Friday, April 17, 2009

Bad Denim

A friend posted the following link to Facebook.

America's Bad Jeans

In and of itself the article is an interesting read. The author, one George F. Will is a syndicated columnist for the Washington Post. For those not willing to read the article Mr. Will's points boil down to Jeans are bad, Jeans were made for tough men not suburbanites. However, it is not his point that I take offense to but several comments made in the article. Let's go paragraph by paragraph.

"On any American street, or in any airport or mall, you see the same sad tableau: A 10-year-old boy is walking with his father, whose development was evidently arrested when he was that age, judging by his clothes. Father and son are dressed identically -- running shoes, T-shirts. And jeans, always jeans. If mother is there, she, too, is draped in denim."

Mr. Will states that this tableau is seen in malls or in airports. Neither of these places require a terribly formal dress. While I can agree if the person was going on a business trip the simple fact that a father and son, most likely headed on vacation, end up dressed the same is hardly cause for scorn.

"Writer Daniel Akst has noticed and has had a constructive conniption. He should be given the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He has earned it by identifying an obnoxious misuse of freedom. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, he has denounced denim, summoning Americans to soul-searching and repentance about the plague of that ubiquitous fabric, which is symptomatic of deep disorders in the national psyche."

According to Mr. Will a man should be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the countries highest civilian honor, just for denouncing denim. Let's put this in perspective. Mr. Akst deserves the same medal given to Mother Theresa, or Ronald Reagan simply for denouncing denim.

"It is, he says, a manifestation of "the modern trend toward undifferentiated dressing, in which we all strive to look equally shabby." Denim reflects "our most nostalgic and destructive agrarian longings -- the ones that prompted all those exurban McMansions now sliding off their manicured lawns and into foreclosure." Jeans come prewashed and acid-treated to make them look like what they are not -- authentic work clothes for horny-handed sons of toil and the soil. Denim on the bourgeoisie is, Akst says, the wardrobe equivalent of driving a Hummer to a Whole Foods store -- discordant."

exurban McMansions... what a phrase, though I doubt that denim has the slightest tie to foreclosure rates, or the rising unemployment. Nor do I feel that anyone would mistake the acid washed Sean Jean's of the young urban crowd to be even the palest representations of the dirt stained Levi's of a blue collar worker. Denim on the bourgeoisie is a matter of comfort, and function. Not a matter of trying to be what we, I, am not. I wear jeans, most middle class America wears jeans, why? They are cheap, and they last. Seems like good financial sense to me.

"Long ago, when James Dean and Marlon Brando wore it, denim was, Akst says, "a symbol of youthful defiance." Today, Silicon Valley billionaires are rebels without causes beyond poses, wearing jeans when introducing new products. Akst's summa contra denim is grand as far as it goes, but it only scratches the surface of this blight on Americans' surfaces. Denim is the infantile uniform of a nation in which entertainment frequently features childlike adults ("Seinfeld," "Two and a Half Men") and cartoons for adults ("King of the Hill"). Seventy-five percent of American "gamers" -- people who play video games -- are older than 18 and nevertheless are allowed to vote. In their undifferentiated dress, children and their childish parents become undifferentiated audiences for juvenilized movies (the six -- so far -- "Batman" adventures and "Indiana Jones and the Credit-Default Swaps," coming soon to a cineplex near you). Denim is the clerical vestment for the priesthood of all believers in democracy's catechism of leveling -- thou shalt not dress better than society's most slovenly. To do so would be to commit the sin of lookism -- of believing that appearance matters. That heresy leads to denying the universal appropriateness of everything, and then to the elitist assertion that there is good and bad taste."

The above, almost unapproachable wall of text screams out a desire to be hear oneself talk, or read oneself in print far more then it conveys a notion of righteous indignation. Yes, rockers and rebels wear denim, they also wear leopard print spandex, but I hope to god that doesn't catch on. Silicon Valley billionaires wear denim for the same reasons I wear denim. It's comfortable, it lasts, and as anyone who has ever worn a pair of jeans to tatters can attest, after a few hundred washings there is no softer material then well worn, well loved, denim. He goes on to equate wearing denim to being childish or infantile, a correlation that simply lacks merit. In truth this article is littered with unfounded accusations and statements that are not only baseless but at times insulting. Let me pluck a particular gem from the miasma above.

"Seventy-five percent of American "gamers" -- people who play video games -- are older than 18 and nevertheless are allowed to vote."

Why yes, gamers are allowed to vote, in fact all persons over the ago of 18 are allowed to vote. I see no point in mentioning the fact that this subset of people, those over the age of 18, are in part composed of those who play video games. We could just as easily have said X% of fast food workers, those who serve fast food, are over the age of 18 and nevertheless allowed to vote. Your point being? Let's look at another gem.

"In their undifferentiated dress, children and their childish parents become undifferentiated audiences for juvenilized movies"

Juvenalized moves? Again, an attempted correlation between dress and personal taste. By this reasoning if I were to wear a suit into Batman begins I would immediatly not enjoy the movie? Yet another...

"To do so would be to commit the sin of lookism -- of believing that appearance matters. That heresy leads to denying the universal appropriateness of everything, and then to the elitist assertion that there is good and bad taste."

Lookism? Yes appearance matters. But when does appearance matter? Does appearance at the movies, a dark and almost light-less venue, really matter? Does anyone care if I wear Dockers or Armani when the lights go down? No! A job interview? yes, dress to impress, but the mall? the movies? please.... Let us continue.

"Denim is the carefully calculated costume of people eager to communicate indifference to appearances. But the appearances that people choose to present in public are cues from which we make inferences about their maturity and respect for those to whom they are presenting themselves. "

His argument in this paragraph simply falls flat. There is again little to no correlation between denim and the wearers projected appearance. Take for example a clean, pressed dark pair of jeans, clean shoes, and a three button polo. Add a dark belt and a decent haircut and you have a very acceptably dressed individual. Now, can slovenly dress give a negative opinion, sure. But denim does not directly equate to slovenly, in fact I would argue that a wrinkled suit says far more then a clean pair of jeans.

"Do not blame Levi Strauss for the misuse of Levi's. When the Gold Rush began, Strauss moved to San Francisco planning to sell strong fabric for the 49ers' tents and wagon covers. Eventually, however, he made tough pants, reinforced by copper rivets, for the tough men who knelt on the muddy, stony banks of Northern California creeks, panning for gold. Today it is silly for Americans whose closest approximation of physical labor consists of loading their bags of clubs into golf carts to go around in public dressed for driving steers up the Chisholm Trail to the railhead in Abilene."

This paragraph lumps all Americans into golf bag slinging lay-abouts. What about those who still work blue collar? or white collar who have to actually get down on the production floor? Or out in the field? Or scientists who go out and do hands on field work? Are they not Americans? Do they not deserve the "right" to wear denim? Does one have to be a cattle herder to wear denim? What about the fact that most cattle is herded by four wheeler and most gold dug from the earth by machines. How does this factor into Mr. Will's argument?

"This is not complicated. For men, sartorial good taste can be reduced to one rule: If Fred Astaire would not have worn it, don't wear it. For women, substitute Grace Kelly."

Mr. Astaire lived a lifestyle far removed from suburban middle class America. he wore suits, tux's, jackets with coat tails and the like. His dress echoes both his station and the era in which he lived. He was well off, and dressed accordingly. However let's look at his modern day analogues. Actors, Actresses, Singers and the like all dressed in denim, designer denim, but denim none the less. For women, take my above paragraph and sub in Grace Kelly.

"Edmund Burke -- what he would have thought of the denimization of America can be inferred from his lament that the French Revolution assaulted "the decent drapery of life"; it is a straight line from the fall of the Bastille to the rise of denim -- said: "To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely." Ours would be much more so if supposed grown-ups would heed St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, and St. Barack's inaugural sermon to the Americans, by putting away childish things, starting with denim."

Who the hell is Edmund Burke? Let's ask Google. Again Mr. Will makes several baseless arguments the most damming is again calling denim childish without ever establishing this as fact. Mr. Will speaks of denim's childishness as if it were fact and not his limited opinion.

I guess at the end of the day it is simply the close minded conservatism that upsets me about this article. It is as if Mr. Will has taken the view that anything but his way is inherently wrong. He holds a view for American society that is simply, black and white, and devoid of denim. In Mr. Will's world the men all wear tails, the women wear evening gowns and if you don't then you are wrong, plain and simple. Mr. Will lives in a world so detached from the day to day reality of middle class America I can't help but question his ability, and the validity, of any opinion he posts in regards to middle class life.

But, to follow his form I too will admit to owning several pairs of jeans, in a variety of colors, from a dark blue to a lighter hue, to several pairs of tan jeans from L. L. Bean. I wear them to work, to the mall, on cross country flights, just about daily. I plan on continuing to do so, because as an American I am free to do whatever I want to with my jeans.

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