Since their appearance nearly 150 years ago, jeans have been worn by every facet of American society and exported around the world as an icon of our civilization. In Jeans, James Sullivan traces their evolution from a simple utilitarian garment into the very embodiment of the American ethos. Beginning with the adoption of front-buckled pants as a style of dress in nineteenth-century America (supposedly derided as “fornication pants” by Mormon leader Brigham Young), Sullivan documents how jeans took their place in our culture today—as worn by rappers, hipsters, and discount shoppers—becoming the standard dress in America and embodying the ideals of vastly different segments of society. Touching on the rise and fall of indigo, the mythos of the cowboy, American cultural imperialism, sex, advertising, and countless other topics wrapped in denim, Jeans is a history of popular American culture as told through its pants.
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James Sullivan was a pop culture critic at the San Francisco Chronicle for seven years, and has also written for the Boston Globe, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and Book.From Booklist:
Formerly an East Coaster and now a West Coaster, editor Halpern tells the story of her love-hate affairs with clothing, from the very beginning in long-gone Philadelphia stores such as Bonwit Teller and Strawbridge & Clothier. Her story is recorded in chapters that each stand for every two years or so; for instance, 1982 is the year of LaCoste polo shirts; the tenth grade, an infatuation with Madonna; the makeshift prom dress; not to forget fake Pradas, six-inch heels, Target underwear, among many other items. Parallel anecdotes highlight her relationships with men--Adam, Evan, Pete--all of whom gravitate to her looks and, yes, overall appearance. What might resonate, in a morose psychological sense, is her dependence on style, not substance--a lesson for either gender searching for a long-term relationship.
Sullivan, on the other hand, applies a documentary-like examination to the indigo-cotton pants we call jeans, the ultimate in democratic clothing. Its origins were in Europe--well before San Francisco's Levi Strauss in the mid-1800s. Plus, jeans' history is detailed in tandem with American events: Teddy Roosevelt and John Wayne as proponents of Western culture; Rosie the Riveter, a symbol of female progress during world wars; Elvis and Brando, indicators of the glamorous rebel--all complete with photographs and interview snippets. Fascinating facts abound: $14 billion sold in 2004 in the U.S. alone and a suburban Illinois store with 14,000 pairs. Yet the bottom-line question, as always, remains: Do they flatten your butt? Barbara Jacobs
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