American Experience

S34 E1 | PREVIEW

Trailer | Riveted: The History of Jeans

Discover the fascinating story of this iconic American garment. From their roots in slavery to the Wild West, hippies, high fashion and hip-hop, jeans are the fabric on which the history of American ideology and politics is writ large.

AIRED: February 07, 2022 | 0:01:45
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TRANSCRIPT

Blue jeans are the symbol of our pioneering spirit.

It goes right back to the beginning of America.

You don't really stop and think about

why half the population of the planet

is wearing them on any given day.

We just are.

Jeans are the quintessential American garment.

But it's always the same story.

It's about the cowboys in the West.

It's about Levi Strauss and the gold rush.

And yet so much of the story we tell about jeans is a myth.

Like any other good product of America,

we borrow all the best ideas from everywhere.

Back in the 19th century, denim really dominated.

basically any type of labor,

you would have found people wearing denim.

And then around World War II, denim was changing.

It gave women the ability to move more freely

and perhaps also to rethink their position in American society.

It undermined the idea of what fashion was supposed to be.

All of a sudden.

Everyone wanted to wear them.

People know that when they wear them, they look cool.

For African Americans,

a pair of designer jeans came with a lot of value.

Hip-hop really helped to take command of the denim narrative.

You'd have to look far and wide

to find an American of any age who has never worn blue jeans.

Jeans are probably the single most iconic garment of the 20th century.

They are universal and individual at the same time.

In the history of clothing,

there is nothing like that.

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