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Blue Jeans

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Member Reviews

'The jean genie is out of the bottle'.

A good general history of the rise of blue denim, from its roots in 19th century workwear through to its global uniquity and multiple signifiers.
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My fourth Object Lessons book and like the others, this book is fascinating. The author explores all aspects, cultural and historical, of blue jeans. I learned more about denim and indigo dye than I had ever imagined, and who would have realized that denim is one of the more resource-greedy fabrics out there with real environmental repercussions from the dye and its chemical trail. Reading this makes me want to avoid buying denim in the future, and instead hold on to my gnarly 30-year-old Levi 501s even longer, even though the author makes an excellent case that the "timeless" quality of blue jeans is a bit of a misnomer. The author devotes a chapter to the actual fit and style of blue jeans, and even reassured this reader that even young people these days wear mom jeans. The author also discusses the push from stodgy, standardized models of fit to gender neutral, inclusive sizing and how that is affecting the jeans industry. The book ends with a funny note that  the author has always associated Claude Levi-Strauss the French anthropologist with blue jeans, which I also remember doing in college, but the author goes on to note that Levi-Strauss's concept of binary opposition can be applied to blue jeans in that they seem so very ordinary, and yet they convey multiple aspects of human social lives from gender to class to belief to fashion. My thanks to the publisher and to Netgalley for an opportunity to read an ARC copy.
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Another excellent addition to the object series.I was particularly interested in this look at blue jeans  An object is a main stay in our wardrobe.So many styles so much history in this one object.A really stellar read.#netgalley #bloomsburyacademic
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Carolyn Purnell, Blue Jeans, Bloomsbury Academic, 2023.

Thank you, NetGalley and Bloomsbury Press, for providing me with this uncorrected proof for review. 

Blue Jeans is another wonderful addition to the Object Lessons series. Carolyn Purnell brings the reader into a world that comprises the horrors of indigo production for the beloved blue jeans, the political ramifications of wearing blue jeans and the changing fashion of this durable and enduring garment. The harrowing nature of the way the blue was obtained for those early jeans is hard to dismiss, and wearing blue jeans might not ever be the same for some readers.  But what a wealth of historical content is made available through the blue jean – and how deftly Purnell weaves solid historical content with a story that keeps moving along. This is an engaging read, and an educational one. I found Blue Jeans a most informative and thoroughly researched publication.

I began the book with recall of my beloved 1970s Amco jeans and women busily adding beads and embroidery to jeans while they listened to political debate at a university politics camp. I would never have treated my Amcos thus, but Purnell talks of embroidery while the Amco (an Australian brand) does not make it past the more well-known Levis etc. But to be fair, the Levis have a grander story: Purnell weaves her understanding of Levi Strauss binary theory cleverly into the politics of blue jeans. It is the ability to draw upon a host of ideas to tell her story that really stands out in this volume. 

There are three sections, as well as the introduction, A Versatile Garment. The first section concentrates on blue: indigo production, blue dye chemical production, the blue-collar worker and blue blood – community around the jeans and the pottery factories. Cut is the second section and here the fashion industry is given attention. However, it is not only the fashion of the catwalk, but this discussion of fashion also follows the politics of blue jeans and the styles that were affected, including the way in which they were used to make political points. Section 3 talks of comfort – for this was the huge benefit of blue jeans – they were comfortable work clothes. Purnell acknowledges this beginning with some excellent detail of the way in which jeans became the garment of the worker in many different occupations. She goes on to talk of the distressed jeans, those that are hardly held together with the small amount of fabric remaining after being made more fashionable, the ‘mum’ jeans, the huge variety now available and the lack of comfort in having to purchase the best for one’s purpose. 

Each chapter includes thorough notes, which are worth reading in themselves in some instances. Screening jeans in Bollywood? Adapting and Evolving? See-Through Plastic jeans? Jeans as powerful? Bizarre new fashions in jeans? These are some of the intriguing topics which can be followed up through the bibliographically detailed notes. But first, read the book. It is well worth it even though I look upon my jeans rather differently having done so.
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Blue Jeans, by Carolyn Purnell, is an excellent addition to the Object Lessons series, taking an object we all know and disrupting some of what we thought while also giving us a new appreciation.

