The Universal Notebook: The age of phony jeans and T-shirts

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When I was in high school in the 1960s we were not allowed to wear blue jeans to school. I distinctly remember thinking that when I grew up I was going to wear nothing but. Now I rarely wear jeans at all.

I have two new pair in a bottom drawer, but I have never worn them. I just keep a couple of torn pair around for dirty work and painting. Maybe I’m in need of jeans therapy, but I just don’t feel like a jeans guy anymore.

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, we didn’t call denim pants jeans at all. They were dungarees. And whether you bought Lee, Levi’s, or Wranglers, they were thick, stiff and very blue. Fashion-conscious girls (and a few fashion-forward boys, I imagine) used to sit in the bathtub with their new jeans on in hopes they would shrink and fade to more form-flattering shapes and shades.

Jean manufacturers caught on pretty quickly, because it wasn’t long before we had pre-washed, acid-washed, and stone-washed jeans in all manner of taper from straight-legged to boot-cut and, worst of all, bell-bottoms. I blush even now when I think of the hip-hugger bell-bottoms I wore (briefly) circa 1968.

The devolution of jeans has continued unabated down the decades such that now we are treated (or assaulted) by crotch-grabbing boys in gang-banger baggies with boxers bared. I get that it’s a hip-hop wannabee thing, but, for the life of me, I can’t figure out how they stay up, or how they could possibly be comfortable to wear.

Jeans should be comfortable, so kudos to President Obama for persisting with his Mom jeans, the baggy, high-waisted pair he took such abuse for wearing to throw out the first pitch of last summer’s All-Star Game. I have just spent the better part of an hour trying to discover the brand his Mom jeans are, but it seems to be a state secret. I’m guessing J.C. Penney.

Personally, I feel uncomfortable wearing any pair of pants that costs much more than $25, so I’m priced out of the post-modern jeans scene. How can a company that calls itself Free People, for instance, keep a straight face charging more than $100 for a pair of holey jeans? For that matter, any fashionistas pouring themselves into $200 to $300 jeans by True Religion, 7 for All Mankind or Diesel need to take their priorities in for a tune-up.

It’s not just that designer jeans aren’t worth the asking price, it’s that they’re so patently phony. These days, young people purchase faux history. Their jeans come already distressed or destroyed. At least I can say I came by the holes in the knees of my jeans honestly.

And T-shirts are just as bad. We all have T-shirts that are well-loved, washed-out, and faded with time. But why would you go to the mall and purchase a new Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirt designed to look as though it’s well-worn and well-loved – and from a team or club you never belonged to and that never existed in the first place?

My bottom line is that a T-shirt should never cost more than $20. So, while I know that Rogue’s Gallery is a great local business success story, I’m not sure how they justify selling $90 T-shirts. If you want that vintage look, try Salvation Army or Goodwill. At least their jeans and T-shirts are authentically shabby and priced accordingly.

Sidebar Elements

The Universal Notebook is Edgar Allen Beem’s personal look at the world around him.