Fashions In Clothing
Pic: Texas Cowboys – Artist Ann Rogers
Back in the ’60s I was buying American denim jeans and jackets from my friends, merchant seamen on the UK to NZ run via Panama. I was buying them to sell in NZ as they were unavailable in our country at the time. Wrangler, Levi Straus, Lee Cooper and Lee Rider clothing was just making its mark on the world and the enterprising ship’s crew would buy-up large in Panama, both going south, and north – of course, we were avoiding onerous legalities like Customs Duties. These new jeans were renowned for their fabric’s toughness. That, plus the allure of the articles’ associated imagery with America’s ‘cowboys’.
The original denim was really tough; in fact it was so ‘firm’ it was initially uncomfortable to wear and the strong blue dye could leave you blue-skinned. My sailor friends, when they bought a pair of these jeans for themselves, would tow them behind the ship for a few days to soften them up and fade the colour.
Another decade or so on and the manufacturers were pre-fading the jeans and softening them by ‘stone-washing’ – literally tumbling them in a barrel of water with stones in it. This literally shortened the life of the once robust denim by years – but, the market rules and ‘the customer is always right’ – right?
Another decade on and the durability and toughness of the denim was no longer a selling point. The manufacturers and marketers realised their customers didn’t give a hoot about durability; they just wanted the faded denim look and a neat fit. While this coincided with a demand for coloured denim: white, pale blue, orange, green and red, too, it was all about the back pockets’ stitched design – the early days of serious branding to come.
Another decade and we’re into the 2000s and ‘quality’ is turned on its head. While people in less affluent countries and with more fixed traditions were attempting to dress smartly, those more affluent folk in the so-called ‘Developed World’ were dressing-down – in a big way.
Grunge music and clothes fashion started in Seattle in the USA and while it certainly embraced dressing down, it, like the career of the American actor Rip Torn, predated the fashion of Pre-stressed Clothing, a unique and exclusively Western phenomenon of the 21st Century.
Pre-stressed clothing may represent one of the strangest clothing fashions yet because, as the word ‘fashion’ implies, these clothes can be very costly. For some reason, the marketers had decided it was ‘Rip Torn’ Jeans that the public wanted. And the public must have wanted, because a pair of (what many of us would call ruined) pre-stressed jeans can cost in the hundreds of dollars. So jeans with shredded fabric, tears and holes became a desirable item to wear (for some). The idea, I can only guess, is to look poor (in a $300 pair of raggedy jeans?); to appear as though you can afford only the one pair of denims you bought several years ago and, woe is you, they are so-o-o-o worn now but, hey, what can you do (said with a modest shrug)? And this strange fashion still persists to this day. It could make a good subject for a thesis by a student of Psychology.
Far be it for me to judge the gullibility of the fashion-conscious public and the evident brilliance of the marketers but, an image does come to mind: a chubby, Buddha-like figure laughing uncontrollably at the folly of mankind in the face of this demonstrable evidence that some people in our ‘Developed’ World not only have far, far too much money (or too easy access to ‘credit’ – which may equate to the same thing), but that these same people clearly lack some intrinsic, basic intelligence.
Oops. Did I say that?