Gautaman Bhaskaran
an indian journalist
Contact Me
Home Page
Site Search
© Copyright 2004





In Fashion…Jeans are sexy, sometimes sick

Jeans first came to India in the 1950s. This is the probable date, though I do not remember seeing them in any great number till the early 1970s. Jeans were certainly a very urban, sophisticated and even stylish piece of garment that went on to become casual and unisexual.

I can never tell when jeans walked out of cities into towns and villages. But when I visited the South Indian temple town of Kanchipuram, an hour’s drive from Chennai, in the early 1990s, I saw a rustic weaver in a silk handloom outfit wearing jeans. The picture of a villager sporting a pair of blue jeans and weaving a traditional Kanchipuram “pattu” (silk) sari was a study in sheer contrast.

But soon, one began seeing truck drivers and factory workers in jeans, and the reason was not exactly high fashion. It was convenience: these trousers lasted and needed hardly to be washed. I suppose dirt just did not show in them.

But jeans had a different role to play in cities. They made style statements. Made from a variety of fabrics (the original denim gave way to corduroy) and in different colours (the classic blue led to blacks, greys and creams) and textures (remember the faded ones, the sand washed looks and the holes in them?), jeans are perhaps one of the sexiest pieces of clothing today. They can hug your body and accentuate your figure, they can slip dangerously low on your waist and they can, in short, do wonders to the way you look. Experiments with these “leggings” have been numerous.

The latest, I am told, has been made by an Auroville firm in Puducherry (the new name for Pondicherry), near Chennai. It has just launched the world’s first eco-friendly and one hundred per cent naturally-dyed, hand-loomed jeans. Organically grown cotton, natural dyes and naturally-manufactured buttons are used. The jeans are dyed through a bio-degradable environment-friendly process. The denim cloth is woven on handlooms using ancient Indian techniques.

In fact, Jeans are in some ways pretty ancient. The earliest known pre-cursor for jeans is the Indian export of a thick cotton cloth, in the 16th century, known as dungaree. Dyed in indigo, it was sold near the Dongarii Fort, close to Mumbai. Sailors cut the fabric to suit their sizes and styles.

But the Jeans as we know them today were first created in Genoa, Italy, when the city was an independent republic and a naval power. The jeans were made for the Genoese Navy because it required all-purpose trousers for its sailors that could be worn wet or dry, and which could easily be rolled up when the men cleaned decks.

In the 1850s, Levi Strauss, a German dry goods merchant living in San Francisco, was selling blue jeans under the "Levi's" name to the mining communities of California. This is perhaps the first recorded instance of jeans being branded. The Levi still exists, and tops in appeal.

Jeans have had a fascinating evolution. Today, the tightest among them are the hottest, and the low-waisted is undoubtedly the most seductive. Some women wear their jeans low enough to reveal tattoo marks on their back. Some have begun to wear bras made of denim to match their jeans.

However, with jeans flying into the fashion zone more often than not, their comfort factor has begun to take a second place. I have often seen women in jeans that seem almost like their second skin.

Tight hip-hugging, thong showing jeans, as worn by the likes of Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez, Paris Hilton and Madonna, have now been the subject of a health warning. A few years ago, the Canadian Medical Association Journal received a letter detailing the cases of three women who developed a nerve condition similar to carpal tunnel syndrome as a result of regularly wearing very tight jeans.

But it is not only the women who need to watch out. Men, especially those considering fatherhood, will have to go easy on wearing tights, because it can cause infertility by damaging their testicles.

So, fashion must be synonymous with comfort and health. A pair of jeans ought to go beyond mere looks. They should be comfy.

(Webposted May 1 2007)