Sunday, September 13, 2009


In the past three months, I have thrown away two pairs of jeans. There is something very odd about discarding denims; they're personal, a reflection of one's self and of one's perceived social standing. New or used, they range in price from a few dollars to a small fortune and many people will wear them until they--the jeans--disintegrate.

I don't. I am long past the age where I need to make a denim-related statement and I've frankly never understood where the fashion of torn, ripped, threadbare dungarees originates. Nor, frankly, do I care.

But I am fascinated by the fact that world-wide, with the possible exception of Africa, denims are considered acceptable street-wear. I could find no number on annual jeans sales worldwide, but I'd be willing to bet it's in the hundreds of millions.

According to Wikipedia denim is "a rugged, cotton twill textile, in which the weft passes under two (twi- "double") or more warp fibers. This produces the familiar diagonal ribbing identifiable on the reverse of the fabric, which distinguishes denim from cotton duck. Denim has been in American usage since the late eighteenth century.The word comes from the name of a sturdy fabric called serge, originally made in Nimes, France, by the Andre family. Originally called serge de Nimes, the name was soon shortened to denim. Denim was traditionally colored blue with indigo dye to make blue "jeans," though "jean" then denoted a different, lighter cotton textile; the contemporary use of jean comes from the French word for Genoa, Italy (GĂȘnes), where the first denim trousers were made.

"A similarly woven traditional American cotton textile is the diagonal warp-striped hickory cloth that was once associated with railroadmen's overalls, in which blue or black contrasting with undyed white threads form the woven pattern. Hickory cloth was characterized as being as rugged as hickory wood—not to mention the fact that it was deemed to be worn mainly by "hicks"—although neither may be the origin of that term [from a nickname for "Richard"]. Records of a group of New Yorkers headed for the California gold fields in 1849 show that they took along four "hickory shirts" apiece. Hickory cloth would later furnish the material for some "fatigue" pantaloons and shirts in the American Civil War."

Why do we so love our jeans? I know some people--men and women--who have more than twenty pairs. How do we equate something everyone wears with individuality? It makes no sense, yet there's no doubt that every jeans wearer will attest that the jeans he is wearing are his and no one else's. There are jeans for tiny babies and jeans for the morbidly obese. Rodeo cowboys and movie stars wear them, as do socialites and working moms. At one point, jeans were a standard trading commodity in Eastern Europe and the Soviet bloc, and I remember being in Spain in the early 70s and getting a better than average guitar for two pairs of Levys.

Here's something else: everyone knows a pair of bad jeans at first glance. They're too blue, and the stitching is too yellow. Bad jeans worn at school attract bullies and derision; a bad jeans wearer knows it, and his stride reflects the knowledge. No one struts in bad jeans, and bad jeans can never, ever, become good jeans.

So throwing them away is hard. I tried to make rags out of a worn-out pairs years ago but for some reason, jeans make poor dust cloths. Maybe, like worn out flags, dead jeans should be burned with quiet ceremony. Ashes to ashes, jeans to dust.

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