The Tyranny of the Jean

There’s a reason why old ladies wear polyester pants with elastic waists. It’s not because they are old. It’s because they are wise. They figured out that the long-term fad of wearing denim trousers is a crock of you-know-what.

How did we get here? Jeans were originally used for heavy-duty work such as swabbing decks and cleaning out horse barns. They became required uniforms for prison inmates and factory workers. Their closely woven fabric protects the wearer and is practical. I get it.

Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke

My father-in-law, a farm child during the Depression, was adamant about not wearing jeans himself and he wasn’t particularly supportive of his wife wearing jeans either. He felt that wearing denim trousers belonged to his impoverished past, a past that he wasn’t eager to revisit. He never told me this personally — he was too polite to ever criticize what I was wearing — but mother-in-law Esther shared the story with us. After that, I tried to honor him by avoiding wearing jeans when I was with him.

What I don’t get is why we have adopted this particular clothing item as the American casual wear uniform. The jean really began its ascendancy during the 1950s as a symbol of rebellion against authority — think James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause. Throughout the sixties, the blue jean represented continuing changes in societal norms, bringing down the formal dress rules of previous generations. It wasn’t a negative social shift; it was time for the world to be less restrictive about dress codes. I get that too. I was part of it. I just don’t see that we have improved on our world by now making the blue jean the new norm.

Let’s count the ways that jeans are annoying.

  • Jeans are a bear to dry; we have to hang them because they take forever and they shrink in the dryer.
  • Jeans have to be bought in a size or more smaller because over time, they stretch during wearing. There is nothing worse than wearing a pair of jeans with the rise falling down to your knees and the rear dragging on your thighs.
  • It can take days or weeks to find the brand and style of jean that fits correctly, and then once you’ve found it, the manufacturers change the dimensions and you can’t replace the perfect jean.
  • Even with spandex or other stretchy material woven into them, jeans are just plain uncomfortable after a while. The waistband is restrictive and the thick seams can rub against tender skin causing chafing and sore spots.
  • You have to have jeans in several lengths to fit your shoes. In fact, the average American woman has seven pairs of jeans in her closet.

Every time I hear Stacey and Clinton on What Not to Wear tell a client that she must buy a dark wash jean for her wardrobe (and then pay money to have it tailored to fit perfectly), it annoys me. I know that I am swayed by what they say, and I’m not the only one spending valuable time in my life searching for the right pair of jeans and then paying LOTS of money to purchase it. As much as I think they are on the right track with most of their ideas, their superciliousness about “mom jeans” bugs me. Frankly, I don’t think the loose- fit jeans are particularly flattering and they could be replaced with other sorts of trousers, and that leads us back to polyester pants.

I feel like we’ve created an environment that feels like Animal Farm.  Jeans good: Pants bad. People comment that you are overdressed if you show up to a casual party in simple black trousers and not jeans. The sea of expensive blue jeans worn in the middle school where I teach is testament to the peer pressure related to blue jeans. I have actually seen 14-year-olds wearing 7 for All Mankind jeans to school, and one of my students had a pair of $150 jeans stolen from the gym locker room. There is a thriving resale market for used jeans, and jeans were a black market staple in several communist countries. REALLY? We’re stealing jeans?  How did we come to this?

As for me, I’m going to happily purchase a new pair of casual trousers to wear on my vacation. They will be made of a modern synthetic and “might” have a bit of elastic in the waist. I will be able to wash them in the sink and hang them to dry overnight. They will be exactly the same size in the evening as they were in the morning when I put them on. The seat won’t drag and the knees won’t bag.

The ladies at my mom’s nursing home know a thing or two about practicality and I’m ready to learn the lesson from them. How about you?

Advertisements

5 responses

  1. I always feel guilty about not fully participating in fund-raising days that allow jeans to be worn in exchange for a donation to a good cause. Yes, I put my money in the envelope, but I’ve never felt comfortable in jeans, and certainly don’t want to teach in them.

  2. I agree that jeans are annoying, for all of the reasons Jennie lists–although I must take her word for it about the spandex and women’s shoes. For me, jeans are annoying because they are hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Not so practical after all.

    Views on jeans may change from generation to generation, but one thing stays the same — the fashion police, whoever they are, will always lay down the new law on what jeans to wear, and where.

    Good observations by Jennie, and good visuals, too.

  3. Hi Jennie! First of all, I absolutely love your blog header. I usually receive your blog posts as e-mails so I don’t see the blog itself. Today I saw it by coming to the blog to leave a comment.

    I love jeans as much as the next girl, but something that has always bothered me is when people cannot distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate times to wear them. Jeans blur the lines between casual and “dressy”. Dark wash, tailored jeans worn with dressy shoes, a blouse, and jewelry can look very nice and “dressed up”. Lighter, worn-looking jeans should only be worn in very casual situations.

    One of my biggest pet peeves while I was still teaching was the teachers who wanted to wear jeans all the time. They tried to fight for it and could not understand why the principal chose to not allow teachers to wear jeans on a regular basis. When teachers, especially younger teachers, wear jeans, it immediately makes them appear more casual and less of an authority. Teachers need to appear professional, and I don’t think that this can truly be achieved by wearing jeans as part of their work uniform. American society does not give teachers the respect that it once did and some people even consider teachers to be people who “can’t” (as in “those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach”). Why fuel this awful misconception even more by wearing jeans and giving the impression that we’re just a bunch of ragamuffin wannabes? As unfortunate as it is, people do judge based on outward appearances. When parents come into the school for meetings and see the teachers dressed for a Saturday afternoon rather than for a day of work, it doesn’t give the best impression. I found this to be especially true in the school that I taught at with you, Jennie, where the parents are often doctors, lawyers, executives, and have high expectations for their children’s education.

    For me, the jeans issue is not one of comfort, but rather one of appearance. When people choose their wardrobe strategically and appropriately, they can affect the opinions that others will form about them. And don’t even let me get started on what people choose to wear to church…

  4. […] Finally, the teachers let the monkeys out and the administrators let the beleaguered teachers out. I was ready for some “teachers’ summer vacation” and some real vacation when I wrote The Tyranny of the Jean. […]

  5. […] I’m eagerly awaiting the new What Not to Wear season — you know how much I love Clinton and Stacey (really, I do) — and it killed me to erase a bunch of unwatched programs off of my DVR so […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: