(spaghetti western music playing) (din of busy city street, car alarm blaring) JAMES SULLIVAN: You don't really stop and think about why half of the population of the planet is wearing them on any given day.
We just are.
♪ ♪ MELISSA LEVENTON: Have you ever asked yourself why everyone you know owns multiple pairs of jeans?
JONATHAN SQUARE: Dress it up, dress it down... TOMMY HILFIGER: People know that when they wear them they look cool.
EMMA McCLENDON: This one garment can be both universal and individual at the same time.
There is nothing like that in the history of clothing.
VALERIE STEELE: And, in fact, Yves Saint Laurent said he wished he had invented jeans, that he thought they were the most important item of fashion in the 20th century.
MAN: They wore them in the mines, on the cattle trails.
My own father wore them toppling 200-foot Douglas firs.
Jeans are the quintessential American garment.
NEWS ANNOUNCER: 120 years later, gentlemen, blue jeans are still basically the same pair of pants that came out of the California Gold Rush.
STEPHEN ARON: But so much of the story we tell about jeans is a myth.
NEWS ANNOUNCER: The strongest pants the West has ever seen.
TANISHA FORD: It is about the cowboys, and the West, it's about Levi Strauss, and the Gold Rush.
(horse whinnying) McCLENDON: It's always the same story... GENE VINCENT: ♪ Bluejean bop ♪ ♪ Bluejean bop, baby.
♪ McCLENDON: After the cowboys, jeans got picked up by rockers and bikers and hippies and now everybody wears them.
VINCENT: ♪ Bluejean bop, bluejean bop ♪ McCLENDON: But denim has been around much, much longer.
It has a long and deep history with so many other fascinating stories that are not always told.
♪ ♪ (applause) ♪ ♪ ANNOUNCER: In 1850, Levi Strauss invented the toughest pants the West had ever known: Levi's blue jeans.
SULLIVAN: Blue jeans do represent American culture to the rest of the world, but like any other good product of America, you know, we, we borrow all the best ideas from, from everywhere.
SINGER: ♪ Levi's ♪ SULLIVAN: The real fact of the matter is that blue jeans themselves originated somewhere else.
SINGER: ♪ That Levi's were surely the best things of all ♪ ♪ To roll out of America's West ♪ ♪ To roll out of America's West.
♪ JENKINS: The story of denim jeans is so much more than Wrangler, it's more than Levi Strauss, especially when it comes to the material.
♪ ♪ SULLIVAN: We're not quite sure exactly where the fabric originated, but there are several hints.
One is Dungri, India, where as early as the 17th century, they were creating a coarse cloth for workers, eventually called dungaree.
There's the Genoans of Italy, who had a type of sail cloth that was fashioned into work pants.
And there's Nimes, France, where the cloth there was known as "serge de Nimes."
Not always, but very often, these various types of cloth were dyed blue, probably to hide dirt as much as anything.
GOODY: So, we have blue "jean" from Genoa, we have blue "de Nimes" or denim coming from Nimes, but when we make it into pants in America, we end up morphing the garment into blue jeans.
♪ ♪ SULLIVAN: People don't necessarily think about how their blue jeans came to be blue.
Historically, that's because of the indigo dye.
Centuries ago, indigo was said to be worth its weight in gold.
Competition for it was so fierce Europeans actually called it the "devil's dye."
CATHERINE McKINLEY: Indigo is in fact a weed.
The process of turning indigo from this small green leaf into a dye is a very delicate process; so only the most skilled are able to do this.
♪ ♪ GOODY: One of the neatest things about dying with indigo is the dye vat is green; it's not blue.
♪ ♪ And when you introduce a fabric like denim to the dye vat, it comes out green.
And then, as it oxidizes in our atmosphere, it turns blue.
It is magic.
Indigo dyeing is magic.
♪ ♪ McKINLEY: In many cultures, indigo cloth has a spiritual importance.
In Africa, the cloth is considered the next layer to the skin .
It holds the person's soul, their spirit.
♪ ♪ Africans have had a long history of working indigo and knew the special process involved in making the dye and in dyeing cloth.
♪ ♪ SETH ROCKMAN: And of course many African captives who became enslaved in the new world brought with them knowledge of how to extract the blue from the plant, and how to fix the blue to fabrics.
Indigo is one of the ways in which slave-holding became tied to the economic fortunes of the colonial experiment in the Americas.
♪ ♪ McKINLEY: So in the mid-1700s, there was this labor that had been extracted from Africa, and indigo presents itself as this thing with economic possibility.
And then when you add to it moving the dye stuff from one end of the world to the other, it only increased in value.
♪ ♪ And Eliza Lucas benefited enormously from the impact of this trade.
DAINA BERRY: Eliza Lucas has been credited as literally producing indigo in America.
She's been credited as a botanist.
She's even written about in elementary school and high school textbooks.
McKINLEY: Eliza Lucas was the daughter of a colonial governor.
