Not the way for the hip to be noticed; Fading glory; Today's kids are looking with disapproval at that as-long-as-we can-remember staple of cool, Levi's jeans. It could leave a boomer feeling blue.


It's an unspoken rule in urban America: Smart, sophisticated people don't wear blue jeans.

It's just not done. Wearing jeans in public is an instant way of saying, "Hello! I drive in the middle lane. I love Celine Dion. 'Titanic' rocked! Baaaaaaa!"

Sophisticated doesn't mean a person is a neurotic, petty fashion freak. Sophisticated means one simply knows that by avoiding certain clothing items, one escapes being branded -- egad! -- average.

Wearing black jeans and a white shirt every day will wash among the sophisticated, but a wardrobe based on infinite combinations of blue jeans and shirts won't.

Jeans are just so old.

Even the story behind them is old: In 1873, Jacob Davis, a Nevada tailor, wrote to Levi Strauss, a California retailer, about his wonderful new invention: riveted "waisted overalls." Strauss funded the patent, and blue jeans made their public debut.

It was a marvelous thing the two created. To this very day, if you want to get rough and dirty, you wear jeans.

It was inevitable, though, that somewhere along the line jeans would become a fashion statement. By the 1970s, big kids were wearing embroidered bell-bottoms and hip-huggers; little kids were wearing Toughskins. Designer mania hit in the '80s. The fashionable wore skin-tight, dark-blue, neon-yellow stitched Jordache and Calvin Kleins -- paired with high heels. Next came parachute pants, and jeans took a back seat for a year or two.

Then the unthinkable happened: People went jean crazy -- for 10 long, hideous years.

Stonewashed jeans, acid-washed jeans, bleached jeans, socks pulled up over light blue jeans, tightly rolled, ankle-hugging jeans, overalls, vintage jeans, vintage jeans with patches, pre-washed jeans, big-pocketed, baggy cargo jeans, indigo jeans, "dark blue with thick cuffs James Dean style" jeans and, most recently, vintage Jordache.

The problem with jeans is that "they're universal, they're everywhere," says 36-year-old DJ Johnny Riggs, of Ellicott City. "It's like Aerosmith said in their autobiography. They named their fans the Blue Army because they would see all of these kids in denim jackets and jeans lined up for their shows. An army of blue. Whenever I see someone in jeans, I think 'Blue Army.' "

Riggs doesn't claim to be a fashion plate. But he says he does want to be recognized as an original. His favorite piece of clothing is a blue Prada leather jacket he found on a clearance rack at Neiman Marcus. "I'll wear the same black jeans and black T-shirt three days in a row, but no one will notice because they're all looking at my jacket."

The mass appeal of jeans is a viable one. Jeans are casual. They work with most shirts and shoes, you feel comfortable and secure in them, and the best pair, well, holds things in.

Yet, at a certain point in your life, you have to put the denims away with your comic books, dolls and blankie.

It's time to make a sacrifice. Give up the comfort and ease so people will notice you, not your jeans.

Emily Engel, a 21-year-old senior at Johns Hopkins University, considers herself a low-grade jean snob. "At my school, I've noticed that there are three types of girls. There are the totally clueless girls who seem like they're still wearing what their moms bought them in eighth grade. Then there are the girls who read 'Glamour' and 'Madamoiselle' and wear tight black pants and think they're stylin'. And then there are the girls with their own individual, sophisticated style, who know how to pick an outfit for the situation and for themselves. The first and the last group both wear jeans. But the first group wears acid-washed jeans."

Of course, that theory leaves out the vast majority of jean wearers. The "no statement" statement people. These are the people who, by pulling on their jeans, say, "Love me for my intellect, my humor, not what I wear."

Some of them can get away with it -- as long as they're wearing plain old jeans. But those acid-wash people?

"They're missing the point," says Engel. You can't get to someone's intellect if you're blinded by the glare from their acid-wash.

Fashion is one of the first things people notice about you, and face it, jeans have nothing good to say.

"You have no hope for expressing anything new by wearing jeans," says Karen Keys, 23. The Catonsville resident recently cataloged her wardrobe and discovered she owns 30 pairs of pants, only seven of which are jeans, only three of which she wears.

"I can't remember the last time I wore jeans out. They're so boring. I look to say something with my clothes and jeans say, 'I drink Miller Lite. I wear Contempo Casual shirts. My boyfriend's in a frat. I'm a regurgitator.' "

However, if you walk into a bar wearing a pair of dark gray pants -- with pencil-thin or flared legs, but flat front, not pleated -- and order a Pabst Blue Ribbon, it's an instant sign of with-it-ness. Well, at least for today.

Vikki Valentine, 25, owns only one pair of jeans at a time, and never washes them.

Pub Date: 2/26/99

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