This is one of the more straightforward volumes in the series, which is neither a positive nor a negative, simply what it is. We get some history of jeans in general, or dungarees, as well as what goes into the color we most associate with denim, indigo blue. This part of the history illustrates the extent to which so many objects, often ones we enjoy unthinkingly, come at great cost to many people and sometimes entire cultures. What helps tie all of this information together are Purnell's personal observations and stories. In fact, for me, these things make every volume of the series special, makes them something more than just history. 

Highly recommended for anyone who loves learning about "things." There is enough detail here to make you wonder how you didn't know more, but enough personal perspective to feel like you're getting this information from a (very knowledgeable) friend.

Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.
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“Blue Jeans” by Carolyn Purnell is my third foray into the Object Lessons series, short books that focus on the hidden history of everyday objects, and definitely one of the better ones.  Ms. Purnell does a great job combining the history, the culture, and the symbolism of the lowly blue jeans with some personal touches that make this a fun and interesting read.

Most of us have a passing knowledge of the story of Levi Strauss and his patent for riveted workpants in the 1870s gold rush days in California, but he wasn’t the first to do so as it turns out.  Over time, what started out as a practical garment for hard labor became a symbol for rebellion (both youthful rebellion against authority and political rebellion against oppression), a yearning for a forbidden culture, a declaration of a relaxed leisure lifestyle, to finally a universal adaptable staple in everyone’s wardrobe.  It is the height of irony that a common simple pair of pants aimed at workers became a symbol of rebellion against the worker’s paradise of communist countries.

Ms. Purnell also explores the history of the “blue” in blue jeans, the indigo dye trade and the resulting colonialism, industrialization, and exploitation of workers.  Looking at the world today, we see how the manufacturing of garments continues to shift throughout the global labor marketplace as the demand for jeans continues to grow and expand.

A great short read about something that everyone has but rarely thinks about.

I requested and received a free advanced electronic copy from Bloomsbury Academic via NetGalley. Thank you!
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I always enjoy a good Object Lessons book, and this was of course no exception. There's something so fascinating about taking something most of us take for granted as a staple in our lives and breaking it down into its elements to examine. Blue Jeans dives particularly deep into the social and political context that jeans emerged in and how it's changed over the decades. For such a quintessential item, there's a lot to discuss, from indigo dyeing practices to teenage rebellion. Definitely worth a look.
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Blue Jeans is a collection of short essays and reminiscences by Carolyn Purnell about a ubiquitous and often overlooked item in everyone's landscape in every part of the world, humble blue denim jeans. Due out 12th Jan 2023 from Bloomsbury Academic, it's 160 pages and will be available in paperback and ebook formats (ebook currently available as of Dec 2022). 

This is one of a series of books on everyday items called "Object Lessons" which team writers' observations and experiences with material foci which make up our lives: recipes, stickers, bookshelves, bulletproof vests, traffic, TVs, and trees to give a few examples. Currently there are 80 books available on a wide variety of objects and I've been impressed with the quality of the writing and frankly, the profundity, to be found in contemplation of these everyday objects.

The author does a very good job of first objectifying and deconstructing the concept of jeans - what they are, where they came from (which includes fascinating and not entirely comfortable cultural history), how they came to be part of the daily life of virtually every human on the planet, and how they've shaped, changed, and broken social barriers.

There's a solid bibliography included with resources for further reading as well as a cross referenced index.

I have enjoyed a number of the books in this series. This one is erudite and thought provoking. It's a worthwhile addition to the series as a whole. The author has included some relevant historical photos, but it's the text that stands in central focus.

Four stars. This would be an excellent choice for school or public library acquisition as well as home reading.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.
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I have passing familiarity with the Object Lessons series (I took a class from a contributor to a prior volume), and I have long been intrigued by its premise. I love the notion of examining the past through material objects, whether those objects are artifacts from museum holdings or current commercial products. In this volume, the object in question is blue jeans. 

Purnell deftly recounts the commercial history of denim jeans, from the original Levi's work trouser, through its gradual moves through youth culture as alternative fashion, to its contemporary status as a near-universal wardrobe staple. In this history, jeans demonstrate a throughline to trace the changing modes of commercial production, from colonial agriculture, through industrialized manufacturing, to today's globalized network of consumer capitalism. Purnell strikes a compelling balance between the material history of jeans as a commercial product and as a cultural signifier. I appreciated the notion of using jeans as a case study of the cyclical nature of fashion trends as a push-and-pull between conformity and status symbols, and the subsequent relationship between tastemakers and the masses.

Along the way, jeans serve as the lens to trace shifting social mores around self expression, in-groups and subcultures, and work vs leisure. I most enjoyed the sections on the social history and politics of jeans, including its role in various acts of rebellion and revolution. I take denim's scandalous and revolutionary origins for granted, so Purnell's observation about jeans as a universalizing item and neutral closet staple both resonated and intrigued me. This was a sharp and concise material history lesson, which is all the more impressive for its complexity and scope.
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We consider blue jeans as a garment worn by a lot of people. But it's also a something loaded with meanings, history, and a lot more.
Another good book in this series, highly recommended.
Highly recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher for this arc, all opinions are mine
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If you think that blue jeans are as ordinary as an object can get, you’ll be surprised. I certainly learned a lot from this cultural history of the most popular garment in the world. The most interesting part was for me the story of origins of both the fabric  itself and the indigo dye - I had no idea that you can trace them both so deep in time. 

The book is a part of an interesting series, Object Lessons, about the hidden lives of ordinary things.

Thanks to the publisher, Bloomsbury Academic, and NetGalley for an advanced copy of this book.
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This is a fascinating book on what seems like a simple topic.  Purnell makes the case, however, that there is more to jeans than just something to wear.  Jeans symbolize American history and entrepreneurial capability.  It also shows how fashion and our lives as Americans are tied together more closely than we see.  There's history here and also cultural criticism.  Her writing is clear and concise, and she explains her point without the need to stop and interpret.  The origins of jeans might be a story that readers might understanding, but I'm not sure they would be able to recount the depth of the importance and impact of jeans in the way that Purnell portrays them in this book.

This book is part of a larger series of books on short histories/stories of concepts and ideas that are part of American and human life.  There are plenty of lessons to be taken from these books, without overwhelming.
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I love the theory behind the OBJECT LESSONS  series, a “book series about the hidden lives of ordinary things,” each one focusing on a singular object and taking a discursive  tour of its history, cultural interplay, personal connections, and more. The execution, on the other hand, has been hit and miss for me, though thankfully more of the former than the latter. I’m happy to say that Carolyn Purnell’s Blue Jeans falls well into that first category.

Purnell opens with the personal, noting that her maternal grandmother was a 20-plus year employee at the Blue Buckle Overall Company, “running pieces of coarse denim through a sewing machine, while her grandfather worked maintain the machines. Eventually (not very long since this title, like all the OL ones, is relatively short), we dive into the history of blue jeans, though I’m guessing  Purnell’s starting point (“centuries ago . . . in the Indian village of Dongri”) is a lot farther afield in both time and space than her readers might expect. The historical elements are surprising, informative, and fascinating, whether they’re detailing the dye-making process, the environmental and human costs, or how they eventually ended up as the “Levi’s” we all know and wear. Nearly as fascinating are Purnell’s ensuing explorations of how jeans built up the incredible global capital they now own and how jeans — in their mind-boggling variety — work to both create and express personal and cultural (particularly sub-cultural) identities. 

The narrative voice is authoritative without sounding overly academic and engaging without sounding overly informal or “coolly cute”, always a risk in pop culture studies. And while she takes the reader down some unexpected paths to interrogate the many meanings and contradictions of blue jeans, she does not stretch points or connection to or past their breaking points.  It’s an easy read while also being a thoughtful and intellectually stimulating read, a duality that is tough to bring off well. 

About the only thing I wished different about the book was that Purnell gave us a bit more of herself, added a bit more of a personal touch than what is already here. But that’s a minor quibble and also, given the OBJECT LESSON goal of brevity, probably an unfair one. In any case, Blue Jeans is one of my favorites in this series so far and is highly recommended.
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Another absolute corker from Bloomsbury Academic's Object Lessons series. This is one that I was really looking forward to, because the ubiquity of jeans is such that there just HAS to be interesting stories behind them, and about them... and I wasn't wrong. 

I'm still spinning from discovering that "denim" comes from "serge de Nimes" - for cotton-wool blend cloth made in the French city of Nimes; and that "jean" is from the French word for Genoa, which is Genes (there's meant to be fancy accents in there but I don't know how to put them in here). 

Purnell talks about the Levi aspect, of course - although it wasn't actually his idea to put the rivets in work pants, he funded the patent - as well as the cultural stuff, especially in the 20th century, about what wearing jeans could symbolise (everything). But she also talks about the blue-ness, about indigo and how tied in with colonialism and slavery it is, and about how dreadful a process making it, and dying cloth with it, is; and that the industrial process isn't much better. This is a really thorough look at jeans. 

