Denim: Research

by Drew Shiel

I noted starting out that I think of denim as being an American fabric. Well, “denim” derives from “serge de Nîmes”, after Nîmes in France. And “jeans” comes from “Gênes”, the French for Genoa, in Italy. So not so much with the American.

I haven’t been able to place any specific reason it’s seen as informal – other than historical associations. However, one possibility is the way in which it wears, with colours dimming as the fabric gets rubbed or eroded. It is, however, definitely informal; denim can only make an outfit more casual.

It’s not that you can’t get denim suits, either – see this example. But it looks weird, quite aside from the anachronistic double-breasted long cut; the fabric stands oddly, and the colour and edging look off. This example, with a leather collar, is of a more conventional cut, but it’s still consciously strange. However, if you move away from something that’s taking on the shape we associate with Western formality, as in this Nehru jacket, the denim no longer looks alien. I think the problem with the denim fabric comes up when something we associate with formality is juxtaposed with something definitively casual. You get the same effect from runners with a suit, although the assumption there is that it’s more convenience than mistake, and that the wearer has “proper” shoes with him.

However, runners with a suit – or at least, something in the Converse line – has been used as a fashion statement in recent years, so it’s entirely possible that we’ll see some more widespread use of denim in that borderline, slightly rebellious area of menswear in years to come.