Tuesday, April 27, 2010

All-American Style

Revised Draft:

Earlier Drafts:
Anne-Marie shared her jet-setting style
I brushed the dust off this jacket

turquoise beaded necklace (Kohl's)
white t-shirt (American Eagle)
blue cotton blazer (Gap Outlet)
jeans (Gap)
sneakers (Converse Chuck Taylor)

As part of our ongoing discussion of simplicity and questioning of the idea of a "national" style, I thought I'd contribute one of the quintessential "American" looks:  jeans and a white t-shirt.  Growing up in California, we were taught that jeans were an American invention of the gold rush era.  Levi Strauss had been using a heavy cotton material to make tents for the miners when he realized that the same material could be used to make very sturdy pants.  Enter Jacob Davis, who suggested adding the rivets, and the "Blue Jean" was born.  You can read the history of the jean according to Levis Strauss & Co here.  Calling this an "American" invention seems problematic, since Strauss and many of the miners were immigrants, and they were mining gold in a region that the U.S. had only recently acquired from Mexico.  But they didn't tell us that in 4th grade, naturally.

I also have a strong mental association between jeans and US citizens because of the only trip I've made overseas.  When I spent time in Ireland with my friends in 2004, none of us could pack heavily, so we each brought two pairs of jeans.  Everywhere we went, we were almost the only women wearing jeans.  When we walked into pubs, people called us Americans before we spoke a word.  I imagine jeans were not the only visual marker of our foreign-ness, but they were certainly the most obvious difference I could recognize.

Recently, we experienced another indication that the jean is quintessentially American.  Burton, who is developing a tradition of creating U.S. Olympic Snowboard Team uniforms to resemble staples of Americana, fashioned the 2010 uniform to look like a pair of jeans with a flannel shirt.  In 2006, Burton designed a white pinstriped uniform intended to resemble vintage pinstriped baseball uniforms.  Why is our snowboard team invested in trying to look so "American"?  I don't know this for sure, but I imagine it's because we think of snowboarding as an American invention and want to differentiate ourselves on the hill as the originators of the sport.  I do know that those snowboard jeans caused quite a stir in Vancouver!

When I put this look together, I was meeting a friend for breakfast and some shopping.  Normally I would have worn this blazer and jeans combination with a white button down and a pair of flats, but I drew some inspiration from Anne-Marie's "jet-setting" look in hopes of making my ensemble more casual but still pulled together.  I really like the combination of the fitted jacket with the more casual Chuck Taylors, which is a shoe that I also consider iconically "American."  (Mr. Taylor and his basketball shoe deserve a post of their own, so I'll go into more detail about them in the future.)

  • I get the feeling that jeans are more ubiquitous overseas these days.  For those of you who travel or live in Europe, how frequently do you see or wear them?
  • Any other good stories about jeans and Americana that you want to share?
  • Is there a different clothing item that you think is a strong signifier of American-ness?
  • How have you used styles you've seen on fashion/style blogs to inform your own dressing choices?  If so, how?


Gina Americana said...

I'm an American living in Sweden. This country (as well as most of the Nordic region) is totally obsessed with classic American clothing & the lifestyle that goes with it. I've started a blog (and am writing a book) about American clothing legends' history & interesting facts in order to give my friends & neighbors here a little context for the clothes from my homeland that they love. Thanks for your musings on the subject!

Scholar Style Guide said...

I think you've been bluffing this entire time, because you pull off casual looks as well as you do professional ones! That turquoise necklace provides the perfect pop of color.

- Anne-Marie

La Historiadora de Moda said...

I agree that there is a sort of assumption that jeans and tennis shoes are American, but I think the stereotypical American tourist wears jeans and athletic sneakers, like Nikes.

I find your experience in Ireland funny because a couple years ago in Madrid it seems that all I saw on people in their younger twenties were jeans (or leggings) and converses in the spring. I know of several very popular shoe shops in Madrid that are almost entirely devoted to selling Converse and Puma. In terms of jeans, they were ubiquitous there. I actually only became brave enough to pair skinny jeans with shoes other than tall boots after seeing so many European women of all body types wearing skinny jeans with heels or flats instead of boots.

Scholar Style Guide said...

Gina Americana, good luck with the book project! I enjoyed the photos on your blog and am intrigued by foreign interest in Americana.

Thanks, AM!

LHDM, the temporality of cross-cultural mixing has always intrigued me. For example, when I was in Ireland, all the girls were wearing tall, flat, suede boots with straps all over them and a slouchy look. My friend liked them but didn't want to spend that kind of money on what would be a fashion risk back home. Fast forward two years, and tons of young women in the US were wearing the exact same boots. (I now have a similar pair, myself, without the straps or suede.) When I was there, some of the men wore jeans, but I can honestly count on one hand the number of young women I saw wearing jeans that were not American. Now that style seems to have "crossed over." It seems clear that it is precisely a mixing-- not that one continent is "ahead" of the other in terms of styles.