A few years back, George W. Bush, in between bankrupting his own country and laying waste to a couple of others, paused to make a dress code pronouncement. “There will be,” thundered the 43rd president, “no blue jeans in the Oval Office.”
If a backhanded endorsement like that didn’t guarantee fashion immortality, nothing could. That snorting sound? Old Levi Strauss chortling in his grave.
Mister Strauss is the man who started the whole blue jeans phenomenon. A century and a half ago, during the Great Gold Rush, Strauss was just another San Francisco Johnnie-Come-Lately cloth merchant trying to turn a buck by selling dry goods to gold seekers. He met a tailor who had come up with a way to use copper rivets to reinforce blue denim work pants. Strauss advanced him the $68 dollar patent fee in return for half-interest in the business. In 1873 a factory with Levi Strauss & Company hand-painted on a wooden board over the entrance opened its doors. All it made was blue jeans.
Last year, $16 billion dollars worth of blue jeans were sold in the U.S. And that’s the BAD news. Sales actually fell six percent last year, for the first time in decades. Not that they’ll disappear anytime soon. Blue jeans still account for 20 percent of annual sales in U.S. department stores.
Old Levi would have trouble seeing the connection with the product he sold to gold miners back in the 1870’s. Levi’s originals were no-nonsense and workmanlike, built for durability, not looks. And it was strictly one style-fits-all. Today? If you’ve got the bucks you can choose from skinny, wide-leg, boot-cut, tapered, bell-bottom, drainpipe, low-rise or hip-hugger. Not to mention a few non-Levis brands like Lee and Wrangler.
Modern blue jeans even have the Aging Boomer market covered. Has gravity had its way with you, leaving you with a pot belly, bowed legs and a withered butt? Chill, bro — we’ve got you covered. You can still look trendy in ‘relaxed’, or ‘stretch’ jeans.
You can buy jeans that look like they just came out of the store, but that’s not considered terribly cool. That’s why many customers opt for jeans that come pre-ripped and factory-distressed. Jeans that make you look like you’ve been dragged behind a runaway stage coach for a couple of miles.
Naturally you’ll pay more for that. In fact, if you’re a real jeans fanatic it’s not hard to drop $300 for a pair of state of the art blue jeans.
That would have Levi rotating in his grave. That, and this quote:
“I wish I had invented blue jeans: the most spectacular, the most practical, the most relaxed and nonchalant. They have expression, modesty, sex appeal, simplicity — all I hope for in my clothes.”
I didn’t say that. Those are the words of fashion giant Yves Saint-Laurent. Not only was he a giant in the fashion world, he was a man who looked good in skinny jeans. Yves knew the secret: You only need one thing to look good in skinny jeans.
— Arthur Black lives on Saltspring Island. His column appears Tuesday in The NEWS. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.