September 16, 2005

In my day, we dyed our legs blue, not our hair

Whenever I buy a pair of jeans, I am still shocked at how comfortable they feel and how well they fit -- the first time I try them on! Buying jeans has not always been this easy. I still remember the days when jeans were not prewashed.

When I was young, breaking in a new pair of jeans took a whole day. My friend Outdoor Girl and I used to buy jeans at the same time so that we could go through the process together. And Outdoor Girl took this kind of things very seriously.

First, we would go to the little store on the main street of TrainTrack Village to buy the jeans. The store was owned four very old people who were related in some way, although I never did figure out how. Because so many men in town at that time worked on the railroad, the store was filled with workboots, bandanas, wool socks, leather work gloves, and stiff men's jeans. Jeans were not sold at fashionable boutiques. Jeans were what working men wore.

The jeans were not pre-washed. They were stiff, as stiff as the canvas on a suitcase. Outdoor Girl and I always insisted on trying them on, much to the dismay of the Very Old Woman, who would shuffle us back to the storeroom, where we could stand amidst all the boxes of workboots and pull these stiff pants on. We would be very serious and polite to the Very Old Woman, but as soon as she left the room, giving one last glare, we would both start giggling. Even in the dim lit of the one hanging light bulb, the jeans looked ridiculous - way too big, and stiff enough to be able to stand on their own. They were men's jeans, not made for the bodies of teen-age girls. Always, we would have to cuff them up before attempting to even walk.

Once we had purchased the jeans, carefully handing over the wrinkled bills our parents had given us, Outdoor Girl would outline her plan for breaking them in. The first rule, of course, was that we had to keep them on all day. The second rule was to see how many times we could get them wet and let them dry, shrinking the cotton until it fit our bodies.

Swimming in a pond was always our first choice. How heavy new jeans feel when they are soaking wet! We'd roll around on the ground to get them dirty, then jump back into the pond. Sometimes we would volunteer to wash a family car, spraying the hose on each other. Always, and this was important, we let the jeans dry while still on our body. Outdoor Girl had this theory that we had to move around a lot, so often we would blare a radio and dance -- yes, to seventies music because this was the seventies. Sometimes we went horseback riding. Sometimes we would find a playground and go on swings. Our wet jeans would stick stubbornly as we tried to go down the hot metal slide. Outdoor Girl came up with all kinds of ideas and I always played along. Breaking in jeans was great fun.

At the end of the day, when we finally stripped off the jeans, ready now to toss them into the hamper so they would be washed, our lower bodies would be dyed blue, a streaky navy blue that looked especially funny on Outdoor Girl because she has very white skin. But our work would be done. The jeans would be ready to wear: softer, more comfortable, and fitted to our bodies. Buying prewashed jeans is just not the same.

21 comments:

Rob Helpy-Chalk said...

Jeans were not sold at fashionable boutiques. Jeans were what working men wore.
...
yes, to seventies music because this was the seventies


Lovely memory but...Didn't Jordache introduce the first designer jeans in the 70s?

You can't play that much of an old timer--you're not that much older than me. My parents were buying me Sears Toughskins jeans in the 70s, so I know they weren't just working men's clothing.

jo(e) said...

Yeah, designer jeans came into style somewhere in the seventies, I think, but they were for rich people. In the community I'm from, everyone bought the stiff men's jeans. They were way cheaper.

But hey, I am 44, Rob, which makes me older and wiser than you.

Yankee T said...

We used to buy our jeans at the Army-Navy store. Stiff. Mens. Required much pounding and rolling around, for sure.

Sue said...

Since we're talking about the '70s -- the fashion nightmare that should never have happened -- did anyone else cut the side hem of their jeans and sew in a piece of paisely or floral cotton so they would be even wider at the bottom.

Oh, the shame of it all....what were we thinking????

Running2Ks said...

I love this post. Hey, I did hear a rumor that you were supposed to go infertile if you wore them that tight. Guess that was an urban legend ;) Inventive means of breaking in.

partsnpieces said...

LOL... I completely forgot about "blue legs." And the paisley pant leg inserts!!!! All I do remember from that time (fashion-wise) were hip-hugger jeans of really bright colors and "peasant blouses"....

