Try it. Who knows, you may even like it.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

"I have a history with denim, but...."

By Dick Hirsch

It appears that I am the only one in the neighborhood who doesn’t own a pair of blue jeans. That is not a situation I just noticed because I have lived in other neighborhoods where the same observation could have been made.

Over the years I’ve been periodically urged to acquire jeans, thus enhancing my appearance and becoming somewhat more fashionably attired. I have never agreed with that prediction so I have resisted all such suggestions. Yes, I know jeans are considered by the majority to be an essential element in the wardrobes of men and women, boys and girls, teens and collegians, professionals and hourly workers, baby boomers and senior citizens. However, I have never believed that jeans had any fashionable qualities.

My wife wears jeans, my children wear jeans and some of my best friends wear jeans, but they don’t interest me. Perhaps if I explain my innermost feelings about jeans people will stop recommending that I buy a pair.

At the outset, I should admit that once upon a time, several years ago, I came under intense pressure to explore the world of blue jeans as a prelude to the possible purchase of a pair. So I browsed in one of those stores that are open for business in malls all over the country. I knew that jeans were one of their specialties. Until that day, I never had any real comprehension of the number of different styles that comprise the jeans category. They are all cut from blue denim, true, but some have skinny legs, some have baggy legs, some have a low rise and some have a high rise, some are long and made to reach the floor and others are designed to break on the shoes.

In addition, many are made for thin people while others are best suited for thick people. As you may have noticed, there are many more of us thicks than thins and that observation is not original. It is supported by recurring statistical evidence on the shape of the Americans.

The manufacturers and retailers of blue jeans recognized long ago that they could not be successful by selling jeans only to thins so they embarked on a concerted effort to sell them to whoever expressed interest, regardless of their body silhouette.
I recall overhearing a salesperson making an assessment of a pair of jeans being tried on by a customer in that store.

“That’s a very nice fit for you,” the salesperson said.

I heard it with my own ears. I wasn’t eavesdropping, but it was a judgment rendered in an authoritative manner. It was absolutely false.

Yes, there are a few people who look good in jeans. More than you can count, but really just a few. I have never believed I would fall in to that category, so I long ago vowed to avoid them.

As a result of my background, I actually have a blue jean heritage, only when I was wearing them years ago they were known as dungarees. The term dungaree has been on the verge of obsolescence for years, but the dictionary still defines dungarees as “work clothes, overalls, etc., of blue denim, see blue jeans.” That definition is more specific: “blue denim trousers having reinforced pockets and seams, worn originally as work pants but now also as leisure attire.”

During my boyhood my father was a salesman representing manufacturers of work clothes as well as other apparel items. I think most of the customers for dungarees were working men, including carpenters, bricklayers, farmers and others, but as I grew he would keep me supplied with dungarees. Their use was restricted: wearing to school was strictly prohibited by my parents. Dungarees were limited to after school recreational wear only and in my neighborhood I believe I was the only boy wearing them. It’s difficult to visualize, I know, but the others were wearing regular pants. It was embarrassing because dungarees were shown in the movies only being worn by farmers, gas station attendants and cowboys, never city boys.

The denim must have been heavier then because those dungarees were both stiff and hot. The manufacturers had not yet envisioned the concept of stone washing and distressing the fabric to make the jeans feel and appear older, like hand-me-downs from riders on the Chisholm Trail. You’ve probably heard tales of jeans that were so stiff they could stand by themselves. It was true.

So you see, although I have a past with blue jeans in the dungaree days, jeans and I have no present and any future relationship is extremely doubtful.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A slogan remembered: "Not a cough in a carload."

By Dick Hirsch

Come with me now to those memorable days of yesteryear when your parents smoked and knew how to field strip a cigarette butt so they wouldn’t litter the backyard. Their last official act each evening at bedtime was to empty the ashtrays.

It’s both astounding and hilarious to think of it now, realizing how popular smoking was and how the tobacco companies ran wild, mercilessly promoting their brands, dedicated to addicting the young, thus creating perennial customers. Generations have passed since then and many people have no recollection or knowledge of those days. Athletes, movie stars, other celebrities and some doctors were paid to appeared in cigarette ads, giving testimonials touting certain brands for supposedly being mellower, milder, smoother, or tastier.

Innocence abounded then, although I do remember getting advice from a fellow eighth grader that “smoking could stunt your growth.” We know much more now than they did then. Cigarette packs have carried a warning from the Surgeon General for over 40 years, citing health risks. Taxes, both federal and state, have been raised to the point where a pack costs around 30 times more than it did in the old days.

The lethal characteristics of smoking have been widely researched and reported for years. Despite the best efforts of the tobacco industry the number of regular smokers in the US has slowly dwindled to around 21 percent; still, many of the young are enlisting, placidly unaware of their own mortality. The status of smokers has been downgraded to second class citizens. They cannot smoke in restaurants and public places and they are seen huddling together outside, eagerly inhaling until it is time to hurry back inside.

Today there are fewer places selling cigarettes. Stores on Indian reservations are major outlets because they don’t collect state taxes. Convenience stores continue to be primary sources, but decades ago neighborhood drug stores were the favored places to buy a pack or a carton. Hindsight suggests how ironic it was to have pharmacists as the major tobacco dealers.

This was all brought to mind during a visit to a small exhibition in Buffalo supported by the Roswell Park Cancer Institute. It displayed a large collection of signs and premiums used to advertise and promote cigarette sales. The memories came drifting back of the slogan that captivated a generation: “L.S.M.F.T.,” which every man, woman and child could translate, “Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco.”

Coincidentally, a Lucky Strike smoker was on duty as a volunteer greeting visitors the day I visited the exhibit. His name is Richard Schneider and he was perfectly suited for the role, sitting there with his oxygen tank enabling him to breathe and discuss his smoking history without major effort. Schneider, 82, was accompanied by his wife, Sharon. He described himself as a three pack a day smoker for over 35 years.

“Yes, I smoked Luckies, but I really smoked them all....Chesterfield, Camels, Philip Morris, Old Gold...hell, they were only about 20 or 25 cents a pack. I remember when Pall Mall came out with a longer cigarette and people rushed to try them. Nobody smoked filtered cigarettes in those days.”

The years of smoking weakened Schneider’s respiratory system but he was able to continue his work as an insurance agent. A few years ago as his condition deteriorated the oxygen tank and the delicate line connecting to his nostrils became an essential part of his life. The day of my visit was the only time Schneider himself became a part of the exhibit, surrounded by mementoes from the bad old days:

“Winston tastes good, like a cigarette should...Salem, move up to the refreshest...Merit, reach for a world of flavor...20,679 physicians say Luckies are less irritating....Old Gold, not a cough in a carload...For your throat’s sake, switch from ‘hots’ to Kools...More scientists and educators smoke Kent with the micronite filter than any other cigarette...38,381 dentists say smoke Viceroys, (they) filter the smoke, can never stain your teeth...More doctors smoke Camels...Virginia Slims: You’ve come a long way, baby...Newport, alive with pleasure...L & M, the filter cigarette for people who really like to smoke...”

It was a golden age of sloganeering until legislation restricted tobacco ads on television and in magazines and newspapers. The emphasis then switched to in-store displays and premiums. Persistence can be a sinister quality.