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Blue Twenties: Jeans in Milan

Roberta Sassatelli and Simona Ettori

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This page is just a preliminary insight into a larger project, but we thought that as part of the global denim project it would be helpful to share a sense of the material that is emerging prior to the main analysis. From a first pool of in-depth interviews conducted with young people living in the Milan - mostly at their homes while being shown their rooms, dresses, and jeans - we have been able to identify some initial key themes. Jeans are clearly the single critical item in young peoples wardrobes, yet it retains a certain specificity: it is both ‘for all occasions’ and yet ‘especially for going dancing’, and for a ‘night out’. This seems to be related to the particular embodied relationship interviewees reckon that they have developed with jeans, their favorite pair of jeans in particular. Again a twofold configuration emerges: jeans are a ‘second skin’, true to the self and the body, and yet they are also a ‘uniform’, a ‘tool to play a part’ in appropriate ways. Jeans seems to reconcile these opposites in many ways: it is both smooth, letting the body ‘speak’, and hard, making the body ‘feel’ through a contact with the fabric: it both enhances certain parts of the body, and subtly covers them up. Wearing jeans is thus both a technology or expression and a containment, or better still an expression through containment – something which appears to be quite important in the erotic imagery of our interviewees.

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Anna, 21, considers her favorite jeans as part of herself, a second skin. Jeans, she says, are the most comfortable item you can wear but this is something you realize only when you spend years wearing it and when it physically shows the signs of the passing of time. This happens because the material becomes softer, even if it’s adjusted to your body you just feel as if you were wearing nothing. She wishes she could age as a pair of jeans. Her favorite jeans becomes her companion for many different occasions, situations and travels, the safe bet in her wardrobe. Particularly so whenever she felt like “Saturday night’s fever”, every time she felt the queen of the disco, it was jeans she wore. If she couldn’t wear her jeans, Anna says, she wouldn’t want to go dancing at all because they were exactly what she needed: something that helps you dancing, following your movements, and it catches other people’s attention more than a mini skirt because it both conceals and reveals.

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Antonio, 23, prefers putting on his jeans when they are just freshly washed and ironed because he says they amalgamate with his body and he feels more clean. He loves his jeans because they’re a bit tight on the thighs, but not on the bottom: he reckons that a man with jeans that stick to the bottom looks quite ridiculous but likewise in his opinion jeans have to reveal evidence for the body shapes and usually people tend to buy jeans that underline what they think is their best part. His favorite jeans now have got different holes and it’s hard to believe that they are the very same pair he bought years ago, because of the transformations he made to keep wearing them. Yet, he can’t be mistaken, he recalls that when he danced flamenco with them, they were part of himself and, at the same time, they felt an intimate part of the character he was playing.

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Leonardo, 22, speaks freely about his jeans and he feels so comfortable inside them to describe them as a beautiful home for his body, a home in which he wouldn’t mind living in for his entire life. He also prefers the sensation of wearing his jeans when they are just washed and ironed because he strangely finds them softer at this moment. He is very attached to his favorite pair of jeans because they permit every kind of movement, they don’t compress the genitals and, above all, they don’t force the body, they make you feel free and that’s the reason why he usually puts them on when he goes dancing. Considering jeans as strongly erotized: jeans on a woman creates sexual desire and what he likes is the rubbing of jeans against jeans, and the contact of denim against nude skin.

Maria, 22 hates her jeans when they have been recently washed and ironed because, she says, they are too stiff and she can’t put them on. Anyway she loves the fact that her jeans wrap the legs, that they are strong, while she doesn’t like jeans that are too soft because she doesn’t feel them on her body. She says she’s not able to put on loose-fitting clothes because the contact between the skin and the fabric is fundamental, so when she wears a pair of trousers and she can’t feel them, she doesn’t feel well and comfortable, nor in good form. She considers her favorite jeans particularly seductive because they put her bottom in the spotlight. She says that obviously everyone tends to show the best part of their body and in her case her boyfriend used to say that she’s got a wonderful bottom, so she loves to attract other people’s attention with the help of a very good pair of jeans.