History of Blue Jeans: What Blue Jeans Mean to Us and Worldwide Popularity

Part 2 of 2: From Rebellion to Designer Labels to Anonymity

The history of blue jeans represented youth rebellion (and rebellious fantasies). Now that everyone wears denim, from Wall Street stock brokers to grape-pickers in California, blue jeans make us anonymous.

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Hollywood movies created the image of the heroic cowboy loner wearing rugged blues.

From Cowboys to Fashion Models in Less Than A Century

This part of the history of blue jeans is ironic, because the population of range riders was declining at the very time that blue jeans were becoming popular.

The cowboy is another icon of American culture. This longer is neither part of city life nor farm life, but the one who rides into town to restore justice.

So this Hollywood-ization of blue jeans gave rise to the vision of the outsider and idealist wearing blue jeans.

Denim Becomes Youth Symbol in the 1950s

Rebellious youth of the 1950s adopted jeans as their fashion statement, modeling themselves on James Dean in Rebel without a Cause.

Next, denim history and the history of blue jeans become a symbol youth culture of the 1960s.

Students cast aside their dress pants, shirts, and ties, or skirts and sweater sets -- uniforms that prepared them for their professional lives.

They tuned in, turned on, and dropped out, and adopted clothing that was comfortable and bright.

Patches, embroidery, and painted designs added unique touches to the individuality of jeans in molding themselves to the wearer's body.

Youth people throughout Europe paid big bucks to adopt this American fashion, from Lebanon to Russia.

Designers and Fashionistas Want to Look Working-Class, Too (Heavens Knows Why)

The working-class history of blue jeans and denim took an strange twist in the 1980s, when high-end labels got into the business.

These hand-aged garments, each one unique, were worn by people eating in the best restaurants and driving cars that cost several times the value of the homes of the people who made them.

It is, perhaps, the modern version of Marie Antoinette at Versailles. The last Queen of France outfitted herself and her court as shepherdesses, so they could play at being pastoral.

The Meanings of Blue Jeans

Salazar speculates that people love blue jeans because they are a way of expressing who we are outside of our work lives. They proclaim, "I am real. I am authentic. I am me."

Many employers and fine restaurants do not allow denim and blue jeans.

Salazar also suggests jeans make us anonymous. I can fade into the crowd. Jean are uni-sex, neither male nor female, and worn by both rich and poor, and thus classless.

History of Denim Is Global

Miller and Woodward claim that the "average American woman owns 8.3 pairs of jeans" (p. 337 citing a 2005 study by Cotton Incorporated) and at least half the people in the United Kingdom wear jeans.

Brazilian jeans are a style unto themselves, made in a stretchy fabric designed to look like blue denim. Miller and Woodward explain that this textile stretches tautly like a body stocking to emphasize a favorite part of a female anatomy in that culture.

Their report concludes: "We have found that firstly,denim is the most ubiquitous textile in the world; secondly, it has become the most personal and intimate of all items of clothing, as reflected in distressing [pre-washing, frays and tears]; and thirdly, at least in some areas, it has become the secure base of most women’s anxious relationshipsto their wardrobe and a common solution to the task of getting dressed on a daily basis” (p. 345).

The world loves blue jeans, and denim is everywhere.

Are Blue Jeans and Denim A Part of Your Life? Share What You Think

I've mostly given up wearing jeans. What about you?

A close friend loves her jeans for everyday tasks. What role does it play in wardrobe? Is it age appropriate at 50? 60? What about 70 and 80?

Do you wear jeans and denim for some things and not others? Would you wear jeans for gardening but not for going to the supermarket? Would you wear a denim blazer but not slacks?

Have you tried Not Your Daughter's Jeans or other pants with figure-shaping panels? We'd love to know.

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Go to Part 1: History of Jeans and Denim History Shape Global Fashion Today

References

John, P. (2006). Indigo reduction in the woad vat: A medieval technology revealed. Biologist, 53(1), 31-35.

Kaufman, L. (2011, Nov. 1). Stone-washed blue jeans (minus the washed). Accessed Mar. 4, 2012 at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/02/science/earth/levi-strauss-tries-to-minimize-water-use.html?_r=3

Miller, D., & Woodward, S. (2007). Manifesto for a study of denim. Social Anthropology/Anthropologie Sociale, 15(3), 335–351.

Salazar, J. B. (2010). Fashioning the historical body: the political economy of denim. Social Semiotics, 20(3), 293-308.

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