WHAT ARE JEANS?

When Levi Straus & Jacob Davis created dungarees made of rugged indigo denim, reinforced seams and rivets for farmers and factory workers in the late 1800’s, they may not have realised at the time that they were really onto something. Although in the beginning jeans were meant to be workpants that would work hard and survive under strain, we have James Dean to thank for bringing them to the fashion scene as a symbol of youth rebellion in the 1950’s movie, Rebel without a Cause. After the launch of the movie, teens everywhere wore jeans as a sign of youth and rebellion. During the 1960’s, jeans became more popular as a statement of non conformity; in the 1970’s, jeans became generally accepted for the most casual occasions. Today, they are the mainstream uniform for casual wear.

So, what are jeans? Today, jeans are very complex. Although jeans technically fall into the category of pants, they have enough personality on their own to be categorised as a specific garment.

Jeans today conform in many ways to current fashion. Fabrics, leg styles and details change as fashion changes. In some years jeans have a sense of glamour, and in other years the popular look is grunge.

However, for jeans to be Jeans, they must appear relaxed, comfortable (even if they are not), and flexible to move around in. But more importantly, they must have one or more visible elements of durability and practicality:

Although when we think of jeans the first thing that often comes to mind is the durable fabric called Denim, since the Disco days of the mid late 1970’s we have seen jean’s in every type of fabric from satin & plastic to stone washed & distressed denim. However, although satin is great for dancing to the tunes of Donna Summer or the Bee Gees, I wouldn’t call it durable. Without other elements of durability and practicality, they would not qualify as jeans.

So what would the non denim elements of durability and practicality look like? When Levi Straus and Jacob Davis went to work designing jeans, they had one thing in mind – How do we make a pair of pants last in harsh conditions, and how do we make them practical?

Although denim jeans of today are typically practical wash andwear material, Levi Straus and Jacob Davis took it a step further by considering functional design details like fly-front, western style pockets in the front and patch pockets in the back – all additional details that make jeans practical.

They also went to work on durability. The answer – rivets, top stitching and a ‘V’ shaped yoke at the back to reinforce the points of strain. Although these details were originally incorporated into jeans for durability, these details have become signature details in not only jeans, but now also many other casual clothing styles today.

While jeans were originally created for work, they were worn only for very specific types of work. Then came the 1990’s – the ‘business casual’ era. It started off slow in the early 1990’s, with only a few hi tech companies at first, and then came Jeans Day (in Canada/USA) and then Casual Friday and then Casual Every Day. Then businesses began to feel that they weren’t being taken seriously. In an effort to regain their credibility and to be taken seriously again by their clients, many employers took action and abolished the lower levels of business casual. Since the year 2001, times are changing again. More and more companies are now creating and adopting policies around acceptable business casual wardrobes. In general today, jeans are only accepted for the purpose jeans were originally intended – the most casual work environments, or on specially designated days.

I recently read an online forum asking the question, “Are jeans too casual?” Although there were many great comments, there was one that stood out for me: “To me no matter how expensive jeans are they are casual wear, just like a t-shirt. It’s a matter of perception in our culture. In my opinion, if you are not sure and the fact that this question pops in your mind then you’ll be safer going with a more dressy option, especially if you want to produce a certain impression.” Anonymous.

Employers see this issue the same way.

Kimberly Law AICI, CIP

Association of Image Consultants International (AICI)

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Founding Director of

Institute of Image Training & Testing International (IITTI)

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