Jeans and the Generation Gap

When growing up in the 1970’s, while in school in the 1980’s, and when launching my career in the 1990’s, the expectation was to have clean, neat and crisp clothes anytime I set foot outside the house, because we were told that “you never get a second chance to make a first impression”. Even if we look back at pictures from that era and question the wisdom of some of our fashion choices, neat and tidy clothing were a common denominator.

My parents’ suit-and-tie generation set the bar pretty high, even for a child. Clothes were meant to be worn gently, and maintained carefully to keep looking new as long as possible. The rotation generally went like this: every September, we got me new school clothes and the previous year’s school clothes (if I hadn’t outgrown them yet) became the “play clothes”, for wearing as soon as I got home from school. That being the case, a batch of gently-used play clothes would go to charity.

Along the way, a little nick in clothing meant taking out the needle and thread and try to make an invisible repair to restore it to its original beauty. And if invisible mending wasn’t successful, it went into the donation box.

That’s just the way I was brainwashed… I mean, brought up. It wasn’t just my parents’ generation that instilled this way of thinking, but it was my grandparents’ generation too who declared open war on wrinkles and holes long before I was born. And just think of the staff on Downtown Abbey and how many items they’ve darned and mended through their six seasons.

About 10 years ago, I let myself get talked into buying a distressed pair of brand name jeans with a few strategically-placed pulled threads. I can’t tell you what a struggle it was each time to convince myself to wear them and that I supposedly looked like a cool, edgy, fashion-forward 40 year old. I may have looked it, but I certainly didn’t feel it.

Today, I think I know myself well enough to know that I like my jeans in dark colours, no scuffing, no fading, no tearing and no holes. Plus, for a 50 year-old man who considers himself successful, I feel much more comfortable and confident in jeans that look new. Fortunately, several brands are more than happy to offer those, even though there have been years that they were hard to find.

But a walk in the mall these days would make my elders cringe at the sight of shirts with deliberate wrinkling and holey pants (… and not in a religious sense). When I see them, I pause and think to myself that the next generation must hate the needle, thread and iron worse than I do, so I’m completely cool with that.

Just recently, it blew my mind to witness three teenaged girls oohing and aaahing at a store window with a display of jeans that seemed to contain more holes than jeans. I had to look a few times (and then take a picture of course) as I couldn’t fully appreciate the object of their admiration. I had jeans in my donation box that were less distressed than that.

All I could think was how do you return a pair of those? How does a store know what “original condition” was when it was ripped before it left the store?

Every generation has its own signature look that goes against the principles of their previous generation. When I was young, just wearing jeans to a family function would raise eyebrows to my grandparents’ generation because to them, jeans were for working on the farm. When it comes to fashion, context and point of reference are important to bear in mind.

As a lifetime fan of Project Runway and as an artist, I totally respect the creative minds of designers when it comes to fashion. Looks come and go, and in the same way that holey, wrinkly clothes may be in today, a decade from now the pendulum could swing back to more glamourous or sophisticated looks.

If someone younger than me (or even someone my own age) chooses to wear jeans with holes in them, it’s not my place to judge them. If they can rock the look, more power to them! But give it 20 or 30 years, who knows… maybe they will look back at pictures and might cringe like we do now with our own pictures. Time will tell.

The point is that fashion is ever-evolving and that we are most fortunate to have the abundance of choices that we have to cultivate our own individual looks, and that we have so many options for self-expression through our wardrobe.

With malls, big box and on-line stores bursting at the seams with apparel, we can all develop an affordable wardrobe that takes into account age-appropriateness, our generational influences, our personal sense of style and the image we wish to project.

When it comes to jeans, no one is right, no one is wrong, and isn’t it amazing to have so many options?

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