Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 21, No. 2, 2022
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
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Charles Lewis
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Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

blue murder

Liz Hodgson


For more of Liz, visit her fashion/brenda website.


You like denim, right? I like denim. Actually, I love it. It’s durable, versatile, washable and dryable.

Denim jeans are one of mankind’s greatest inventions. Trends come and go but jeans stay. A good pair of jeans is one of those life-long investments, like Le Creuset cookware or a Zippo lighter or a Leatherman MultiTool. Andy Warhol wished he’d invented them and hoped to die in them. Armani called denim the ‘democracy of fashion.’

Having served humankind nobly, humbly and consistently for nearly 150 years, we owe denim. Yet this . . . this . . . is how we repay it.

My first question for Julia Fox is . . . are those things loaded? Is that why Kanye’s standing behind her? Or is he just avoiding having to look upon this ‘Barbarella meets the Marlboro Man’ fiasco?

Julia Fox isn’t the first to treat denim so rudely. She won’t be the last. And, no, I’m not talking about mom jeans. There’s a difference between designs that extinguish sex appeal and ones that extinguish your corneas.

In some ways, denim has been the victim of its own success. We assume if a little is good, more is better. Hence a steady stream of more denim things—including hats, tuxedos, gloves, shoes, something called a ‘jeankini’ and even a toilet seat cover (the irony!)

Wear and tear on jeans is nice. It can happen organically or you can buy them pre-distressed. Or, like Kim here, you can buy them so pre-distressed the memes write themselves: ‘‘When you survive an attack by a band of knife-wielding elves . . . ‘When Edward Scissorhands cuts your hair blindfolded . . . ’ ‘When you’re out and about in boyfriend jeans and your boyfriend is a scarecrow.’

Because they’re more visible, celebrities appear to commit the lion’s share of denim offenses. Also, their insatiable desire for attention leads them to take more risks. It’s either that or they’re in the pocket of Big Gabardine, on contract to undercut denim’s roaring success. Either way, I ask you: Britney, Justin, Jessica, whoever you are, Katy and Kim . . . what did denim ever do to you?

If I were denim, I’d take out a restraining order against Kim Kardashian. Though in all fairness, those thigh-high denim hooker boots were probably Kanye’s idea. He is known to command sartorial influence over his lady friends, If so, he deserves to bow his head in shame.

Like so many other indelible cultural stains—including smooth jazz, spandex thong leotards and waterbeds—crimes against denim began in the 1970s. This was the decade that gave us the denim leisure suit, sometimes entirely in patchwork (those patches look cool. Let’s go with ALL patches!).

The upholstery of the AMC Gremlin Levi’s edition isn’t actually denim but a woven nylon simulation, like what margarine is to butter.

The 1980s showed denim a little more respect. It was a mixed-bag decade of highs and lows. On the high side, there was this . . .

While Brooke Shields’ iconic Calvin Klein ad won’t mean much to late millennial and Gen-Z readers, it was, at the time, a cultural atom bomb. Despite the negative publicity of featuring a blatantly sexualized minor—and also because of the negative publicity of featuring a blatantly sexualized minor—the ad drove Calvin Klein’s high-waisted dark-wash jeans to frenzied new heights.

The old uniform of miners was now a high status symbol; a non-negotiable must-have and absolutely de rigueur for the well-dressed Jewish American Princess. Gilda Radner parodied this all-out obsession on SNL in a sketch featuring the character Rhonda Weiss modeling ‘Jewess Jeans.’

She’s an American princess. And a disco queen. She’s the Jewess in Jewess Jeans.
Tagline: ‘you don’t have to be Jewish to wear them (but it wouldn’t hurt.)’

On the low side there was acid wash denim, which was OK at first but WAY overplayed and abased by the context in which it originated. This was the decade of block-pattern neon, fuchsia spandex unitards, leg warmers, shoulder pads, piano ties and droppy-crotch parachute pants.

In November 1988, Anna Wintour proved that pushing boundaries didn’t have to be so dreadful. For her first issue ever as Vogue’s new editor, she initiated a cultural milestone by putting stonewash jeans on the cover.

For women of a certain age, seeing that cover for the first time was a ‘where were you when JFK was shot’ moment. I remember staring at it, mesmerized, at the Safeway checkout in Calgary, sensing but not knowing its cultural significance. Vogue’s signature haughty grandeur had come down a notch and street fashion rose up to meet it, marking the beginning of the now timeless high-low’ style. For Vogue, the departure was so radical, the printing press called the magazine to make sure there hadn’t been a mistake.

It could be my imagination, but since Wintour made jeans more respectable, we’ve gradually been growing a little kinder toward them. It’s as though we humans will exhaust every crazy option before acting sensibly. And boy have we exhausted every crazy option.










Arts & Opinion, a bi-monthly, is archived in the Library and Archives Canada.
ISSN 1718-2034


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