James Dean gets mentioned several times. So do cowboys. There's a great analysis of how standing for everything doesn't necessarily mean they stand for nothing; about how amazing jeans are as such a versatile and fluid garment; how they can stand for both protest and for conformity. No mention of "Jeans for Genes Day" though, so maybe that's an Australian thing? 

Basically this just confirms that this series keeps getting good authors, who are doing great things with their subjects; it shows that the history of apparently-minutiae can be used to illuminate important things about our world, AND be super interesting. Long may this series continue.
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Carolyn Purnell's Blue Jeans is another strong entry in the Object Lessons series, which are "short, beautifully designed books about the hidden lives of ordinary things." For this work, Purnell disassembles blue jeans. Exploring the development histories of dyes, materials and processes that allowed their creation and their historic and contemporary cultural meaning.

As a product, jeans are exploitative both in their environmentally, water heavy production, and their place in the fast fashion trends. This is true in their current incarnation, but especially in their development and the pigments and dyes that give them their named color. The book is divided into three sections: "Distress" about jeans' development; "Cut" about jeans as identity and "Comfort," jeans in the global world. An important acknowledgement of the colonial developments of indigo and cotton as a trade goods are detailed, particularly their role in slavery, seizure of indigenous lands and control of India are detailed in "Distress."

Purnell goes back to the the 1500s when "jean" was first used, and from there follows the "constellation of narratives" that led to blue jeans. (Page 10). All of this is introduced on page 6 with:

"Everyone's acquainted with blue jeans, it's easy to assume there's not much to really know about them. But don't be fooled. Behind that superficial layer of anonymity, there's a whole world of meaning. Sometimes, the most invisible, anonymous objects can be the richest of all."

While short, as are all entries in the Object Lessons series, Purnell's Blue Jeans is an excellent teasing out of the hidden life of blue jeans at the intersections of fashion, history, language, culture and capitalism.
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What a great and informative read! I'd never thought much about blue jeans, but I learned so much from Carolyn Purnell. The book follows the journey of jeans over the years and isn't afraid of noting the dark parts of jeans' history, such as how the blue dye used to create them stemmed from the indigo trade. Throughout the book, Purnell clearly explains how jeans--which were once workers' pants--grew to become so versatile and commonplace that we often don't think about them much today. Overall, this quick read was easy to digest, well-written, and very interesting. I would definitely read more by the author and also other books in the Object Lessons series, which follows the history of everyday items. Thanks very much to Net Galley and Bloomsbury Academic, for the advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review! And thanks also to the book's great author, Carolyn Purnell.
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This is a very shot and nice summary on the history of the worlds most popular garment, from the invention of the Denim to the artificially worn and stretchy versions which are decorating modern butts. Interesting trivia which can make good conversations.
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Quick, without looking it up. What's the difference between a $50 pair of jeans and a $500 pair? Nope, not telling. Nor am I telling you what goes into making the denim jeans we love. Let's just say, this book is an eye-opener in more ways than one. 

This book goes into far more depth than I'd expected, not that I'm complaining. Author Purnell has obviously done extensive research, For instance, an early version of the fabric dates back to the 1500's when the term dungerees seems to have first emerged from a small village in India named Dongri. If you are like me, you'll be astounded to read the early dying process and what was involved, not to mentioned required. To be honest, my knowledge of blue jeans history pretty much started and stopped with the name Levi Strauss but, as it turns out, he didn't even come up with the rivet system that set the product apart from others. He just got in on the ground floor with the man who did.

And this doesn't even begin to detail why the denim trade was dubbed a "resource hungry beast" by some. Go ahead. Guess how many gallons of water were used to manufacture a single pair of jeans. What chemicals are used? Nope, not telling. You need to read this book. I'm never going to look at my jeans quite the same after reading this.

Of course, the ever changing styles and roles of blue jeans are detailed. President Obama even gets a mention for his wearing of "dad jeans" to throw out a first pitch at a ball game. Oh, I'm leaving out so many things. Seriously, if you're like me, a long time jeans fan, not to mention interested in not just history but the history of "things", you need to read this book. 

Thanks #NetGalley and #BloomsburyAcademic for expanding my knowledge on an item I've always pretty much taken for granted. I'm going to be looking into some of the other books in the Object Lessons collection, that's for sure.
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