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Changing Blue Jean Fashions Shows the Triumph of Veneer Over Depth

In their book Veneer , Timothy Willard and Jason Locy argue that contemporary American culture often values image or appearance over depth of character. They write, "Embarrassed by the scars of our humanity, we try to hide our brokenness. We use a veneer to cover ourselves, hoping others will perceive us as having greater worth, as being more beautiful and perfect than we feel inside." As a specific example of this "venner" or image we try to project to other people, they point to the history of a common article of clothing--blue jeans. They observe:

When Levi Strauss first introduced jeans to America, his sales pitch was simple: durable pants for working-class folks. Strauss didn't give much attention to fashion—jeans were a work garment for gold miner in the West. No one really cared what they looked like; they just needed to function.
But over time, things changed. A certain subculture of teens adopted jeans as a symbol of rebellion. They appeared in movies and magazines, worn by Kerouac, Dean, and Brando. They were worn less for their ability to handle a hard day's work and more as the anti-something.
Then, in 1980, a fifteen-year-old Brooke Shields slid on a pair of boots … [and] posed in a pair of Calvin Klein's. With the flash of a camera, designer jeans became a must-have for women.
When Calvin Klein ran his first of many controversial ads, he didn't pay attention to how his jeans held up in the fields; he just cared about how they looked. He understood that people were looking for ways to express themselves, and that if an identity statement could be made with his jeans, more people would buy them. Today, we seldom buy jeans for their durability; we buy them to tell the world something about us. We are a beatnik poet, a rebel without a cause, a greaser, the girl wanting to impress the boy; our choice of jeans, the cut and color and brand, speaks the language of culture without saying a word …. Whether it is Levis or Diesel, McCafe or Starbucks, Mercedes or Chevy, Nike or Converse, every consumptive choice makes a statement.

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