Psycho Kitty said...

Oh heck. I'm a bit younger but I do remember this...now. I'd forgotten until now. How funny.

Rob Helpy-Chalk said...

The leg inserts are still around--they even enjoyed a genuine resurgence a few years ago. And just last weekend, we went to a local fair and saw a goth-ish young woman with leg inserts in her black jeans. They were muted enough to go well with the rest of her goth ensemble.

Piece of Work said...

Toughskins from Sears! Oh how we loved getting tht Sears catalogue. And Mom would let us pick out two things each, to earmark for Santa.
My sister and I always fought over the toughskins--who would get the red ones, who would get the green ones.

Mona Buonanotte said...

In our little town, the girls would also cut the bottom two inches off each leg, sew a 2-inch horizontal piece of fabric between the cut ends, and...presto!...longer jeans. So they could trip on them, of course.

jo(e) said...

I loved the cloth inserts that made bell bottom jeans even wider! I'd forgotten all about them. And of course, velour shirts were in style to go with the jeans. I *loved* velour and wore it long after it went out of style.

colleen said...

We called them dungarees where I came from (MASS)

Phantom Scribbler said...

Hey, I had a large and varied collection of purple striped velour shirts in the 70s. I miss those shirts. I'd still wear them. Hell, I'm still wearing the Levi's corduroys...

Rob Helpy-Chalk said...

The joke-punk band Dash Rip Rock did a song about velour. They had a big costume change right before they played it live. It was great.

(I see from DRR's web page that they all survived Katrina, which is nice to hear.)

listmaker said...

I had forgotten about buying men's jeans and how they turned everything they came in contact with a lovely shade of blue. We didn't roll around in the mud with them, but I do remember washing and washing them to soften them up. Then, when their useful life as pants was over, splitting the leg seams open and creating an oh-so-lovely mini skirt. What were we thinking?

Speaking of fashion horrors, does anyone remember gym suits?

MommyProf said...

"Make 'em soft,
give 'em some shade
with soft...
and fade"

Anyone remember this, or was it a Northeast thing?

jo(e) said...

Gym suits? I've tried to repress that memory, listmaker.

MommyProf: I'm from the northeast but I don't remember that ....

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

I love your writing, jo(e)!!! It's great!

I used to do some of these same things to break in my jeans.

One time when I went to a sledding hill in SnowStorm City, a big one, it was all iced over and I discovered I could rocket down the hill in my new jeans (no sled needed). Which I did, repeatedly, leaving blue streaks down the hill and on my legs. The jeans turned white--just where I was sitting--the mark of my legs and butt clear on the back of the jeans. I thought it was terribly embarrassing, but now they sell jeans like that! AK!

And yes, I do remember gym suits, boy were THEY HIDEOUS!

CarpeDM said...

I remember sitting in the bathtub in cold water to get them to conform to my body. I remember the blue legs. Hadn't thought of it for years.

Anonymous said...

My father, after a full day of watching me rip, frey , drop paint and graffitti my brand new jeans(1980's), decided to tell me about how before i was born (the early "70's") he bought jeans from the navy store and spent the day "breaking them in" too. It was a summer ritual my father and a few of his mates would partake in. After buying the pants, they would all pile into the back of my fathers Candyapple Red Van and head to the beach. They would spend the day wearing nothing but the jeans and swimming. Apparently , he learnt that plain water made the die run into the skin. The salt water didnt and it also helped fade them too look like older worn in pants.

My Daughter , now at the same age, is "Breaking in" her jeans. She used dish washing liquid in a droper to fade words and patterns and remove the back pockets to "show off" the shadowing on the bum.

Time doesnt really change much from generation to generation, just the methods.

i dont said...

I found this because I had a flashback to that old 70's commercial for Soft & Fade and did a search, sadly the comment above is all I found.

I was probably 6 years old when that was playing but for some reason I still remember most of the lyrics to the jingle. Along with Underalls, Nair and a few other commercials targeted to teens that found their way into my 3 channels of cartoon fun.

Does this make me another soul lost to the media age? :)