She had studied botany, and when Eliza was a teenager, her father bought her, among many other plants, indigo.
EVAN MORRISON: The gift came from perhaps Antigua.
The South needed something to add to crop rotation, and tobacco was something cultivated here.
Rice was cultivated here.
Adding indigo into your crop rotation was a way to find additional profit.
♪ ♪ BERRY: Once Eliza gets her hands on the indigo seeds, it takes off in terms of production.
Indigo was a second cash crop behind rice in South Carolina.
And on the eve of the American Revolution, more than a million pounds of indigo was being shipped overseas.
♪ ♪ Eliza Lucas was probably one of the most well-known producers of indigo in colonial America.
But Eliza's hands weren't blue.
She didn't get her hands dirty with the indigo crop.
The knowledge to grow indigo came from enslaved people.
They're the ones that did the work that allowed her to become this great planter that she's been credited for.
♪ ♪ McKINLEY: Indigo really encapsulates this problem of how do we begin to tell the story of captive people and how we document their contributions in America, and to the denim history in particular.
BERRY: We know the names of all the enslaved people that were owned by the Lucas and Pinckney family.
MAN: "Isaac, Pompey, Molly, and their child, Nanny... Mary and her children, Prince and Be..." BERRY: These are generations of families.
We're not just talking about a husband and a wife, or a mom and a dad.
We see grandparents on this list.
MAN: "Nanny and her children.
Juno..." BERRY: They're the ones that came from communities that dyed all kinds of cloth in beautiful colors.
They're the ones that had the knowledge of indigo and created generations of wealth for these white slave-holding families.
MORRISON: Back in the 19th century, denim really dominated, because it's a strong weave.
So with the rise in durable cotton goods, denim made itself the accepted second skin in terms of cloth that was put into clothing meant for laborious work.
ROCKMAN: As American cotton manufacturing begins to sort of find its footing in the 18-teens and 1820s, mills in Rhode Island, mills in Massachusetts, mills in New Hampshire, they need a source of cotton.
And the only source of cotton to make these mills economically viable is cotton that's being grown by enslaved men, women, and children in the American South.
ANNOUNCER: Cotton from Alabama, cotton from Louisiana, Texas cotton, Mississippi cotton, cotton from Georgia, cotton from Charleston.
It takes two pounds of cotton to make a pair of jeans.
GOODY: When you follow the trail of cotton being grown in this country in the South, being shipped to the North, being woven into blue jeans, and then being shipped down back to the South, where is it going?
Who's wearing it?
There's a database that's called Freedom on the Move that has cataloged and crowdsourced runaway slave advertisements from all over the United States.
♪ ♪ So slavers would put an ad describing the person with detailed descriptions of what they had on them when they left.
What clothing they were wearing, what type of clothing, what color the clothing was.
MAN: "Had on when he left, dark jeans clothes, and a black hat."
MAN 2: "He carried off a blue cloth coat, one blue jeans, and two or three pair pantaloons."
WOMAN: "Has on a blue Kentucky jeans coat and striped pants."
MAN 3: "...wore a brown jeans coat, and blue jeans pants..." MAN 4: "New brown jeans."
MAN 5: "Mixed jeans, frock coat, and pantaloons."
WOMAN 2: "A pair of jeans pants."
"...a blue jeans homespun dress coat."
BERRY: And so you have advertisements that have very detailed information about enslaved people.
And enslaved people were, in fact, wearing jeans.
♪ ♪ ROCKMAN: This is a story in which coerced labor produces a raw material that is exported from one region to a second region and which is then sold back in an ongoing cycle.
♪ ♪ An increasing number of American slaves will come to be wearing cloth that's manufactured in the United States, that travels under a number of names, that sometimes goes under an umbrella category of "Negro cloth."
♪ ♪ This is one of the powerful things about clothing, right?
The ways in which it can be used, not only for individuals to perform their own identity, but also for the ways in which a dominant society can stigmatize people.
♪ ♪ SULLIVAN: So blue jeans clearly existed, clearly predated Levi Strauss.
You're looking at farmers, you're looking at factory workers.
Miners were wearing denim.
The enslaved peoples of America were clothed very often in denim.
McCLENDON: Basically any type of labor, hard work, that you can think of in the late 19th century, you would have found people wearing denim.
Jeans did exist, but they ripped.
They ripped and they wore down and they became tatters.
They became unusable.
They didn't last as long.
Anybody who has ever torn a seam through exertion knows that there are certain points in garment structures that are more stressed than others.
So Jacob Davis is really sort of the unsung hero here.
♪ ♪ MORRISON: Jacob Davis was a tailor in Reno, Nevada or somewhere thereabouts in the 1870s.
ARON: Nevada was, you know, one of the great bonanzas at the time.
There's this enormous rush of people.
And great fortunes are made there from mining gold.
But the greatest fortunes that are made there are not made by individual prospectors.
They're made by the people who can sell goods to miners.
