A statement in blue
Jeans may look casual, unruly, dirty, yet they have a place in the wardrobe of the young and the old. Having undergone change in the last century and a half in terms of style, cuts and embellishment, it remains the most favoured garment, says KASHIF ALI, while tracing its history.
FINE THREADS: Embroidery is making its presence felt.
A YOUNGSTER'S wardrobe is unthinkable without jeans. It is not just cool to sport jeans for the Gen-X but it is practical too. This rough-and-tough garment is a garment for all occasions. Sport it with a casual T-shirt for an informal do or a formal or a jazzy shirt or a short kurta (the latest craze) and it turns haute. The older generation too has taken to it in a fairly large way. This `cult' garment has stood the test of time and even one may say adapted to the changing times.
Jeans are a subculture on their own. A symbol of ruggedness and the all-male sentiment, jeans are the most worn garments in the world, first made by a man called Loeb (later Levi) Strauss who arrived in San Francisco in the 1850s during the time of the Californian gold rushes with a load of calico that he intended to use to produce tents for the miners. What he found was a surplus of tents but a shortage of quality material for the production of durable trousers. Teaming up with Jacob Davis in 1873, he managed to acquire a quantity of serge de Nimes, a material whose name was quickly abbreviated to denim. The Great Depression in the late 1920s and early 1930s saw many a farmer hard pressed to earn a living. As a means of raising money `Dude Ranches' were set up in the western farming areas for tourists. Following this, the production of Westerns saw the cowboy look establish itself as a fashion item throughout the United States and later on to a more global market. The five-pocket look, together with sturdy copper rivets, quickly became the working clothes of miners and farmers and persisted until the late1930s after which they made an entry into films. John Wayne, Gene Autrey, Gary Cooper, Hopalong Cassidy, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Elvis Presley all wore and advertised jeans during their careers. Throughout its history, jeans has symbolised the bad boy image.
BASIC BLUE: The one colour that would never go out of style.
Whether it was James Dean, John Wayne, Fonzi (Happy Days) or our present day Mel Gibson, jeans seemed to be the choice of the angry men of movies. On a social level this caused rifts among parents and their jeans-clad children since they were of the view that jeans embodied rebelliousness and a general disrespect for discipline and order. In the 1950s jeans re-emerged as a symbol of rebelliousness and the conflict of youth in films like The Wild One featuring Marlon Brando and Giant starring James Dean. Elvis Presley in Jailhouse Rock featured the wearing of blue jeans and jacket.
As time passed jeans became just jeans and are now a way of life for people of all ages, all walks of life and all classes of society. Seventy years later jeans are still going strong even though denim has been through considerable mutations in the form of pencil cases, lunch boxes, skirts, shirts, vests, ties, bandanas, cummerbunds, shoes, belts, caps and so on. Denim jeans featured embroidery, flower power images, rips, stone wash and dirty effects.
They were personalised, buckled, bib-and-braced, painted, shrunk and stretched. To cut a long description short, customised jeans are the order of the day.
BORN TOUGH: Levi Strauss & Co. CEO Phil Marineau, left, and company Chairman Robert Haas tug on a pair of Levi's.
Since the influx of bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam, grunge came to be the style that was associated with jeans. Torn, faded jeans and the general don't-give-a-damn attitude became the trademark of people who saw grunge as a new life style. What was simply a way of wearing clothes without giving much importance to appearance soon became a beacon for fashion designers. Major market labels like Lee, Levis, Calvin Klein were spending tons of money to create jeans that came pre-faded and torn.
Consequently people are now spending more and more money to look poor. It's like the pizza situation. Pizza used to be the food of poor people in Italy and now a decent pizza doesn't cost less than Rs. 200 . Gone are the days when jeans were available in only one colour and style, blue and straight.
Since the preferred colour of jeans is blue, it is probably worth knowing that the blue dye used in the production of jeans is a synthetically produced indigo. The darker the dye, the more toxic it is. Over time we have seen that jeans have become skin tight and anti-fits, there are boot cut jeans and stretch jeans. Jeans come in colours ranging from black to purple (courtesy Salman Khan).
Plain jeans are definitely boring and the `in' thing is to wear jeans with embroidery on them. Jeans with dyed patterns on them are nothing new either. "I have jeans which were blue when I bought them and then
I had some designs dyed on the legs," says Sid, a graduate from Wesley Degree College. His reason for doing it, "Normal is boring". Looking at the current trend dyed jeans are also becoming `normal'. As with anything in Hyderabad, except for humans, jeans have also undergone the process of duplication. "I can't afford to spend 1400 bucks on a pair of jeans," says Vijay, a graduate working in a call centre. "Instead I buy a pair of decent and durable jeans at half the price from a regular jeans shop."
NEW LOOK: Denim takes on new avatars.
The music industry and the fashion industry are linked to each other. In the early Eighties we had rock stars advertising jeans, we now have supermodels replacing them. The year 1998 saw a fall in the sale of jeans due to the introduction of cargo pants. Ever since hip-hop shot into the limelight in a big way, there has been a sharp decline in the number of jeans buyers. Jeans are now being threatened by the-below-the-belt, literally, clothing styles of the hip-hop artistes.
Instead of jeans we have people opting for anti-fit pants, cargo pants, and dungarees. "It's the hip-hop version of grunge," says Abhi, an engineering student. "Whereas grunge was all about being detached, hip-hop is all about being intentionally laid back," he explains. So once again we have the proponents of the music industry dictating the moods of the fashion industry.
Where then does the future for denim jeans lie? Is it because of the approach presently being adopted by the major fashion houses of Armani, Calvin Klein, and Guess, who target the 15-24 age group? Is it in the strategies of long-term suppliers such as Levis who still hang desperately to their time-worn image of reliability, durability and tradition. Perhaps the future of the jeans is really in the hands of the customer who dictates what style he wants. In other words, jeans are here to stay as long as there is room for creative customisation.
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