Post # 374    JEANEOLOGY (Redux) or (From Gold Rush to Gaga)

We are in awe at the seemingly infinite number of subjects, which one might deem, worthy of comment. As this note’s number will indicate, we have written on a plethora of separate topics thought to be of interest. In rare cases, for various reasons, which we judged material, we have written on topics previously dealt with; these are all signified by the word, “Redux.” Our compendium of short essays, will indicate very few, perhaps, three, instances of such revisits; in each case, we have offered a rationale. The following note, is such a redux of a much earlier short essay ”JEANEOLOGY.” Before we proceed, we will explain the basic motivation or, rationale.

Recently, we were passengers on a New York City Bus, heading East, on Fifth Avenue, to the 42nd Street Library, with the intent to verify a questionable item of research. We, as usual, had our head submerged in a novel, only glancing up, from time to time to ascertain the location. When the bus reached 59th Street, we looked up, as we often do at such point, to see the south end of Central Park, and the Plaza Hotel. It is an interesting area, normally containing many well -dressed New Yorkers and out of towners. We observed, entering the bus, a rather attractive woman, probably late thirties, well put together, sporting an attractive striped blazer, expensive accessories, and costly looking jeans; the latter, to our amazement, revealed torn areas at both knees, and a partially torn area, showing at her left leg, above the ankle. We are absolutely certain, considering her elegant hairstyle and costly outfit, that her motivation was to dress, stylishly, and au courant. The apparently intentional and outlandish (to us) choice to accompany such a beautiful outfit with “stylishly” (?) ragged jeans, is this note’s promised motivation.

Our amazement was founded upon the obvious and fundamental incongruity, evident, as between the stylish hairdo, expensive looking accessories, comprising an attractive handbag, sunglasses, jewelry, attractively striped blazer, and the selection of torn jeans; by an adult consumer who appeared to have sufficient means to dress in any manner desired. As explained, below, we experienced an unusual combination of amazement and sadness.

It would seem useful to our theme, to revisit the historical background, relating to the subject, mutating item of apparel, lately referred to as “jeans,” most especially with reference to its exotic butterfly-like metamorphosis, since its first appearance, in the mid -19th century as (merely) durable work pants.

Schoolbooks recount that, in 1848, gold was discovered at John Sutter’s farm in California. “Get rich” prospectors from all over the country, as well as abroad, abandoned their former lives, for the desperate dream of finding gold and becoming rich. The epoch was, as known, was called “The California Gold Rush.” Ironically, while there were some successes, in discovering gold, research shows that, in general, the only financially successful people were the merchants who sold the tents, tools, lanterns, blankets, clothing and other necessaries, to the feverishly driven prospectors.

Prospectors required the usual necessaries of life, including, shelter, warmth, food and clothing. The equipment purchased by them, in addition to the implements required for digging or panning, was, the practical need for durable work clothes. In the hard rock wasteland, clothing, especially pants, tore quickly and constituted a serious problem. An ingenious, inventive, entrepreneur, the Austrian- born, American, Levi-Strauss, succeeded in developing a durable material, called denim, and attaching to it, at the places most prone to tear, metal discs, which reinforced the stronger material, resulting in durable work pants. These stronger workpants, originally called, “waist trousers,” later, “dungarees,” and “Levi’s” fit the bill and were universally sold as work trousers for workmen, cowboys, farmers, wherever hard labor called for durable clothing.

The durable trousers, also known as “blue jeans,” were commonly worn by farmers and cowboys, and later, children and teenagers. Reportedly, Vogue Magazine, in the 1930’s, initiated the idea of the use of denim pants as a fashion item, and not just a practical fabric for workmen and cowboys. Since that time, the category of “designer jeans” was, acceptably created. Jeans began to be tailored in a different manner and evolved into status symbols, with designer names on the back of the pants, or on the front pocket. They have since then, apparently, become a fashion essential, and, reportedly, are in the closets of fashion conscious women and men. We have been advised that some designer jeans sell for slightly less than $1,000.

Returning to our critical observation on the bus, and the expensively and stylishly dressed female passenger, with the torn jeans, we would like to offer a few, personal observations. We should, in fairness, note that we are aware of the accepted practice of the marketing and sale of distressed and torn “designer” jeans, at observably, high prices, especially to young girls and women.

When we were young, holes in one’s dungarees meant damage from use or accidental ripping; it also meant, certain reprimand from economically challenged parents. With this rather modest background, we have great difficulty in apprehending torn dungarees, as a purported fashion statement. It boggles the mind to contemplate the apparently exorbitant prices, willingly paid for such “damaged” pants (even if they are dubbed with the elegant name of “designer jeans”). The beautiful woman on the bus, honestly, appeared to us, freakish and possibly schizophrenic.

We can hardly imagine the extent of frustration and confusion on the part of M. Levi Strauss, (if he were alive) whose universally lauded, lifetime achievement, was the useful development of durable, non-tear, dungarees.

We also mentioned, that in addition to the subtle ironic humor of the situation, it also made us sad. We have always prized, the examined and secure, sense of self-identity and mature human perspective. The acceptance of torn and distressed clothing as the “ne plus ultra” of fashion, appears to us, to be a disappointing commentary on individual insecurity, not dissimilar to the children’s (instructive) tale of the “Emperor’s New Clothes.”


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Retired from the practice of law'; former Editor in Chief of Law Review; Phi Beta Kappa; Poet. Essayist Literature Student and enthusiast.

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