MORRISON: So this lady approached Jacob Davis and she said, "I have a portly husband who continues to rip "his work pants, and I'd like you to construct a sturdy pair for him."
So he thought, "Well, I have all these washer "and post rivets that people put on these saddles.
"Let's add these to all these places he keeps ripping his pants."
So he adds them to places like the fly and mouths of pockets, and even onto the mouth of the back pocket, which is a patch pocket.
Customer loved them.
Obviously, word of mouth spread.
Soon he had more customers than he could handle, and he wanted to scale up the business, but he was one man in a tailor shop in Reno, Nevada.
So he contacted Levi Strauss, who was his dry good supplier based in San Francisco, and offered him a partnership deal.
He said, basically, "Let's go into business together.
"We need a patent.
"We'll take out the patent, "and then we can make these riveted pants, because you have the wherewithal to scale up."
The two of them filed for the patent, and received it in 1873.
NEWS ANCHOR: The basic design has not changed in nearly a century and a half.
Today, every pair of Levi blue jeans has six copper rivets that ensure the longevity of each pair of pants.
McCLENDON: The rivets were crucial in the design for durability.
It was like making some kind of, you know, armor for your body, that could just hold up to anything.
SULLIVAN: With the addition of the copper rivets, the product becomes the most durable form of workwear available to any working American.
♪ ♪ I'm looking for the ultimate jeans!
(grunting loudly) Hya!
♪ ♪ McCLENDON: At the end of the 19th century, Americans were still largely working with their hands.
Nearly 70% of workers were toiling on farms, in factories, mines, or construction.
This, of course, created a huge market for jeans.
But jeans initially weren't called jeans.
They were called waist overalls.
SULLIVAN: Overalls were so prevalent in the culture that jeans were just a truncated version of overalls without the bib.
That's where the term "waist overalls" comes from.
♪ ♪ MORRISON: So 1890, 17 years of patent exclusivity for this rivet reinforced pocket by Levi Strauss and Company ends.
Now anyone can use the rivet reinforced pocket that wants to, and everybody does it.
LEVENTON: Once they lose their patent protection, there are rivets everywhere, there are knockoff logos and brands everywhere.
♪ ♪ MORRISON: So you have companies called Can't Bust 'Em, Can't Rip 'Em, and Never Rip and Never Wear Out.
SULLIVAN: There were brands called Blackbear, Dubbleware, Dozfit.
LEVENTON: And Fitsu.
MORRISON: Boss of the Road... SULLIVAN: Tuf Nut.
MORRISON: Stronghold... And so you have all these companies trying to push their version of the work pant out into society, and we start to see so much evolution going on within jeans.
LEVENTON: We started with one pocket and a button fly.
SULLIVAN: There were no belt loops.
Most people wore suspenders.
MORRISON: But in mining you can't have a strap over your shoulder that could get snagged and cause the mine to collapse.
So several folks had a rope tied around the waistband.
LEVENTON: Then a second pocket was added, and there was also a waist cinch.
MORRISON: And then they added zippers... SULLIVAN: Belt loops... LEVENTON: There was a rivet at the crotch.
People had been complaining about it for years.
I think they were happy to get rid of that rivet, and that has never come back.
McCLENDON: Denim was changing and so was America.
That image of someone clad in denim at the turn of the 20th century is inevitably, you know, romanticized.
And the reality is that people of all different ages, races, and genders were wearing denim during this time.
Sharecroppers in the South, Chinese immigrants on the transcontinental railway... ARON: As the word of the Gold Rush spreads not only across the nation, but across the whole world, people really from all over the world come through, and often stay in, San Francisco.
♪ ♪ Turning San Francisco overnight, not only into a booming boom town, but also into a place where you have more diversity, a more cosmopolitan place than any other spot on the face of the Earth.
♪ ♪ SULLIVAN: There was a huge nativist outcry in San Francisco at the time-- the idea that other people from elsewhere are coming to take our jobs away.
♪ ♪ ARON: The backlash galvanizes an immense political movement, who make it their central platform to see the expulsion of Chinese labor.
♪ ♪ MORRISON: There's a rise in racism you do see in the 1880s and '90s-- "No Chinaman made your clothes," and "Made by white labor only."
SULLIVAN: Because Levi was a San Francisco based company, they decided, "Okay, we're not hiring any Chinese people.
We're going to give the jobs to the local white people."
♪ ♪ BERRY: I think it's a challenge for us as we embrace how we came to be here, we have to embrace the whole story and the whole history.
♪ ♪ Jeans are a great example to think about American history and a way to go into parts of American history that we haven't always addressed.
(bulb flashes) MORRISON: During the Great Depression and the Farm Securities Act, and the contracting of photographers to go about the country to document everyday life, denim became symbolic of our nation.
You see people on the West Coast wearing jeans, and people laboring in the ports and the shipyards.
You see people in the Empire State sitting on I-beams during lunch breaks.
