The world’s largest cutter of denim is cutting jobs and closing plants. But if Levi Strauss is down-sizing, it’s surely too soon to predict the demise of its principal product, blue jeans – especially in a week when Gucci’s variation on the theme is running at £2,000 a pair, designer-rips and all. As the company points out, jeans have been down before, but have bounced back. What other product has the versatility to be torn, stuck together with big pins, turned-up, narrowed, let out and still, at least till recently, marry high fashion and workaday utility? Perhaps Levi Strauss’s problems are just those of a brand gone tired – Marks and Spencers could tell them a thing or two about that. Manufacturers must be worried in case baby boomers, veterans of the drain-piped late Fifties and the flared Sixties, should be relinquishing denim at a time when younger trouser-wearers of both genders are preferring chinos, khaki, cords, anything but 501s. Perhaps it’s just that their bums are bigger. It can’t, yet, be a reaction of disgust against that offensive ruling by an Italian court that a jeans were somehow both a protection against and an excuse for rape.
Correlations between clothing and economic circumstance are ropey. Wall Street analysts are forever measuring women’s skirt lengths – they would, wouldn’t they, ignoring lapel size or tie width or any other functionless (male) ostentation much more likely to connect to feelings of prosperity. But by any occupational measure, jeans ought to be booming. Office dress codes are relaxing. There is the American innovation of ‘dress down’ Friday together with the upgrading of leisurewear – ‘smart casual’ is no longer an oxymoron. It’s true the cowboys and miners who first wore heavyweight cotton held together with metal studs aren’t riding the range or hewing the coalface any longer. But jeans have adapted to a multitude of different work environments: for the IT office that’s likely to dominate in future, they are as good a garb as any.