"A world in which 80% of people are wearing the same basic design of trouser cannot be a healthy one," I scribble in my notebook, and begin to wonder whether jeans will ever be displaced in my lifetime. I've been waiting for them to go out of fashion for at least twenty years, but the public's appetite for them -- neat pressed ones or faded, horrible ones, prefatigued, with bum, groin and knee stains that look as if they've been sitting in puddles of bleach -- never seems to fade. Will airports still look this way in ten, twenty, thirty years? Will there be a post-jeans culture one day? Will I live to see it?
"Throw away your skinny jeans," advises an article in The Guardian today. "Instead, resolve to at least try on some flared jeans." The post-jeans age doesn't start here, anyway.
I last wore blue jeans in July 2003. It didn't feel -- or look -- like me. Perhaps I'll never wear them again.
Let's not go into the virtues of the trousers -- clearly they have some. It's just that whenever 80% of people are doing the same thing, some alarm bells should ring. We should start imagining alternative worlds. I know that I respond positively to anybody not wearing jeans. It's a point in their favour, a mark of originality. Long skirts, old mannish trousers sporting checks and tartans, the Muslim salwar.
Sitting in Burger King at Schonefeld airport, watching the same pair of trousers (with minor variations) amble by for ten, twenty, thirty minutes, I began to wonder what it means that we all dress the same way (I was wearing white jeans, same basic shape, slit up to the ankle by the previous owner). I began to wonder what it means that the most interestingly-dressed people at the airport were the engineers in their functional high-visibility plastic suits, just as the only original vehicles were the odd flattened utility vehicles that run about the tarmac between the planes like weird beetles, not the identical rows of consumer cars out in the car parks.
The inevitability of jeans is clearly part of the monoculture we live in. It's part of the paradox that, in a time when more people are alive than ever before, there are fewer and fewer styles, erasure of difference, pluricide. It's part of globalization and Americanization. It's part of an ongoing move towards convenience and informality as the ultimate values people live by. "Give me denim or give me death!", as I once put it in an article for Index magazine, after showing a Levi's scout around Berlin. This "denim evangelist" told me she wanted people to keep their jeans on day and night, and love them and wear nothing else and "make them their own". The next best thing, she told me, was rock music.
But denim and rock music have become official culture. They've become the thing to fight against. Their dreadful disinhibition, their repressive desublimation, has become as coercive and conformist as starched collars ever were.
I'm not at all impressed by people who say "but originality is all in the details -- uncool people have uncool jeans, cool people have cool jeans". Or people who say "there are cheap jeans for cheap people and expensive jeans for expensive people". Or people who say "accessorize them with a chain or some bondage straps!" You're still basically wearing the same pair of trousers, you boring fucks! It's tragic that originality should boil down to a slightly different type of stitching, the placement of a pocket.
What would it take for the end of this monolithic jeans culture to begin? Just someone blogging about how boring jeans are? Someone pointing out how disturbing it is that everyone wears them, like blue tarpaulins over a condemned building? Someone shouting "Bring back fundoshi, bring back the toga, bring back the robe! Skirts for men! Kilts!"
movie</a> the Design Museum has prepared to promote their show about chairs. Designer Martino Gamper set himself the task of designing 100 chairs in 100 days. He scoured the streets of London for discarded chairs, chopped them up, and put them back together in new combinations. He compares it to musicians sampling rather mundane and everyday phrases, but putting them together in fresh splices.
"I keep seeing a lot of similar chairs," says Gamper in the film, "because there are only so many chairs out there, so I keep leaving them there... For me they're very much personalities... When they mass produce a chair that looks the same as any one, any reproduction, I think there's no space out there for chairs with very much character... if everyone goes in the same direction there's space for a few people to create charismatic pieces of furniture."
Even that's a slightly sad message -- the conformity of the mass allows an elite to go off and create exclusive, "charismatic" products. If we're to say "down with blue jeans!", let's at least say it for everyone. Let's be generous and inclusive.