And you see tobacco farmers with sun-faded overalls and it became this common identity that I think helps the country to still feel unified even during dark times.
NEWSREEL ANNOUNCER: The knives are cutting; the load piles high.
The sun beats down from the August sky.
We built our freedom and strength this way.
We're building it still together.
SULLIVAN: Up until about the 1930s, denim was really worn out of necessity.
ANNOUNCER: When we get together we're hard to stop.
Working together... SULLIVAN: It wasn't until those years and beyond that the product went from a necessity to a fashion.
(whip cracking) A lot of that had to do with this nostalgia for the American West.
MAN: Hey, come back with them horses!
(gunshots) HOLLY GEORGE-WARREN: Thanks to westerns, cowboys became the American figure that kind of helped us get out of the Great Depression in a way.
We didn't have royalty like in England and other European countries, but we had cowboys wearing blue jeans.
Thank you so much.
GEORGE-WARREN: They were our knights in shining armor.
Follow me, ma'am, and you'll never go astray.
Right this way.
♪ ♪ ARON: It's hard for people today to really appreciate how big the western was.
As the United States is transformed from being a rural and agrarian nation to one in which most people live in cities or towns, there is a nostalgic embrace of the frontier world lost, and the cowboys in those westerns almost always were wearing jeans.
♪ ♪ And yet, there's no question that when we look more closely at the ways in which jeans come into the West, the story turns out to be much more problematic.
♪ ♪ The stories we tell are all white people.
In fact, the reality of life in the American West was much more multi-ethnic.
You know, a significant portion of the workforce were people of color-- people from Mexico, Native Americans, African Americans probably making up an eighth to a quarter of the cowboy workforce.
♪ ♪ So we have a much more complicated reality that contrasts with the whitening of those figures in the westerns.
♪ ♪ McCLENDON: Of course, Hollywood's take on the cowboy was just the start of denim spreading beyond the working class.
Now this shift is, is happening in an era of huge economic schisms.
The vast majority of people were really struggling during the Great Depression, but there continued to be an elite class of individuals.
They still traveled.
They still shopped.
MAN: ♪ If you want to be a cowboy ♪ ♪ Just come along with me ♪ ♪ If westward you'd be going.
♪ SULLIVAN: One consequence at the time was that this idea of the dude ranch came about.
The dude ranch was essentially a getaway, like sort of a spa getaway for wealthy Easterners.
MAN: ♪ Get yourself some wooly chaps ♪ ♪ Or can of beans in pails ♪ ♪ Then saddle up a wild mustang and head out on the trail.
♪ ADRIENNE ROSE BITAR: Because of the collapse of many of the sources of income based on cattle ranching and other traditional agricultural pursuits, many working cattle ranches turned their attention to dudes, which was a more reliable source of income.
MAN: ♪ The dude ranch cowhands demand the choicest roast ♪ ♪ They once ate beans and bacon but now it's quail on toast.
♪ BITAR: Many of these ranches were very remote.
It might take two weeks to even travel by train and horseback.
MAN: ♪ Yippee-ki-yay ♪ BITAR: They were expensive.
They accepted paying guests to participate in all the ranch chores-- to herd cattle, to brand cattle.
MAN: ♪ Each wrangling cowhand is acting as a guide ♪ ♪ He's rounding up the moonbeams ♪ ♪ For the lady at his side ♪ ♪ Yippee-ki-yay ♪ ♪ Ki-yay ♪ LEVENTON: This was particularly an opportunity for women.
American society was still not fully comfortable with the idea of women wearing pants in the 1930s.
Bifurcated garments seemed so unladylike.
♪ ♪ BITAR: Vacationing was a secure laboratory-- especially for the women.
When they looked in the mirror, which I think many dudines did, they didn't see their old self from Connecticut or Rhode Island; they saw a cowgirl from the movies.
♪ ♪ Denim afforded many women the ability to get dirty, to hunt, to fish, to ride horses.
So I think blue jeans on a dude ranch not only gave women the ability to move more freely, to experience their bodies in different ways, but perhaps also to sort of think more freely, to rethink their position in American society.
♪ ♪ SULLIVAN: This was one of the first times that women felt comfortable enough to say, "Hey, you know what?
"I enjoy wearing that kind of clothing.
I'm going to do it."
So the American blue jeans manufacturers realized that there was a substantial market to be conquered by creating blue jeans lines for women.
So you start seeing the design of jeans beginning to follow fashion in a way that they didn't previously do when they were strictly work pants.
♪ ♪ BITAR: Jeans entered the world of fashion in the 1930s because they functioned as a souvenir and they also functioned as a symbol of wealth and prestige.
Somewhat ironically, the clothes of the working man became a symbol that you belonged to the leisure class.
♪ ♪ McCLENDON: That's the dichotomy sort of represented in the juxtaposition between the Dorothea Lange photos of the Dust Bowl and Lady Levi's in "Vogue."
They can co-exist because there was this extreme inequality in America.
♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ NEWSREEL ANNOUNCER: Since October 16, 1940, millions of American men have joined the armed forces to defend our country and our democratic way of life.
LEVENTON: For many men and women, World War II was the first time they wore jeans.
NEWSREEL ANNOUNCER: The minute the ship left port, neckties were dropped.
The enlisted men wore dungarees and the traditional white hats were dyed blue.
Here are the men who will fight.
McCLENDON: World War II is a moment where denim goes global in a sense.
♪ ♪ One result of Americans fighting overseas was that the G.I.s, when they were off duty, were in many cases wearing blue jeans, and the locals took notice and thought, "Well, they look like movie stars, "they look cool.
They look like, you know, what we want to look like."
♪ ♪ McCLENDON: There's a way in which during the 1940s, because of the patriotism around World War II, denim almost became the blue in the red, white, and blue of the American flag.
MAN: ♪ The riveting machine ♪ McCLENDON: You know and Rosie the Riveter is a kind of classic example of this.
MAN: ♪ There's something true about red, white, and blue ♪ ♪ About Rosie the Riveter ♪ LEVENTON: "Rosie the Riveter" was a Norman Rockwell painting that ended up on the cover of "The Saturday Evening Post."
She was like the American everywoman, who when the menfolk were away fighting the war in Europe, she pitched in, she did her part.
MAN: ♪ All the day long ♪ ♪ Whether rain or shine ♪ ♪ She's a part of the assembly line ♪ ♪ She's making history working for victory ♪ ♪ Rosie the Riveter.
♪ SULLIVAN: With so many of the men overseas, something like six million mothers and daughters were suddenly going to work on a daily basis, and to a large extent wearing denim.
NEWSREEL ANNOUNCER: Waitress, salesgirls, housewives-- these girls are now ready to tackle the work of producing weapons and equipment essential to our armed forces.
SINGERS: ♪ Rosie, Rosie, Rosie, Rosie ♪ ♪ Working on an assembly line.
♪ (cheers and applause) NEWSREEL ANNOUNCER: A day of days for America and her allies.
(cheering continues) How jubilant was the taste of victory.
How sweet the rewards of peace.
(cheers and applause) From all the scattered battlefields, he returned home again to find a soldier's welcome.
♪ ♪ LEVENTON: So, what happens when the soldiers who were wearing denim overseas come home?
They kept wearing denim.
They're great pants.
They had gotten used to them.
They liked them.
♪ ♪ BILL HAYES: As the World War II vets started to come back, they obviously had been through a lot.
They felt a lot of camaraderie.
They felt a lot of brotherhood in the trenches.
And they come back into a very staid, kind of 9:00 to 5:00 lifestyle, for some people it wasn't going to work.
But the combination of a big motorcycle and denim, that really works.
MAN: ♪ He wore black denim trousers and motorcycle boots ♪ ♪ And a black leather jacket with an eagle on the back.
♪ HAYES: They've all got jeans on.
T-shirt with a cigarette pack rolled up in it-- you look pretty tough.
Suddenly bikers have become modern-day outlaws.
MAN: ♪ Well, he never washed his face and he never combed his hair ♪ ♪ He had axel grease embedded underneath his fingernails.
♪ LEVENTON: So the idea of the outlaw, which has always had a stronghold on the American popular imagination, was actually promoted by the movies, and linked in particular with jeans.
♪ ♪ SULLIVAN: You know, we see that a lot in the Hollywood of the 1950s, classically represented by Marlon Brando in the biker film "The Wild One."
♪ ♪ Brando's character, who was, of course, the guy who's asked, "What are you rebelling against?"
Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against?
SULLIVAN: And he says... What do you got?
Like, "I don't know what it is that I'm rebelling against.
I'm just doing it."
♪ ♪ HAYES: All bets were off at that point.
A lot of the teenagers may not have wanted to become Wally or Beaver.
But my friends call me Beaver.
Well, may I call you Beaver?
I'd like you to be my friend.
HAYES: They were able to make the choice, and part of that choice was, you know, having jeans on.
NEWSREEL ANNOUNCER: The early teens are years of upheaval and turmoil.
They're years of physical and glandular change.
Parents of almost every child find the age of puberty or early adolescence full of problems.
GEORGE-WARREN: After World War II, really the "teenager" as we now know it came into being.
NEWSREEL ANNOUNCER: Their actions may seem excessive but that's normal for teenagers.
They seem to spend hours in completely useless activities.
(rock and roll music playing) SULLIVAN: Prior to World War II, you were either a young person living at home, going to school, or when you were finished with school, then you entered the workforce.
You were contributing to the family income.
♪ You rockin' and you rockin' and you rockin' around ♪ ♪ Hop, hop, hop everybody ♪ SULLIVAN: After World War II, the middle class exploded.
Families could offer their kids more leisure time, more independence.
NEWSREEL ANCHOR: ...the rock and roll teenage cowboy.
