There are plenty of clothing items and styles that the world recognizes as American. The baseball cap, cowboy boots, letter jackets, logo t-shirts, Nike tennis shoes, Oakleys and Raybans, the unfortunate fanny pack, the recent trucker hat and aviator shades…the list goes on. But all of these are the crumbs, the consolation prizes, when compared to the ultimate American garment: blue jeans. Blue jeans are America’s “contribution” to world fashion the way Latin is the Roman Empire’s contribution to world language. Blue jeans are our trademark, our uniform, our legs’ second skin. Even more remarkable than their worldwide popularity, however, is their incredible power to evolve with the times, thereby keeping jeans popular while reflecting not just the trends, but the American values and desires of their time.
Our project aims to learn all that jeans have to tell us about America’s past fifty years, from the reserved, tapered-leg James Dean 50s, through the Woodstock-mud-caked bellbottoms of the late 60s, all the way to today’s quest to see how low lo-rise jeans can go. Different legs, different washes, different colors, different rips…each subtle or not-so-subtle shift in blue jean style was an adaptation to the American cultural climate. Our task then, is to discern the conditions that created each of the manifestations that will appear on this historical site.