Blue Jean Planet

Blue jeans celebrate their unofficial 140th birthday today, the dry goods merchant Levi Strauss and the tailor Jacob Davis receiving a patent on May 20, 1873 for "a new article of manufacture, a pair of pantaloons having the pocket-openings secured at each edge by means of rivets." The Strauss-Davis pants were created for working men in the American West, but the denim historians track the fabric back to Nîmes, France (denim = de Nîmes), the indigo dye back to a handful of ancient civilizations, notably India. The anthropologists ponder how the garment became so universal and "deeply semiotic":

Living with an increasing consciousness of the sheer scale of an often alienating world, people want to lay claim to being part of that world, but fear that in doing so they will lose their sense of individuality and specificity. So to have one garment that is simultaneously extremely personal and extremely ubiquitous can be important in its own right. Merely wearing jeans can be a way of resolving the contradiction, of becoming more personal and more global at the same time.

The above is excerpted from Blue Jeans by Daniel Miller and Sophie Woodward, the two cultural anthropologists who are behind the Global Denim Project, an online academic group whose contributors investigate "Denim Chic Among Muslim Women" and similar jean topics. Global in a different way, Rachel Snyder's Fugitive Denim explores "the human lives and struggles" behind blue jeans and the modern garment industry in general. Those struggles are frequently associated with an often ludicrous international tangle of production, distribution, and regulation:

The rules are dizzying. You can, for example, use a label that says "Made in Bangladesh" even if the shirt is sitting on a hanger at a factory in China. If the back and front panels of the shirt and the sleeves were sewn in Bangladesh, then shipped off to China to have the cuffs, collars, and finishing done, you can circumvent the fact that China has perhaps used up all of its shirt quota, and under current law you'll be allowed to use the "Made in Bangladesh" label. It's as if John Cleese and the Monty Python gang got together and wrote the global trade rules for garments. A sleeve in Turkey! A fly in Laos! A rivet and button in Kenya! And a label in Suriname!"

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

 

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

advertisement
Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.

Pastoral

When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).