GEORGE-WARREN: The American consumer economy was booming and it just became the American way of life: spend money, buy things, dress up, you know, move up the food chain.
NEWSREEL ANNOUNCER: Gather 'round, kiddies.
Today I'm going to give you a quick look-see at what the well-dressed teenager is doing in the way of fun and fashion.
SULLIVAN: If teenagers decided to work, they could use that money for their own benefit, for their own leisure time.
They could buy their own cars.
They bought their own records.
They sort of helped create rock and roll.
NEWSREEL ANNOUNCER: Teenagers... they're terrific.
♪ ♪ McCLENDON: Jeans got sort of (laughing): irreparably linked with cool.
And coolness became the ideal to strive for.
NEWSREEL ANNOUNCER: Kay's mother may have other opinions of style of what looks best.
But of course mother has old-fashioned ideas.
It's like, "What mom and dad want to do?
"Oh my God.
I can't even talk to them.
I do not want to wear what they're wearing."
NEWSREEL ANNOUNCER: The adolescent is self-centered.
LEVENTON: The charisma of deviance is powerful.
NEWSREEL ANNOUNCER: Their sloppiness is so deliberate as to be offensive.
♪ ♪ McCLENDON: So during the 1950s, denim becomes increasingly associated with biker gangs and juvenile delinquency.
There was a sort of fear, I think, among adults that if teenagers put on a pair of jeans, they were automatically going to become delinquents in some way.
GEORGE-WARREN: School systems literally started banning blue jeans because they identified the kids who wore them as the "bad seeds."
They were going to, you know, beat up a little old lady and steal her pocketbook or, or whatever.
SULLIVAN: The parents' generation started to clamp down, which caused a dip in sales.
Suddenly families were shying away from buying blue jeans.
♪ ♪ McCLENDON: The denim companies start to get worried.
As a result, a lot of the major companies band together to form what they called the Denim Council.
♪ ♪ ANNOUNCER: More people than ever are wearing denim.
You'd have to look far and wide to find an American of any age who has never worn blue jeans.
GEORGE-WARREN: So they start this whole campaign first to try to counter the "bad blue jean" look with the wholesome blue jean look.
"This is the right way to wear jeans," and it's neat with a nice shirt and this very kind of healthy-looking kid.
And then, "This is the bad blue jean."
And so it's the more the kid like with his hair hanging down, greasy, and all that kind of stuff.
There is a difference.
You can be a good kid and wear blue jeans.
ANNOUNCER: Denim is really great for sports.
Looks like this joker is knocking himself out trying to prove it.
Folks wear jeans to get the work done and jeans to relax in.
McCLENDON: They tried to create a National Denim Day.
They had all sorts of campaigns around the country which are all about the discovery of America.
They are about cowboys, they are about adventure, and history.
ANNOUNCER: Blue denim is a symbol of our pioneering spirit.
It goes right back to the beginning of America.
Men in blue denim opened up the old West, and built our bridges and skyscrapers.
SULLIVAN: That series of advertisements helped reverse the trend away from blue jeans.
JOHN F. KENNEDY: In the last few months more applications for the Peace Corps have come to us.
SULLIVAN: By the first years of the 1960s, the Peace Corps, JFK's initiative sending young Americans out across the globe to do good deeds, they were actually dressed in blue jeans.
That was their uniform.
So no longer was it that the bad kids were the only ones wearing blue jeans.
McCLENDON: One thing in particular that's interesting about this period is the denim companies spend all this time in the 1950s trying to get away from the rebel image and then the 1960s happens.
NEWSREEL ANNOUNCER: Hippies made a colorful scene with wild costumes, uninhibited dancing, and general high frolicking.
FORD: When we think about the denim story in the 1960s, we almost automatically think of the hippies, with their bellbottoms, and tie-dye, but the hippies weren't the only people wearing those clothes.
MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice.
A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true.
So we're going to stand up right here.
McCLENDON: The classic image of the Civil Rights Movement is Martin Luther King Jr. and he and many of his closest partners wore suits and button down shirts, sort of a "Sunday best" approach.
KING JR.: We will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty we are free at last.
(cheers and applause) SQUARE: Being a man of African descent, a lot hinged on his self-representation.
He needed to present himself to the world as a respectable person, because there was already a notch against him for being a Black man.
♪ ♪ FORD: The focus on the Sunday best has obscured the fact that at that time there were these young college students who say, "Instead, we're going to wear denim because we want to show "that our political bonds are to the Black working poor and not to the Black bourgeois."
♪ ♪ These young people, once they left Howard University, Fisk University, Tougaloo College, to head south, say, "We're going to wear this denim alongside "the working class and sharecroppers who had been "trying for decades to fight for their right to vote."
They were rebels with a cause.
(crowd clapping, singing) ♪ Freedom ♪ ♪ Freedom ♪ ♪ Freedom, freedom ♪ JENKINS: For young Black protesters, it absolutely is risky with what they're wearing because they already have the systemic pressure up against them presuming that they are of a lower class or status in society.
