It’s hard to believe that a woman whose life spanned nearly the entire 20th century and who loved and lost at the uppermost echelons of society could be credited with introducing something so seemingly mundane into the mainstream, but such is the legacy of the magnificent Gloria Vanderbilt, who died today in New York City at the age of 95.
If you look down (or perhaps check the items in your online shopping cart), odds are there is a pair of jeans to be found. According to Vanessa Friedman’s tribute in The New York Times fashion section, this is due in large part to the ingenuity of Gloria Vanderbilt, socialite, artist, author, and, yes, the first “celebrity” to lend her moniker to a pair of previously perfunctory work pants. Although she lacked formal design training, according to Friedman, Vanderbilt “was unsnobby enough, and smart enough, and had been in [Vogue] enough, to see the opportunity” in the denim industry, ushering in a sleek-yet-sturdy staple to the silhouette of women’s wardrobes in the 1970s, and even outselling powerhouses including Calvin Klein, Jordache, and Sasson by the end of the decade.
Propelled by cheeky advertisements, smart product placement, and her own celebrity endorsement, it’s hardly a surprise that the exact style of Gloria Vanderbilt’s designer denim—high waisted, slightly bootcut with a bit of stretch—is still popular today. What is surprising, however, is how few people know that this piece of fashion history is just a footnote on the life of an American icon.
So, the next time you slip into your favorite pair of jeans, pause and give thanks to the “poor little rich girl” who made stretch denim an integral part of the American woman’s wardrobe.
And, because you can never truly have enough jeans, we’ve rounded up the 17 best-selling pairs of stretchy, high-waisted, and bootcut denim (including several that combine all three qualities in Vanderbilt's signature style) on Who What Wear for you to shop below: