Charting The Long Love Affair Between Blue Jeans And Youth Culture

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Fashion is mysterious, as a rule. Why are blue jeans a classic? You just hit on something that happens to be timeless and right.

-Diane von Furstenberg

There’s something mystical about blue jeans. This one item — a pair of pants made of indigo-dyed, cotton fabric — can be dowdy and wholesome (see SNL’s “Mom Jeans“) or the symbol of revolution. They are embraced equally by fashion models and kids skating on the street. As culture changes and subcultures spring up, jeans have a way of changing with us, morphing into whatever we need at the moment. They’re simply one of the most versatile pieces of clothing ever created.

More than just “clothes,” blue jeans have been central to virtually every youth subculture over the last 70 or 80 years. We may not immediately see the connection between the beat generation of the 50’s and the golden age of hip hop in the early 1990’s, but we can instantly recognize that both scenes embraced jeans as a part of their signature style.

For those who stand in opposition to society’s strictures, fashion choices become symbols of rebellion. John Lydon, the lead singer of the Sex Pistols, once said, “If there’s not a rebellious youth culture, there’s no culture at all.” And rebellious youth across the ages have adopted blue jeans as a sign of their resistance, independence, and self-expression.

They take the jean and make it their own. Just as their parents and their grandparents did before them,

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“What’s so special about denim is that it can become anything to anybody,” Amy Leverton, author of the book Denim Dudes, explains. Leverton is a blue jean expert, having worked in the industry as a designer, denim journalist, and now, as a denim forecaster.