Archive for March, 2011

Forever in Blue Jeans?

The 1979 Neil Diamond song, “Forever in Blue Jeans,” has little to do with anything beyond the title of this post. The song is a paean to the virtues of simple things, like blue jeans, to be preferred over more expensive clothing, as long as one has one’s beloved by one’s side. Well, of course. Except that blue jeans are way, way more than inexpensive clothing in our world-wide culture. Will blue jeans continue to be as popular in the decades and centuries to come as they are today? Will we, as a species, truly and literally be forever in blue jeans?

Let’s start with a bit of history, gleaned from Wikipedia and the Levi-Strauss websites.

Our modern-day jeans date back to the Renaissance, when sailors wore denim trousers that were sold in Genoa, Italy.  “Blue jeans” equals “bleu de Genes.” The word denim comes from “De Nimes,” which implies that the fabric was woven in De Nimes, France. Some fabric came from Dongari Killa, India, hence, “dungaree.” Search these terms for more details on the word derivations.

This coarse fabric was favored for its wearability and durability. The wikipedia article states, “These trousers were laundered by dragging them in nets behind the ship, and the sea water and sun would gradually bleach them to white.” (No doubt they were then sold as “stonewashed” or “distressed,” and then sold for a high price at the local mall.)

From the Renaissance, we jump to the 19th century, and Levi Strauss, who I thought had invented blue jeans for cowboys and the miners of the California Gold Rush. Not true. The company was responsible, however, for the innovation of copper riveting at stress points at the pockets. From then, until the mid 20th century, dungarees or blue jeans were seen as workingman’s wear. Until the mid-1950’s, you were otherwise unlikely to wear blue jeans unless you were a small boy, or were riding a horse.

In the mid-1950’s, teenagers began wearing jeans for casual attire, and with some waxing and waning and waxing again, the fashion made its way through the sixties, when it took off and never went away.

Denim is as durable now as it was in the 15th century. It looks good whether new or old, dark or faded. You have your choice of wide leg, narrow, boot cut, flare, hi-rise, low rise, natural waist. They can be very long (to be worn with high heels), ankle-length, knee-length, or Daisy Dukes, and they can be cut-offs or hemmed. They don’t have to be pants; they can be a skirt or a jacket. Denim can be shredded, feathered, and stained. This is a fabric that looks great no matter what you do to it.

Blue denim of any wash looks good with any other color, even colors normally difficult to pair with blue. I would not normally pair dark blue and black, for instance, but blue jeans with a black leather jacket is a decent outfit almost anywhere. Blue jeans are to clothing as pasta is to food–made up of a seemingly infinite number of shapes and types, and compatible with any sauce or accessory.

It’s hard to see how any of this will go away any time soon. But dare we believe that we will, in the year 2323 (assuming our species and planet is not consumed by Armageddon), be walking about Buenos Aires, Denver, Beijing, or Cairo in blue jeans similar to what we are wearing today? What if we manage to colonize the Solar System? Will we wear blue jeans on Mars?

Obviously Mars, or the Moon habitats would have to be domed and pressurized, because even the most fashionable jeans won’t protect you from the vacuum, extremes in temperature, or from cosmic radiation. But what better to wear while plowing your land allotment on a terraformed Mars than your trusty Levis?

In the end, I don’t believe there is any way to predict fashion, and no matter how ubiquitous blue jeans become, acceptance can mysteriously disappear.

Back in the late ’70s, I had a pair of “dress jeans.” They were dark blue, very wide leg, high-waisted, and ironed to obtain a knife-sharp crease. They were to be worn with big shoes and a dressy blouse. I wore this outfit to a party–the invitation read “casual”– and my husband wore dressy blue jeans too, a less ridiculous male version of the style of the time. We arrived at the party and were surprised to see that everyone was “dressy casual.”  Very dressy casual.  No other jeans in sight. Yes, we felt kinda weird, and yes, I know it was stupid to feel weird, but we were young, and we did.

So perhaps Lt. Uhura ought not have her ice skating costume-ish Star Fleet redone in acid-wash. It may not be the done thing at all, no matter how plausible it would seem right now.

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