Beginning with the adoption of front-buttoned pants as a style of dress in nineteenth-century America (derided as “fornication pants” by Mormon leader Brighman Young), jeans have been worn by every sector of American society, and exported around the world. In JEANS: A Cultural History of an American Icon (Gotham Books; May 2007 - now in paperback), author James Sullivan, a pop culture critic, traces the evolution of jeans from a simple utilitarian garment to what fashion critics have called “the American uniform” arguably a symbol of our civilization & the very embodiment of our society’s ethos.
Sullivan tells the story of the riveted blue jeans’ humble origins as workingmen’s ‘waist overalls’. He then follows their mass production by such regional entrepreneurs as San Francisco’s legendary Levi Strauss and their further popularization as youth clothing and Westernwear in the twentieth century with the rise of such national brands as Lee and Wrangler. Sullivan shows how such film stars as John Wayne, James Dean, Marlon Brando, and Marilyn Monroe evangelized jeans for a new generation, and how in recent decades designer fashion and consumer culture have combined to make them ubiquitous: worn by rappers, hipsters, discount shoppers, and politicians: embodying fashion and cultural ideas of vastly different segments of society.
The author even compiled a list of Top 10 Jeans Innovations:
- Levi's 501: The riveted, five-pocket, button-fly classic
- Wrangler 13MWZ (Men With Zippers): Cowboy up!
- Navy bellbottoms: A maritime tradition inspires future landlubbers
- 1959 Lee "Whites": Busting up Big Blue
- Torn jeans anti-fashion: Credit the Hell's Angels
- Brooke Shields' "Calvins": The most iconic designer-era jean
- Guess? stonewash: Beginnings of the finish wars
- Hip hop baggies (Girbaud): Prison chic
- Diesel "lifestyle" jeans: Chugging past $100/pair
- Frankie B.: The cult of low-rise goes Hollywood
From the rise and fall of natural indigo dyes to the enduring mythos of the cowboy, from the explosion of youth culture in the Baby Boom era to the globalization of the textile industry and the erosion of American manufacturing – JEANS is a history of American culture as told through its pants.
Available at Amazon.com.
- Lesley Scott