We are what we wear — and nowhere is that more evident than in our relationship with jeans, that most familiar item of clothing that textiles curator Melissa Leventon describes as “the quintessential American garment.”
Weaving threads of our nation’s past into a cultural tapestry of denim’s ever-changing status in society, American Experience delivers an entertaining and enlightening dual history lesson in Riveted: The History of Jeans, which lives up to its appropriately punny title.
Long before Levi’s made jeans a household name, a rough denim cloth dyed in indigo was worn in the South by slaves. Laborers of all sorts soon adopted the durable fabric, which became fashionable during the Great Depression with the help of nostalgic movie Westerns.
Dude ranches further expanded the market when vacationing women got to wear pants without judgment, and later embraced jeans upon joining the workforce during World War II.
Jeans were identified with youth rebellion in the ’50s, counterculture protest in the ’60s, high fashion during the ’70s designer boom, and hip-hop culture in the late 20th century: Who knew a simple pair carried so much history in its seams?
Riveted: The History of Jeans, Monday, February 7, 9/8c, PBS (check local listings at pbs.org)