When is it OK to wear Denim?

According to a Littlewoods poll out last week, us Brits now consider it appropriate to wear denim to an interview for an office-based job.

blue material

Would you wear denim to an interview for an educational/ legal/  financial/ managerial or political position?  Or would you see it as sending out the ‘wrong’ signals?

But surely denim is just another blue material?

The name Denim derives from its French place of origin, Nîmes – ‘de Nîmes‘.   The weave made it highly durable and was originally dyed with the only natural colourfast blue dye available – Indigo.  In 1880 a synthetic version was invented.  This synchronised with Gold Rush fever in America and an enterprising entrepreneur, a Mr Levi Strauss,  started producing work clothes in denim adding the trademark rivet.

In the 1950s male screen idols, such as Brando and Dean, made wearing denim appear sexy and dangerous.   Denim became a symbol of the counter-culture, a reaction against the clean-cut, the status quo.   Jeans were banned in schools across the US and many establishments worldwide refused entry to anyone wearing the subversive fabric (some still do).   But it was during the social upheaval of the ’60s that denim found its spiritual home,  as the uniform of the hippy, the revolutionary, the rock star, the non-conformist.

It wasn’t just its durability that made denim so universally popular.  It was also, curiously,  its ability to fade*.   Faded denim became a badge of allegiance, a testament of fidelity to a very particular sartorial statement.

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                          A CERTAIN HUSBAND IN MOROCCO IN THE LATE ’70s                                                       WHEN HE WASN’T IN HIS JEANS HE WAS IN A DJELLABA                               Oh, so Hip …

As the 20th Century progressed virtually every sub-culture adopted denim as their uniform  –  the same fabric giving out very different messages.   In the ’80s denim moved into the Designer world and onto the catwalk.  Denim was no longer the province of the young or the rebellious.  Suddenly everyone – irrespective of age, class  or political persuasion – was wearing this singular fabric.

Today Vintage Levi jackets and jeans (meaning Levis from the 1980s – ‘Vintage’ to some, old clothes to such as me) are fetching thousands of pounds.   And not to be displayed as art, but to be worn.  Such is the continuing iconography of denim.

So my point is that denim is more than just a blue material.   When you see someone in a pair of jeans you don’t just see them in a pair of blue trousers – witness the ghastly sight of Political Leaders (Bush, Blair …) wearing jeans in an attempt to be seen as down with the People.   No, denim is never just a shade of blue.  Denim is an icon of many hues and histories.

A question for any of my younger readers – Would you wear jeans to a job interview?

A question for my not quite so young readers – Would you wear denim to a funeral?

The fading is a result of the surface warp being blue and the underside weft, white.   As the denim is worn the blue fades and the white becomes increasingly visible.


14 Comments

  1. I’m a big fan of denim and wear it almost all the time (unless the weather is extremely cold and I need my long johns, which won’t fit under my jeans!). I would wear jeans to a work meeting and probably to a job interview. But I think one has to make a decision based on the sector in which one works. And even if you are in a creative role in publishing, say, some publishers are more staid than others. Know your potential employer! (It’s also probably better to be overdressed than under.)

    I would wear denim to a funeral. These days, I think more people have the sense that they want guests to be themselves at such occasions and not to be uncomfortable. It’s the being there that is most important. However, I’d personally be more likely to wear a black trouser. If I went for jeans, I’d tend towards a very new, non-faded denim or a black pair.

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  2. Thank you, David of 1000 words. I think you make some excellent points – I also think there is something of the subversive about you! I may be wrong there; but absolutely – know your employer. What would it mean to you if you were to wear faded denim?

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  3. OMG! as the youth say. I spent days on this post and never once did the fabulous image of Jeremy Clarkson come to mind! Probably luckily for me. You are quite right, who am I to be the judge of subversiveness … But I am very happy to say you are NOT a ‘man of a certain age’ and you do not wear ‘bad jeans’.

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  4. I don’t think I could wear jeans to a funeral, although having said that, I do love the jeans cut so maybe it’s more about the idea of denim fabric being too casual. I have some lovely velvet jeans – Italian of course – that would look smart enough for most occasions. I love the classlessness of jeans although I remember someone sending me a cartoon of things that happen when you’re 50 – one of them was looking at $10 jeans in a supermarket and thinking they’re rather nice – so maybe classlessness and stylishness are not the same thing. That said, your husband does suit a djellaba (but would he wear one to a funeral?).

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  5. I think the issue remains ‘blue denim’ because that was the material Mr Levi-Strauss made for work-clothes, manual labour, that is, such as mining and railroad building, ‘navvying’. Denim in other colours has a very mild association with blue but is seen as either leisure wear or very high fashion. My view is that even the most expensive pair of designer denim jeans, £300 plus, if blue, would still be seen as inappropriate for a funeral. I wore black denim to work for years and it was fine. Blue denim maybe not so much. It’s all about conveying respect, acknowledging the importance of the person you are meeting or the occasion, and that is not so easy if you are wearing something you would also wear to dig for gold/coal, make a railroad or mix concrete. So while the fabric is important, the colour blue PLUS the fabric is what conveys the (sometimes unwanted) message. Another great post, Madame des Couleurs.

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  6. I couldn’t have said it better myself! Makes you wonder why I didn’t in the first place. Colour always sends a message – so the question is, what message do we want to send?

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  7. Well, a while to go til you need worry about being 50(!). Check out David’s link above – I think that is all we need to see to convince us not to buy 10 dollar jeans in the supermarket.
    Out of interest, what makes the ‘velvet jeans’ jeans?

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  8. You have open a colourful conundrum (spelling) in my head Francesca, not sure how to or where to start blogging you . The idea of wearing denim at a furneral moves onto why we wear black at a funeral? Fabrics, their colours , feel and the effect they have on us.
    No darling I wouldn’t wear denim at a fu. Phil is right. maybe a unity of colour at a parting of life, when it is highly emotionallly charged is good, does black soak up , calm or absorb grief ???
    The mix of blue and white in denim hmmm especially when it is worn in looks good again skin.
    It is highly charged , thinking of film stars just wearing a pair of jeans with the famous white tea shirt. Skin and denim an evocative combination.

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  9. I had never, ever thought of skin and denim being an explosive mix. But you are right! Whatever colour your skin is. Light blue enhances, hence a brilliant colour for people who like to expose more skin; I’m thinking of hippies here. No, I would not wear denim to a funeral either, however Rock Star the deceased was. Black for our culture, white for other cultures – a future blog on why black and white, supposed opposites, in mourning expressing the same thing to me – lack/loss/emptiness/beginnings and endings.

    On another note, have you ever thought of writing yourself – you have such original ideas and turn of phrase and, in this instance, original spelling too! But seriously, more writing please …

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  10. I know someone who refuses to speak to anyone who wears jeans! doesnt matter what time of day, who it is or where …. how fantastic is that!
    no its not me, though im thinnking about tryin this out.

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  11. How rivetting! (please excuse the demin-themed pun).
    Thank you.
    I would love to know why, but I can see it might be a privacy issue. Nontheless, it proves the point – Denim is not just a blue-coloured material! It sends a multi-layered signal …

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