Just about everyone in America has worn a pair of jeans, or dungarees as my mother called them. Small children wear those cute Osh-kosh jeans and even old folks where them sometimes. Remember Grandpa Walton in his signature bib overalls? Old folks also sport those "sort of" jeans. You know, they have a wide seat and thigh area and most importantly, an elastic waist band. You can buy brand new jeans for $9 at Good Will Industries or you can pay as much as $238 for a pair at trendy Manhattan Boutiques.
Most agree that Levi Strauss probably initiated Americans love affair with jeans. Strauss watched the hard scrabble miners at the dawn of the gold rush and western cowboys out on the open range and recognized that they needed trousers that could withstand their demanding lifestyles. Strauss traveled to Europe where he had heard about a durable fabric called dungaree. Strauss observed sailors in the Italian Navy clad in dungarees and learned that the fabric was durable, comfortable and washed and dried easily. Strauss learned that denim was created in Nimes, France and was renowned for its durability and comfort. In 1872, Strauss returned to America where he and his partner Jacob Davis patented the copper-riveted dungaree in 1873.
Today, the jeans fashion market share is impressive in America. At its peak in the late 1990's, Levi Jeans alone grossed over $8 billion. Hundreds of other jeans manufacturers account for another ten billion in sales. I doubt that Levi Strauss could have envisioned that his simple, rugged, dungarees would become an American fashion icon.
As Levi's were entering the market place, hoop skirts, wide brimmed hats and spats were still around. While these fashion trends expired long ago, dungarees remain an important clothing preference. You can wear jeans in a variety of causal of semi formal situations without fear. More recently, you can dress jeans up with a shirt and sport coat as a more formal ensemble.
Jeans sometimes act as a fashion vehicle that represents an aspect of our culture that is not entirely understood. What about the jeans that boys wear that are two sizes two large and are worn in a manner that intentionally shows their underwear? In my day, that would have been a great faux paux and cause for great embarrassment. The female equivalent in jeans is low-rise jeans. You know, the ones with a zipper about two inches long and that reveal the extreme low back area and underwear when seated. Jeans also come in a spandex type material that resembles a pair of jeans but fits like a leotard; need I say more?
Recently, there has been a resurgence of torn jeans. Growing up, there were kids that wore torn or patched jeans; I was one of them. Back then, it meant you didn't have the money to get new ones. No one would have paid sensible or ridiculous money to get new jeans that were already ripped.
Incredibly rich celebrities, like soccer star David Beckham, models jeans for Calvin Kline along with a bevy of other celebrities. I'm certain that they wear torn jeans because they get paid lots of money for doing so. Why other people wear torn jeans is beyond my grasp, I guess I really have become an old codger. I would wager that torn jeans will go the way of the Edsel, the Rubik's Cube and the Ron co Salad Master, they will quietly disappear.
As a young man, I would have personally thanked Levi Strauss for inventing jeans. Back then, one of my favorite looks was a North Country girl in a pair of form fitting jeans and a white t-shirt or tank top, they only thing I liked better was when those Levi's were turned into cut offs with a summer tan. Now that I am so old I don't notice such silly things, I'm too busy watching where I walk so that I don't fall down or lose my glasses. Remember all kids count.
Scot Hurlburt can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com