On my first day of school, I walked to the schoolhouse wearing a pair of stiff new blue jeans, a white polo shirt and a pair of brown Hush Puppies. The jeans were way too long, so I wore them rolled up into triple-layer cuffs. When I got to school, I saw that the other boys’ shirts and shoes varied in age, color and style, but every one of us had on a pair of brand new rolled-up blue jeans. Our mothers purposely bought those jeans long, because they meant for the jean legs to keep up with our growing leg bones for a year or two, maybe more.
Some of the boys had iron-on knee patches on their brand new jeans. Of course, all of us got knee patches sooner or later, because we played a whole lot of baseball, football and marbles. Knee patches on old jeans were normal, expected and inevitable. But preventative patches on new jeans were a sign of a mother who worried a little too much about what people thought of her. Back then, in Burnettown, S.C., a one-day-old hole in your jeans was forgivable. But a two-day-old hole meant that your mother was a full-time drunk, sick or dead.
I know it sounds quaint now, but when I was in elementary school, every child was expected to come out of the house every morning scrubbed up like a show dog, and wearing perfectly clean—and hole-free—clothes.
When my Burnettown classmates and I went to high school—which was defined as seventh grade and up at the time—we were told that we couldn’t wear jeans to school anymore. A few social climbers in Horse Creek Valley had decided that jeans were for menial workers and ne’er-do-wells, and not good enough for their kids. There we were, preteens in a cotton-mill town, going to schools that were built with cotton-mill money, and we were boycotting cotton jeans in favor of fake-fiber pants.
Well, don’t you know, the school parents—mostly jeans-wearing cotton-mill workers and ne’er-do-wells themselves—wouldn’t put up with that. Langley-Bath-Clearwater high school never enforced the no-jeans rule.
Except for a short preppy-dressing period in the seventh and eighth grades, I wore jeans all along. They were comfortable, they lasted a long time and they were cheap. I started buying my own jeans when I was about 14, when a good pair of Levi’s cost $3.99. I tried to keep about four pair in the closet.
When I got to college, jeans were up to about 6 bucks. About the same time, people stopped patching the holes in their jeans. Girls who looked pretty and clean just let their knees blow out and let their hems fray. A few seriously alternative types—who might or might not be wearing underwear—let their asses blow out. I couldn’t help but look at those folks and think, I hope your mama’s dead, because I know she’d die if she saw that hole in the ass of your pants.
Now, here I am with a teenage daughter, and I’m finding out that a whole lot has changed in the jeans world since I was her age. For instance, a pair of every-dang-day-nothing-special girl jeans costs at least 60 bucks, if a girl can find them on sale. Wife Brenda tells me that when girl jeans aren’t on sale, they never cost less than 80 bucks. She goes on to tell me that it’s not a bit unusual for girls to spend nearly 150 bucks on a pair of blue jeans.
Which made me say, pretty loudly, “Tell me that this family has not spent anywhere near 150 dollars on a pair of dungarees. Because if y’all are spending that kind of money on dungarees, I’m going to start buying pants for both of you. My mother never paid more than 2 damn dollars for a pair of dungarees. They’re supposed to be cheap.”
About that time, daughter Jess walked into the room. “What are dungarees?” she asked.
“Dungarees are blue jeans, baby,” I said. “Cheap blue jeans.”
“Oh! I’ve heard that. That’s what they call some of the Lucky Brand jeans.”
“What do those cost?”
“About a hundred dollars,” she said.
“Sweet Baby Jesus,” I replied. “I’m going to buy y’all a sewing machine, and let you make your own clothes.”
I looked up Lucky Brand girl dungarees on the Internet, and I found out that most of them come worn out, with holes and rips all over them. Faded-out spots, too. And if a girl wants a pair with a little embroidery—which sweet hippie girls used to do all by themselves—they cost about 200 dollars.
While I was on the Internet, I found an inflation calculator, which told me that my 4-dollar Levi’s from high school ought to be selling for about 20 bucks now.
I am amazed that we Americans are paying extra—hell, 10 times extra—for people on the other side of the world to tear up our blue jeans before we even wear them. I’m afraid we’ve crossed the event horizon of the black hole of decadence. If we keep on like this, we might as well just turn out the lights and turn the country over to the Chinese.