EVOLUTION OF THE UBIQUITOUS JEANS UNIFORM
The scrunchie is back. I realize the 1980s-era, cloth-covered hair elastic never actually left plenty of ponytails but “it’s back” in the sense that hip young women and men are wearing them and Lululemon is selling them for $16 a pop.
Rommy Revson must be thrilled. She patented the scrunchie way back in 1987 after noticing the fabric-covered elastic in her pajama pants. It was a new chapter for the former singer whose prior claim to fame was opening for Sinatra, once. Revson initially called her invention Schunchie after her dog.
It’s fine for someone to discover the scrunchie now, but I can’t go back there. The older you get, the more that cardinal “been up and down the cat walk a few times” fashion rule applies: If you wore it the first time around, leave it be this time. So for me that means no shoulder pads, Bananarama baggy overalls or sleek stirrup pants (if you were tall they always bagged in the crotch anyway).
The exception to this rule is jeans. They have been part of everyone’s uniform for decades. From bad boys to mom jeans to rock ’n’ roll icons (or all three in the case of Chrissie Hynde), jeans are ubiquitous. In fact, it’s been estimated that on any given day of the week, the majority of people on the planet are wearing jeans.
The Global Denim Project (a group of British anthropologists who encourage other academics to study jeans) suggest that globally, people wear jeans three and a half days a week. In Germany, they wear them 5.2 days of the week (am guessing the .2 is a weekday, maybe a Tuesday afternoon?). More than 70 per cent of Brazilians say they love wearing jeans but only 27 per cent of people in India dig wearing the denim.
The worldwide love affair with jeans began around 1873 when Levi Strauss patented his Double X denim trousers. The rugged pants were reinforced with little copper rivets here and there to make them extra sturdy to wear while toiling in the mines, building a railway or plowing the fields. To drive the point home, Strauss advertised his new pants with images of two horses hooked up to a pair of jeans trying to rip them apart.
“That sort of tells you what the gist was of these ads,” says Emma McClendon, a curator at Fashion Institute of Technology’s Museum and author of Denim:
Fashion’s Frontier. “It’s all about how durable they are. How good they are as tough work wear.” That image with the two horses is still around. Just look at that leather patch on the back of your 501s. But you can’t always count on the durability anymore.
I wonder what Strauss would think if he walked into a Levi’s store today and saw shelf after shelf of $120 distressed and artfully ripped up jeans.
We used to earn our faded blue and torn knees fair and square. But things move faster now. “It’s not that surprising that companies recognized the average consumer is not patient enough to wear out their jeans naturally,” McClendon told CBC. “So what we’re seeing is that the aging process has been artificially accelerated and industrialized.”
Not only is it a little like cheating, sanding and/or repeatedly washing jeans in chemicals (and loads of water) is hell on the factory workers, not to mention the environment (and if you’re tall, the ripped knee is always in the wrong place anyway).
The Global Denim Project reports the average American owns seven pairs of jeans, the average Brazilian owns six, Europeans own five and Japanese own three.
This average Canadian owns at least a dozen pairs, but in my defence they’re all different. You got your boot cut, your flares and your skinny jeans. There’s a few low rise, a couple of highrise and a whole bunch somewhere in between. And, yes, I have a few pre-ripped ones.
I will soon have one fewer pair of jeans though; they’re headed to the consignment store. They were an impulse buy (half price!). I let the stylish young clerk convince me that I looked the height of fashion in the high-waisted, flared, anklelength jeans. Except every time I put them on I feel like I’m back in Grade 7 after a growth spurt and my flares are suddenly too short and all the kids are pointing at my flood pants. Like I said, you can’t go back to looks you rocked before. But maybe we could try to go back to the days when we wear our jeans long enough to blow out the knee and fade out the butt all by ourselves.
Denim fashion has changed over the years, from workmanlike to bell-bottoms, stovepipe, high-waisted and now pre-ripped. It’s a change from when we used to earn our faded blue and torn knees, writes Jennifer Allford.