this throwback look with an overall dress that you can be worn from spring to fall.
With trends from the ’70s and the ’80s both making a comeback at the same time, what better way to make that sartorial crossover literal than with this acid wash denim jacket?
For those fully committed to the cottagecore and prairiecore moment, this acid wash corset-style crop top will help you stand out among the florals and the frills.
This beautiful double-breasted acid wash denim dress with gold detailing is a statement-making dress but can be styled as a coat for dual functionality.
Before You Go…
Acid wash denim, like many things, has had its peaks and valleys in fashion, however what remains clear is its ability to shapeshift to match the decade.
Finding a piece with a comfortable fit will make it easy to style with your favorite pieces in your wardrobe for more decades to come. From the uniform of Californian surfers in the ’60s to a runway gown, acid wash denim has proved that its versatility knows no bounds.
Shop our selection of acid wash denim today.