ROCK THE BLUES TEXT BY INDIRA PANDEY PHOTOGRAPHY BY HANSRAJ STYLING BY SNIGDHA PALCHOUDHURI AND INDIRA PANDEY MAKE UP BY TANUSHREE SINGH GRAPHICS BY INDIRA PANDEY AND PALLAVI GUPTA
Whether worn by Presidents or Punks, gold diggers or gun slingers, hippies or rebels without a cause, the blue jeans over the decades have continued to symbolize freedom, independence and the pursuit of self expression. An insight into how the “waist overalls” of the 1800s got smart, clothed the American dream and conquered the world.
A Twilled History
Conventionally the fabric originated independently in two places. The word denim is an anglicized version of the word ‘Serge de Nimes’ meaning cloth from Nimes, a little mill town in 17th century France. While in Italy the fabric was worn by the sailors swabbing the deck. It was called ‘jean’ since the sailors were Genoese. It’s safe to say that the pair of blue jeans cut in the 1880’s had a fair bit of history already woven into its twill before becoming the most universal piece of clothing and an iconic fashion statement.
Oh Susanna buy me a pair of jeans
In 1850 when the gold rush brought Levi Strauss to California with a supply of dry goods, he realized that the miners were more worried about having strong working attires than canvases for their tents and wagons. He had the canvas made into waist overalls that didnâ€™t chafe, were hard to rip, and the tough twill of their weave was light enough to prevent a working manâ€™s muscles from sweating too much. While the miners whistled and sang ballads for their Susannas and Clementines, History was making other interesting plans for their worn down work pants hanging in shacks and behind barn doors.
LITTLE JOE THE WRANGLER In 1872 Jacob Davis asked Strauss to attach copper rivets to his pockets and fly as he thought it might reduce chances of ripping. This revolutionized Levi’s design and differentiated his workpants from those of his competitors. After the rivets, came the zippered flies, first introduced in 1926 by Lee on their “cowboy pants”. These became an instant hit as zipping up was much easier than fumbling with the hooks that were initially use to close the flies. Denim proved to be a practical and sturdy. It was the fabric of manual labor and remained so till the late 1920’s.
The wild wild west
There’s nothing like a man who can saddle his tough pony, clear a saloon full of snake – eyed varmints and get rid of that filthy Tom with one quick gunshot. It was the 1930’s and Hollywood’s cowboys where on the prowl. Gene Autry and John Wayne redefined masculinity forever in blue jeans. On the other hand the damsels were tired of being in distress, by the 1940’s they too had pulled on a pair and elbowed the boys when they came to rescue. It was wartime, the women were called to do manual labor and blue jeans were their uniforms. Nobody did it better than Rosie the Riveter who flexed her muscles for Norman Rockwell’s painting in her denims on the Sunday evening post 29th may 1943.
“Match ‘em with my blue suede shoes”
In the 1950’s the blue jeans spoke of sex and danger. The decade’s sexiest stars cut their looks in denims. Marlon Brando, James Dean, Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe electrified the American youth while parents scorned down upon them for encouraging “juvenile delinquency”.
“I can’t get no satisfaction”
By the 1960’s, blue denim jeans had officially become the uniform of the rebels. It was everywhere and on everyone. The rock ‘n’ roll stars were seen wearing them on album covers and in concerts. The rising tide of feminism and gay rights saw hordes of protesters taking to the streets fighting for their cause in the comfort and style of their favorite blue jeans. The humble blue jeans had become the face of a revolution, representing freedom of expression, resentment against the system and the importance of personal choice.
Give me some of that free lovin’ baby
1970s was the age of the disco and you weren’t anyone if you weren’t in Studio 54 wearing your blue jeans. The rolling stones, Bruce Springsteen, Andy Warhol, Sony and Cher were all hanging out and grooving in their dungarees, bell bottoms and flares. Like Forest Gump jeans were everywhere. The era ended with sexy teenage diva Brooke Shields declaring her allegiance to Calvin Klein. Denims were becoming chic and very very glam, Vogue was now talking about it.
“You can’t touch this”
It was the era of the rock gods who slammed their guitars wearing ripped black denims screaming curses on the establishment. 1980’s was all about the finish with stone wash and acid wash a favorite with the latest crop of teenagers a new breed of angsty rebels. But if the underground was using it as a statement, high fashion had labeled blue jeans as the ultimate style statement. In November 1988 Anna Wintour put blue jeans on the cover of vogue. Denim was once again defining a new cultural movement.
“Oh tell them to shut the hell up”
By the 1990’s denims had become a part and parcel of the society. The biggest change to jeans in the 90s was the silhouette, with hip hop ruling mainstream culture the oversized jean became popular among the youth. The rappers of the time were seen sporting beltless loose pants, referencing the belt confistication of young men entering prison. The hip hypocrisy of it all – the denims were Calvins and the blings around their necks Gucci. Otherwise the denims were no longer the street wear of the radical youth and while trendsetters still editorialized about the merit of blue jeans a good junk of the population didn’t need to be told.As the 20th century came to a close wearing denims had become a 100 year old tradition.
“The Modern blues”
The resurfacing of the century old $46000 pair of jeans prompted Levi’s to return to their archives and produce the Levi’s Vintage Clothing collection taking itself and its consumers down memory lane. Since the turn of the new millennium, the market concept has been premium denim. Straight fit or skin tight jeans are cut to satisfy a fashion and figure conscious generation.In today’s society, jeans can be worn anywhere. Be it for dinner, drinks, grocery shopping or a business lunch; put on a pair and you’re good to go. Over the years denims have evolved and been altered, romanticized and valorized by their different owners. This long lasting love affair has stood the test of time and continues to thrive.
Published on Feb 15, 2011