687: Jeans by James Sullivan

by Gerard


687.1: Sullivan, James. Jeans: A Cultural History of an American Icon. New York: Gotham Books, 2006. 265 pp. ISBN 1-592-40214-3.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 600: Technology
  • 680: Manufacture of products for specific uses
  • 687: Clothing and accessories
  • 687.1: Specific kinds of garments

Despite how advertisers keep treating as a new and exciting clothing, jeans, and the denim they are made from, have been around for hundreds of years. Blue jeans are named after their place of first import, Genoa, Italy, and denim comes from the material serge de Nimes, a cotton blend from Nimes, France. Materials for jeans arrived in the America almost right after the Pilgrims did. Denim jeans have been part of the social and manufacturing landscape for so long that they seem almost ineffable. James Sullivan’s Jeans, however, goes a little deeper into the history of jeans to find a chronicle of rebellion and globalization.

Sullivan looks at denim jeans in their cultural context, seeing jeans as a symbol for other stories and feelings. From Levi Strauss’s initial pair of jeans in 1853 to help manual laborers in San Francisco to Brigham Young’s denunciation of jean-wearers to the youth rebellions of the 1950s, jeans seemed to exist in the past to show one’s ideals. Lately, not so much. While a fair amount of the book is devoted to Strauss’s company and each generation’s use of jeans, there are far more interesting tidbits sprinkled throughout. Sullivan looks at blue dye manufacturing in Nigeria (even the ink in the book is blue) and the specific advertisement of jeans. All in all, it’s a good book that provides an interesting perspective on an often-overlooked object.