by Drew Shiel
The next piece of research I want to do is around denim, based on the shirt Carlos is wearing. In advance of that, I want to set down some thoughts about the fabric, before I start getting biased by what comes up in the research.
Denim is a cotton-based fabric. It’s quite stiff, it’s usually in dark colours, although it gets lighter with age, and it copes well with fraying and tearing. To my mind, it’s a uniquely American fabric, and it’s tied up quite strongly with the 80s. It’s very definitely seen as an indicator of casualness; there is no formal denim clothing. Even something in the shape of an odd jacket, say, would still be seen as a very informal (and possibly somewhat strange) garment. It carries with it associations of visible stitching, and metal buttons, or the rivets used in jeans.
The American thing is pretty easy to pin down – there is no garment that is more identified with the US, especially the west, and the association of denim and cowboys is probably a pretty permanent thing by now.
The 80s thing is less clear. I’m pretty sure that jeans were really seen for the first time in Ireland in the 80s. Certainly, I remember my parents not considering them suitable wear for me, and I distinctly remember my father being a little sheepish when he bought a pair in the mid-nineties. The first memory I have of them being mentioned as a distinct stylistic element was when teenagers whose parents my parents knew were telling stories of shrink-to-fit jeans, and someone’s father’s horror at the concept. That would have been in around 1987. I’m aware that jeans have been worn consistently since, but I think the denim jacket, particularly, and the denim shirt to a lesser degree have since declined.
So there we go: casual, somewhat dated, and distinctly American in my mind.