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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.


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