And so wearing a certain style of dress that is aligned with the laboring class, that is absolutely bold.
CROWD: ♪ Hold on ♪ ♪ Hold on.
♪ FORD: As this Southern movement spreads and garners national media attention, you now have white students who decide to go south to help with the organizing.
MAN: ♪ We are all here, Black and white ♪ FORD: So when those white students go back north, they go back wearing denim.
CROWD: ♪ Hold on, hold on.
♪ FORD: This becomes the look of youth rebellion in the 1960s.
♪ ♪ (shouting, clamoring) JOHN O'BRIEN DOCKER: ♪ Baby, don't call me a liar ♪ REPORTER: They represent a new form of social rebellion.
They dress in bizarre and colorful ways.
Hippies are very interesting... McCLENDON: The 1960s is a pivotal point in the history of denim.
REPORTER: They are hip, onto something good.
McCLENDON: Just like for the Civil Rights Movement, for the hippies, clothing was a form of political activism.
WOMAN: Of course it's a whole different way of living, it's a whole different way of thinking.
So many of the civilians have no concept.
But it's fun.
It's fun to be bizarre.
GEORGE-WARREN: There was such an emphasis with the counterculture on creativity, on individuality, self-expression.
♪ ♪ HILFIGER: People then embellished their jeans.
They sewed fringe on them...
They put feathers.
McCLENDON: They were patched... JENKINS: Painted... McCLENDON: Embroidered and shredded... HILFIGER: All of the sudden your jeans were your canvases.
♪ ♪ There was a cool factor.
And when rock stars and musicians started wearing denim, it became even cooler.
There was The Who, and Janis Joplin, and the Doors, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin.
So then everyone wanted to wear them.
MAN: ♪ By the time we got to Woodstock ♪ GEORGE-WARREN: "Woodstock"-- that movie completely expanded our idea of fashion.
I know for me being this kid in North Carolina, when I saw that movie, I'm like, "I want to wear clothes like that."
♪ A little help from my friends ♪ (vocalizing) LEVENTON: Denim was the uniform of that generation, and a lot of the denim companies started to capitalize on that.
McCLENDON: It's interesting to look at that case study of Levi's, because in the 1950s they tried so hard to get away from the counterculture.
And then by 1971, they use an aerial shot of the crowd at a music festival and just slap a Levi's logo on it, and that's it!
(cheers and applause) SULLIVAN: It's been said that "Those children of the '60s came in as a tribe and went out as a market."
They were the market for blue jeans.
(cheers and applause) ♪ ♪ McCLENDON: By the time you get into the early '70s, hippie chic is everywhere.
FORD: The fashion industry becomes wildly taken with these young radicals.
You have designers with ads that suggested that, "The real freedom movement is in your jeans."
(laughs) SQUARE: It is ironic, isn't it?
Rewind like a decade earlier, youth were sort of wearing denim as a form of rebellion.
By the time we get to the 1970s, like denim is being commodified.
♪ ♪ STEELE: The fashion industry co-opts authentic subcultural styles and then makes them part of the system.
Whether it seems dangerous or seems totally trivial, the fashion industry takes any cool look or stance and markets it if sees an audience for it.
♪ ♪ JENKINS: We start to see denim jeans become just a very lucrative product.
They were really a great blank canvas for designers to express themselves.
HILFIGER: When I was 16 years old, I was enamored with music and musicians, and I couldn't play so I couldn't be a musician, but I wanted to look like a rock star.
So I opened a small shop called People's Place and started selling jeans.
At one point I was thinking, "I think I could design better jeans than we're buying from vendors."
♪ ♪ McCLENDON: The fashion industry realizes that there's this massive market for all things denim.
Now it's sleek, high-rise, tight... ♪ ♪ There becomes a certain kind of glamor associated with jeans for the first time.
♪ ♪ HILFIGER: It was a turning point, which became the era of designer jeans.
There was Gloria Vanderbilt, Calvin Klein... SQUARE: There was Halston... HILFIGER: Sasson... McCLENDON: Fiorucci... HILFIGER: Sergio Valente... We were really trying to outdo one another with sexiness.
(whistling) But when Brooke Shields, as a young teen, was the Calvin Klein poster girl, I think heads turned.
You wanna know what comes between me and my Calvins?
ANNOUNCER: Calvin Klein Jeans.
HILFIGER: Everyone said, "Okay, well, this is going to a whole new level."
WOMAN: ♪ You've got the look I want to know better ♪ McCLENDON: It is like a tidal wave over the whole industry.
♪ ♪ GEORGE-WARREN: People started actually verbalizing what everyone had known for a hundred years, that blue jeans are sexy.
WOMAN: ♪ Jordache has the fit that's right.
♪ McCLENDON: By the late '70s, designer jeans were chipping away at the fashion hierarchy.
They make it acceptable for anyone to wear a pair of jeans at any time or place.
