Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Jeans 2

If in the 70s jeans were a subcultural uniform, by the 80s the jeans and t-shirt combination went mainstream and became the new uniform for almost everyone. Marketing types and other squares might wear jeans in their leisure time without fear of making a political statement any stronger than, “I’m cool”. Just as advertising had moved from images of the strictly demarcated cultural capital of oil paintings to flat, classless cool, so had jeans gone from having definite class and political connotations to being just something to wear at the weekend.

They also became part of high fashion. Calvin Klein had dramatically boosted its sales by making jeans that had the company logo on the back. Instead of the loose, utilitarian-derived shape of blue jeans, Calvin Klein – "the supreme master of minimalism" – made jeans that were slim, smooth and urban. (This look was a throwback to the 50s and was indicative of 80s regression) Along with its famous branded underwear, Calvin Klein and other high-end labels had created a new type of fashion: designer utilitarian clothes. The cheap-to-make could now also be the expensive-to-buy.

If the status of jeans in the 70s can be represented by Plastic Ono Band, the album cover that does the same for jeans in the 80s would have to be Born in the U.S.A. The record was Bruce Springsteen’s big shot at fame. He had beefed up in the gym and had written upbeat, forceful songs that would have a radio-orientated, synthesised sound – a marked change from his previous record.

The plan worked and the album was huge. The lyrics of the title track told the bitter story of a working class Vietnam veteran who can’t get a job when he returns home from a futile war. The chorus line of “Born in the USA” is sung both patriotically and with bitter irony, but – like the difference between First Blood and Rambo II – the nuances of Born in the U.S.A. could not survive the lack of subtlety demanded by 80s pop culture. Jeans were also part of this unambiguous position – all people saw was a guy on the cover wearing blue jeans in front of the American flag. Jeans vaguely represented America, so they were therefore good. Any connection with manufacturing or labour – as within America itself – was just a memory.

part 1

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