Wednesday, November 21, 2012

bleu. de. Genes

A staple in every wardrobe. A classic symbol of the American West.

With boots, slops, heels, sandals. Go casual. Go corporate. You can always (yes ALWAYS) rock them. Once you know what you love about them – you can buy a new version, cutting-edge colour, or exuberant print.

I don’t stop fantasizing about them through spring, summer, autumn and winter. Any given day or month – someone out there is wearing them. They are my absolute clothing obsession. I have tried on, washed, studied, pulled, opened up, dissected, conducted fit tests and compared brands of jeans.
And I don’t stop falling in love.

Jeans are just trousers made from denim or dungaree cloth. Jeans were invented by Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss in 1873 and they were a particular style of pants called “blue jeans”.

The word ‘jeans’ comes from the French phrase ‘bleu de Genes’ meaning ‘the blue of Genoa’ which was made in Europe. The material, called jean, was named after sailors from Genoa in Italy, because they wore clothes made from it. In the 18th century workers wore it because the material was very strong and it did not wear out easily. It was usually dyed with a dye called indigo which made jean cloth a dark blue colour. In 1853, a man called Leob Strauss left his home in New York and moved to San Francisco where he started a wholesale business, supplying clothes. Strauss later changed his name from Leob to Levi. At that time a Nevada tailor called Jacob Davis was asked to make a pair of sturdy trousers for a local woodcutter. He struck upon the idea of reinforcing them with rivets and this proved them extremely durable and were soon in high demand. Davis realized the potential of his product but couldn’t afford to patent it. He wrote to his fabric supplier, the San Francisco merchant, Levi Strauss, for help. This is what he wrote (no jokes):

“The secratt of them Pents is the Rivits that I put in those Pockots,” he said. “I cannot make them up fast enough… My nabors are getting yealouse of these success.”

Levi’s, as the patented trousers became known, were made in two fabrics, cotton duck (similar to canvas) and denim. Denim sold because it was more comfortable, the denim changed as it aged and the way it wore reflected people’s lives. Because of its fading quality, denim was sold raw, unwashed and untreated, and each pair began telling the story of the worker and his work. Danny Miller, an unstudied anthropologist who published Blue Jeans says, “Jeans are the most personal thing you can wear,” says Miller. “They wear the body.”

In the 1930’s, Hollywood made lots of western movies where cowboys wore jeans. This made them popular amongst Americans. In the 1950’s denim became popular with young people. It was a symbol of the teenage rebel in TV programmes and movies (e.g. James Dean in his 1955 Rebel Without a Cause). A subversive counter-culture. Lynn Downey, who is an archivist and historian at Levi Strauss & Co says, “They freaked out the establishment of the United States because they were not conforming and they were wearing jeans.” Some schools in the USA even banned students from wearing denim. 

During the 1960’s jeans had also spread to the American middle class. Protesting college students began wearing them as a token of solidarity with the working class – those most affected by racial discrimination and war. Jeans were a symbol of democratization and put different classes on an equal playing field. Affordable, hard-wearing, looked good old or new and didn’t have to be washed or ironed often. This is where I believe jeans began being all things to all people. In the 1970’s, as regulations on world trade became more relaxed, jeans started to be made more and also became cheaper as workers were paid very little. In the 1980’s jeans finally became high fashion clothing as famous designers started making their own styles of jeans, with their own labels. Denim took to the catwalks and sales went up and up and up….

Levis. Guess. Sissy boy. Calvin Klein. Diesel. True Religion. Wrangler. Lee Jeans. Rider Jeans. Legendary Gold Jeans. Lee Dungarees. J Brand Jeans. Rustler Jeans. Black Orchid. DKNY Jeans. RedEngine. Rockstar. Stitchs. WESC. Antik. DenimofVirtue. Monarchy. Yanuk. IronArmy. Chloe Deschanel. Gridlock. Rock Revival. Brown Label Jeans. Ed Hardy Jeans… AND the list goes on…

The constant quality of creations, the obsessive attention to the fit. Preppy, edgy, styling, elegant, basic, durable, skinny, loose, high waisted, maternity, vintage washed, straight leg, super stretch, modern wide, tapered, flare, boot-cut, classic or flattering fit. Not dependent on height, race, intellect or athletic ability.

George W Bush and Tony Blair went out on the street in denim during their first summit meeting as they wanted to state that they were just regular guys. Not sure it worked very well (I can’t picture that at ALL) but the fact is that jeans can still be used to make a statement. For instance, Rockstar jeans have an ethos I love:

“Rockstar was born out of a never say die attitude and a belief that being a rockstar is an attitude not necessarily reserved for musicians only. A rockstar is someone who has an iconoclastic approach to the world. Rockstars follow their own path and do things their own way.”

I tried the rockstar thing in highschool. I decided to do something completely different with a pair of non-branded jeans I loved but was oh-so-bored with. At the time I was busy with a very detailed pen-and-ink piece for art. Hence, I decided to simply draw on my jeans (haha). I did a rather random design on the one leg and fell in love with those jeans all over again. My incredible workmanship got everyone asking where I’d bought them from which was a glorious surprise – specifically because East London is small and it can be tricky to find clothing that doesn’t blend into every other teenage girl.

I’m all about kick-ass, sexy, superb fitting, stylish looking, completely SWAG jeans. They must make me look skinny and my ass look amazing. Their quality should be off the charts to make their expense worth it. I have established a new standard of looking good and feeling good in jeans. Jeans reflect us and they reflect the lives that we’ve had in them.

In the words of Brooke Shields, “If my jeans could talk I’d be ruined” (1980 Jeans advertisement).

So here’s to the cowboys, farmers, teachers, doctors, mothers, students, retired folk, skaters, supermodels, presidents, hippies, punks, politicians and housewives…
Here’s to the jeans we wear.
Here’s to the stories they tell.


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