STEELE: Jeans undermine the idea of what fashion was supposed to be.
They were part of a more general democratization of fashion.
(siren blaring) It suddenly became possible to wear jeans in almost all settings.
("Rapper's Delight" by Sugar Hill Gang playing) ♪ Hip hip hop and you don't stop ♪ ♪ We rock it out, baby, boppa to the boogity bang bang ♪ ♪ Boogie to the boogie, the beat ♪ JENKINS: In the late 1970s around the Bronx in New York City, we start to see hip hop emerge.
And denim jeans become this sort of a uniform.
MAN: ♪ You see I'm six foot one and I'm tons of fun ♪ ♪ And I dress to a T ♪ ♪ You see I got more clothes than Muhammad Ali ♪ ♪ And I dress so viciously ♪ FORD: For African Americans, a pair of designer jeans came with a lot of value.
That's why we get language coming straight out of hip hop, like "fresh," "dope," "fly."
MAN: ♪ And the rest is F-L-Y ♪ FORD: You know, because that spoke to the value of clothing.
MAN: ♪ Everybody go hotel... ♪ HILFIGER: Hip hop changed denim in a very big way.
The hip hop stars started going on tour and doing MTV videos wearing really cool clothes.
The way in which it was worn was very different.
MAN: ♪ Oh my Lord ♪ ♪ Another corn chopped by the Wu-Tang sword ♪ ♪ Hey hey hey ♪ JENKINS: In the early '80s, with bands like Run DMC, it's just more of a straight look, but then it becomes more baggy.
♪ Blow up your project then take all your assets ♪ ♪ 'Cause I came to shake the frame in half ♪ FORD: And then they started to wear brands like Ralph Lauren, and Nautica, Tommy Hilfiger.
Those brands represented a lifestyle that historically African Americans had been excluded from.
I want to thank Snoop Doggy Dog and everybody on the show.
So wonderful... (cheers and applause) SQUARE: I mean when we think about those brands, we think about the country club or yachting.
PUBA: ♪ Tommy Hilfiger top gear ♪ ♪ Take no shorts I'm doing lovely in all sports ♪ ♪ Even swing the pole at the hole in my golf course ♪ SQUARE: By putting a brand like Ralph Lauren or Tommy Hilfiger on their backs, they were changing the meaning of the brand.
This brand that's associated with all-American identity or whiteness becomes associated with like hip hop culture.
♪ K7 and The Swing Kids ♪ ♪ Da ding de ding de ding de de de ding ding ♪ ♪ Da ding de ding ♪ ♪ De ding de de de ding ♪ ♪ De de de ding ding de de de ding ding ♪ ("Come Baby Come" by K7 playing) JENKINS: Not only do we see hip hop artists able to remix sounds, and, you know, like in music, but they're also able to take clothing and remix it for their own means.
MAN: ♪ Yeah, yeah ♪ JENKINS: To get your hands on that clothing and wear it is subversive in a way.
Because it is saying, "I'm not supposed to be wearing this, but look at me, I am."
("Come Baby Come" continues) Hip hop really helped to take command of the denim narrative.
MAN: Bring it!
("Come Baby Come" continues) K7 and the Swing Kids!
(cheers and applause) ♪ ♪ STEELE: Jeans are probably the single most iconic garment of the 20th century.
Each generation keeps rediscovering how jeans can be meaningful for them.
♪ ♪ ROCKMAN: Blue jeans are an amazing thing for anyone trying to tell a broader history of the United States.
It allows you to talk about slavery.
It allows you to talk about fashion and consumerism.
It allows you to talk about cool and the invention of cool.
And to have all of these things under the same heading is really quite remarkable.
♪ ♪ McCLENDON: Denim and its history is a perfect metaphor for where we find ourselves as a culture right now.
Becoming much more aware of the silences, of those groups that have been pushed to the side.
Exposing and celebrating these narratives that haven't made it into that typical telling of jeans is part of the work to change our understanding of American history.
♪ ♪ FORD: It's a long journey from "Negro cloth" to hip hop denim and baggy jeans ruling the denim market in the 1990s.
As I sit here in a denim jacket, you know, it's clear to me that we can see the rich tapestry of where we've been as a people, as a nation.
♪ ♪ JENKINS: The thing about the denim jean is it tells a story about who we are.
It's a garment that's almost like keeping the fingerprints of our history-- the creases, the tears, all of it.
You know, you can repair it all you want, mend it all you want, but the scars of that, you know, the memory, that material memory will remain there.
♪ ♪ ANNOUNCER: Next time, the story of three Black diplomats who broke racial barriers.
WOMAN: The State Department was extremely elitist.
MAN: They could never conceive that a Black man could ever be an ambassador.
WOMAN: It is hard to do the work of America when you have been Jim Crowed by your own government.
ANNOUNCER: "The American Diplomat," next time, on "American Experience."
Made possible in part by Liberty Mutual Insurance.
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