Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Curmudgeon blue about modern blue jeans

I wrote a few years back about how I broke down and got my first pair of blue jeans in at least 20 years.

I realize that no one has been checking in each day in breathless expectation of an update, but the topic is on my mind.

Add blue jeans to the list of things that aren't as good as they used to be.

When I was a kid, blue jeans were blue. Dark blue. Navy blue. And they were stiff.

Oh, they could be folded. One could, with some effort, stand or sit while wearing new blue jeans. But it was a workout.

Everyone at school knew when you had new blue jeans. It was not, as I seem to recall, entirely favorable notice. Of course, when you're an adolescent, unless you've just scored the winning basket at the big basketball game, almost any notice is unwelcome, at least initially. Coming to school in a new pair of blue jeans was nothing like winning the big game.

Everyone else, in their more faded, softer blue jeans was far more comfortable.

There was an element of risk the first time a new pair of blue jeans were washed, too. My mother always wanted them soaked in a vinegar solution to hold the color.

That was just like parents: Darker jeans were definitely less cool than faded jeans; therefore parents instinctively favored darker jeans. Whether vinegar was used or not, however, anything washed with the new blue jeans was apt to turn at least a robin's egg blue.

Faded blue jeans were celebrated in songs during the 1960s for a reason: By the time a pair of blue jeans were properly faded, they'd been lived in. Your favorite blue jeans were privy to your habits, good and bad, and even your secrets, if you had any. When the knees went, applying a patch was much more than garment repair; it was first aid for a friend.

The modern blue jean is neither particularly blue nor particularly stiff. Today the garment is marketed to us Baby Boomers as 'relaxed fit' and 'stone washed.'

It turns out that relaxed fit doesn't just mean that six of your high school selves could occupy those pants. And it turns out that "stone washed" is literally true.

On one of those "How Its Made" programs aired on the Science Channel I learned that new blue jeans are pre-washed in what amounts to giant washing machines. Instead of fabric softener sheets, actual stones -- small boulders, even -- are washed with the jeans to 'break them in' before they're foisted on a lazy public.

Either the modern jeans consumer is too sensitive about the reaction obtained when wearing new jeans or too lazy to break them in as we did in the 1960s and 70s. Blue jeans fade now after being laundered only a few times -- and why not? They've already gone through extraordinary wear (and even tear) before getting put on the shelves.

And every parent knows that pre-torn jeans are more expensive.

When a patch is required, as it will be all too soon on the modern blue jean, the item is not an old friend; it's hardly even a casual acquaintance.

If anyone knows where old-style, sturdy denim jeans may be obtained, please leave a comment. Of course, the jeans would have to come in aircraft-carrier sizes....


Empress Bee (of the high sea) said...

first of all curmy, i think the "cool" kids don't say blue jeans any more. they just say jeans. and i once had my dryer stained blue by a pair of the ducks! it stayed blue until i moved too. did you see the new pajama jeans? now that's funny. i bet the people of walmart wear them out too!

smiles, bee

The Curmudgeon said...

Yes, I've seen the ads for the pajama jeans. I don't have any, though. Not yet, anyway.

In a world where monastic robes are marketed with wild success as "Snuggies," however, anything is possible.