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A POTTED HISTORY OF JEANS
Struttin’ Down Memory Lane – A Potted History of Jeans, Denim and Style! Jeans once the province of subcultures alone, are now mainstream fashion items pretty much indiscriminate of your own perceived social “tribe”. The type of denim trouser you wear is likely to vary according to the group or groups with which you align yourself – and of course there’s some crossover between most. Hip hop, for example, is baggy, baggier or crazy baggy and nothing else will do. But you can wear baggy jeans without being a hip hop fan.
So the jean was an article of rebellion 60 years ago, when emergent subcultures (the first real “teenagers”) began wearing them.
Previously, denim trousers had been worn by working cowboys and then factory workers in the US – with the oldest recorded pair being worn by an Italian, Giuseppe Garibaldi, in 1860. Incidentally the word “jean” is thought to derive from Genoa, which is where denim originally came from.
In the 1950s, respectable people wore suits and suit trousers. The emerging teenage subculture, fueled by an emergent rock n roll,On the Waterfront, and a general desire to forestall the tribulations of adulthood, adopted the trouser of the disenfranchised instead. Presumably the symbolic power of jeans at the time was one of opposition.
By wearing the uniform of the underclasses, the teenagers signaled their antipathy to the “straight” life of their parents.
The alignment of denim trousers with a perceived underclass mentality, or more accurately an antipathy to the mores of what are seen as the ruling classes, has continued for some tribes ever since. The hip hop fan alluded to earlier takes his or her baggy denim (wittingly or otherwise) as a reference to the over-sized clothes given to inmates in US correctional facilities. Where, given that you don’t know who will be incarcerated, or when, it is more sensible to order the biggest sizes in bulk and know your prison denim will fit every inmate.
Many modern tribes take their denim references from less violent or overtly subversive tropes. For example, currently hip styles include flared jeans, a direct reference to the late 60s and early 70s, when the teenage rebellion threatened to take over the world; slouchy fits and dungarees, which were popular with the kids in the 80s; and tight fits, last seen gracing the sweaty bodies of punks as they railed against the establishment in the crossover period between rock n roll and hip hop.
Fashion as a whole seems to be looking backwards at the moment. The high street awash with old style fonts and packaging. Clothing trends are going the same way, with big colourful tees and mix and match looks last seen in the 1980s. The jeans for today are skinny for the guys and girls both, plenty of colours – or, again for both sexes, jean shorts in the summer.
When I was young enough to need to maintain my style against whatever was hot that season, it was all punk and rockers. Now it seems to be 80s kids – like the cast of The Breakfast Club is wandering around everywhere I go. So where next for trendy jeans? Back to the 60s – or is hip hop going to make a comeback?