The Brazilian Jeans Project
Ph.D. Student of Cultural Anthropology, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (PPGSA-IFCS-UFRJ)
At present I am carrying on my Ph.D. research, tracing the aesthetics of the funk balls, a very popular genre of party on Rio de Janeiro. Each of these balls gather thousands of youngsters, coming from their homes up on the hill, where the favela slums are localed. The girls and boys who take part care a great deal about their personal appearance, especially when they go out to dance.
One of my concerns is what has become known as “Brazilian jeans”, a representative garment of the wardrobe of the girls who come to the funk balls, In fact it was really a style that was created by them, because it was their appropriation of these jeans, and their wearing them to funk balls, that really gave them life. These jeans are largely known as the “trousers of Gang”, in reference to the leading retailer and producer of this style of jeans, although in the funk context the trousers are called by the native category “moletom stretch trousers”, referring to the materiality of the garment. Another quality that the trousers are supposed to have is to produce a body, meaning that it gives rounded forms to a rather rectilinear body.
The “moletom stretch” is a fabric that stretches equally both horizontally and vertically, unlike traditional denim with elastane,that only stretches in one direction. The elasticity and the softness of the jersey give a lot of comfort to the dancer for whom a funk ball requires quite extreme movements of the legs, including flexing her knees and swinging her hips almost to the dance floor. At the same time, the jersey is thick enough to receive all kinds of embellishments, ranging from cuts forming figurative and abstract motives, which allow one to see the skin of the dancer, to baroque adornments, such as embroideries and crystals. On the other hand, the “moletom stretch”, due to its low density, adheres to the body like a body stocking, revealing curves of a figure that becomes even curvier with the movement of the dance.
The point to be stressed is that more than the brand Gang, the importance of this special garment for the funk girls dancers lies in its materiality. As we have seen, the style of those feminine trousers is defined by a fabric that can be stretched over the body, and more than producing a shape it enhances the already curved forms of the girls, whose bodies look even more sinuous through the dance movement. So, as the circularity of this style, known in international contexts as Brazilian jeans, carry with it the myth that it creates rounded forms, its wide consumption seems to indicate a desire to have a body shape that is distinguished by its rounded buttock.
The style is a confluence of local and global tastes, which is achieved through its materiality itself. The fabric can look like denim, but is actually a stretched jersey material that simulates its appearance, after being dyed and washed. The raw material is the same as denim being around 95% cotton plus elastane, but the effect of the weave is to emphasise the stretching quality of the elastane. The jersey fabric adds to the trousers utilitarian and aesthetics characteristics that, in interaction to the body and the dance, allow us to grasp their meaning. The trousers give comfort and freedom of movements as a workout pant would do. On the other hand it has a fashion appeal and a connection with global taste, by its appearance of denim. Wearing fashionable garments is a crucial aspect of the girls looks, and it wouldn’t be enough to have comfortable trousers. All those traits make such jeans central to the funk balls.
Forthcoming October 2010:
Mizrahi, Mylene "'Brazilian Jeans': Materiality, Body and Seduction at a Rio de Janeiro Funk Ball" in D Miller and S Woodward (eds) Global Denim, Oxford: Berg