Tuesday, May 30, 2023
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You can’t live in Levi’s in lockdown. Purani jeans are not comfort wear after all

Bruce Springsteen to Sholay — jeans were the cool, sexy, youthful and rebellious garments every one wanted. But Covid lockdowns made us realise it wasn't needed.

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Lockdown has helped many say goodbye to purani jeans. People have finally been dissuaded out of the delusion that jeans are a wardrobe essential or comfort wear.

Apparel sales have been hit worldwide during the coronavirus crisis, but denim sales have been sluggish even as the world unlocks. Many American denim makers have filed for bankruptcy since April. Levi’s has suffered a whopping 62 per cent drop in global revenue and might have to let go of about half its workforce.

This was preceded by a downward trend in denim sales as people were increasingly moving to athleisure for comfort wear, even before Covid cases surged.

The downfall of the jeans can be attributed to our collective lockdown and work-from-home experience. Pyjamas, loose T-shirts and shirt-above-boxers-below became the norm. When people can wear comfortable clothes at a stretch, the thought of a body-hugging rough pair of denim seems rather suffocating.

For years, we’ve been wearing jeans not because of their utility or comfort but because what they’ve come to symbolise – sexual freedom and rebellion. See any Levi’s or Calvin Klein ad. And through the years, companies have successfully sold them as the go-to clothing, world-over.

But during the coronavirus pandemic, being rebellious has lost its coolness. It reminds you of mask-less people protesting on the streets. And all the ads being pushed at you on Instagram are now about how to look sexy in sweatpants, pyjamas and housewear. So, where does that leave the coveted blue jeans? Unworn and unsold on the shelves.

Also read: Fashion could be going back to basics as Covid keeps shoppers home

How jeans became cool

From being the clothes of the working class to the ‘casual’ clothing of choice for white-collared workers, denim has come a long way.

Through pop culture and targeted advertising over the years, jeans have become the trousers of the young. It has become essential Friday dressing even in the stiffest of offices. Their coolness is derived from being associated with rebels and rockstars. Jeans, no matter how old, will always be young. Something teenagers desire before coming of age, and old folk never want to let go of.

Jeans sales exploded in the 1950s in America with Marlon Brando in The Wild One and James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause. This even got the clothing banned from school and college campuses.

Diesel has explored this defiance of denim in its ads over the years and has made ‘rebellious’ a part of its brand identity through campaigns like Go With The Flaw, Be Stupid and the recent, #BeAFollower (instead of an influencer).

Jeans have also become synonymous with sexiness. Through the tagline ‘Live in Levi’s’, the company has sold a desirable life full of sex to the youth through well-edited ads. This ad featuring Deepika Padukone basically said Levi’s will make your butt look so good that chairs and stools you sat on will follow you.

Bruce Springsteen’s blue Levi’s 501 on the album cover of Born in the USA also concretised them as a wardrobe essential. This was the penultimate sexualisation of the garment. Of course, if you are from India, then that award goes to Sholay. The lead characters Jai and Veeru wear denim pants and jackets — starting a whole revolution in Bollywood.

Also read: Khadi once helped India become independent, it can make us aatmanirbhar again

A no-no

The essence of jeans has been best captured in the 1998 song Purani jeans, where the singer reminisces the good old college days. In fact, it isn’t just the old jeans, it is also the look of jeans and guitar that made the song quintessentially cool. The song still appeals to a younger generation because not much has changed.

Even today, colleges such as St. Xavier’s in Mumbai prohibit students from wearing ripped jeans on campus. Young women wearing jeans, eating Maggi noodles and talking on cell phones in Haryana villages also earned the wrath of Khap leaders. They were the ones who were apparently prone to eloping. “We should stop our girls from wearing jeans,” one famously said. This just made jeans feel like the forbidden fruit —  all the more desirable. It was just unputdownable.

And forbidden fruit it was, even politically. The blue jeans was banned in East Germany — it was a sign of capitalism and was greatly lusted after. So, Levi’s was sold in the black market. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, many from East Germany, came to see it wearing jeans.

Such is the worldwide appeal of denim even today that Baba Ramdev had to sell them in his Patanjali apparel store. But only ‘sanskari’ jeans.

However, sanskar was the farthest from anyone’s mind when Twinkle Khanna unbuttoned Akshay Kumar’s jeans on the ramp in 2009, further emboldening the place of jeans as a sexy garment.

Also read: Raymond is cutting jobs as people are not wearing suits, business clothes due to WFH

Time for goodbye

Denim companies have sold jeans to us under the garb of selling sex and revolution, and consumers have bought them, not for comfort but to be able to make a statement. However, the lockdown has made consumers acutely aware of what they’re buying, and many are now questioning the pairs of jeans languishing in their wardrobes.

I have been denim-less for over six years now. The two pairs I own today are both birthday gifts, which lie untouched at the back of my almirah. Jeans are rough, and in a humid climate, can lead to rashes and thigh cuts. Wearing denim in humid cities like Mumbai should be considered an extreme sport.

The struggle to wear the in-fashion jeans is a chore nobody misses. You’ve to shake, squat, in some cases, lie on the bed and cry a little just to get them over your waist.

It’s not only vanity, though. Bidding goodbye to denim is also good for the environment. Jeans are a water-intensive garment, with a single pair consuming up to 10,000 litres of water in production.  The weathered jeans are not great for your skin either and exposes it to toxic chemicals such as cyanide. A pair of jeans goes through several chemical washes, which are harmful to the factory workers making them as well. And it doesn’t help if they are underpaid and working in exploitative sweatshops. The pair of jeans that you buy probably cost more than the monthly wages paid to those who make them.

So, while you’re rethinking your allegiance to denim and working from home, it’s a good idea to inspect all that makes up your wardrobe.

For now, goodbye denim. We’ll remember you in some songs for the sake of nostalgia. But definitely not in our every day lives.

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  1. Wow. What a meandering pointless piece of trash article. Clearly someone has never experienced anything other than poorly crafted and fitted jeans….. And has ideas about what they represent that belong in the 1960s.

  2. 2 mins of my life am never getting back! What an absolute disaster in story flow and information. What is this article even trying to articulate? Beacuse we are in the midst of a lockdown jeans become obsolete, well what about make-up, traditional wear, lingerie, perfumes, sunglasses, accessories, bags? Everything momentairly seems irrelavant but fashion & retail like most things is cyclical and once normalcy is attained, am sure these categories will jump back up. Also, it’s just an uneven comparison between brands like Diesel, Levi’s and Gstar some of these are not even on the same playing field.
    So many other issues with this article, I could really keep going.

  3. The author is truly uninformed and is just pushing their agenda to get rid of jeans, using this idea that jeans are no longer relevant as a political tool to stifle freedom of choice. Jeans are much more than just a type of clothing. Jeans represent fredom of expression, and that should not be silensed!

  4. Such a poor article, maybe the author doesn’t even know that denim is being made in stretch (Yes 99% of the jeans available in market) and is as comfortable as any other pant. Also the author doesn’t seem to know the actual figures of the Indian market where denim is the category that has grown the most. Going around and taking your content from few articles which show bankruptcy of a few brands like g star etc I guess it only show poor research. Author also doesn’t seem to know that denim is a part of culture across Europe and other Southeast asian countries and has grown almost 300% during covid times. You can contact me for more enlightenment on the subject.

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