Introduction  ︎︎︎   Words by Caleb Jonker

Understanding the Project

I recently found myself being asked to explain this project. It is not something that I could necessarily explain in a sentence but I’ve found that starting with the details of our own experiences to be best. Upon being prompted to think about the contents of their closets I think most people would be able to point to a favorite pair of jeans. Maybe it’s the way they fit your body, or the level of comfort that you feel while wearing them, or maybe they’re your most reliable item of clothing, ubiquitous and hardwearing.

When you picture your favorite pair you may also picture a rip near the pocket from heavy use, or a fade on the top of your thighs. I consider this the material evidence in the relationship between jeans and identity.

The connection between the two is not easy to define, but I believe that anyone who examines their favorite pair of jeans will find that they have left an abundance of material evidence which parts of their life can be reconstructed from.

Interviews and Research Overview

I set out to investigate the relationship between identity and clothing. I think this comes through best in denim because of the way that it wears down and reveals how we wear our clothes. This can be seen in numerous ways: tearing at the heels of a jean, a specific rip from repeated action, or the silhouette of a wallet, always placed in the same pocket. I spoke with Keith Henry to talk about the subject. Henry is a clothing designer who creates patterns inspired by vintage workwear. His interview can be accessed in the side menu.

Next, I spoke with Sydney Bastamante, one of the managers at Drop Your Jeans, a clothing store in Covina, California specializing in vintage clothing. We discussed the importance of finding your fit and the lasting appeal of vintage clothing.

With the help of my friends I was able to capture some people in their favorite pairs of jeans. These images can be accessed on the photos tab. Each person had a reason their pants were their favorite, and I don’t have the space here to include all of their stories, though the photos begin to tell the stories themselves.

Much of the research done around clothing and identity has to do with fitting in, rather than clothes fitting you. Among this research there are still many insights that can be translated to this project. I found the work of  Richard A. Feinberg, Lisa Mataro & W. Jeffrey Burroughs to be insightful about the complexity of clothing and identity, especially as it relates to self perception and perception of others. 

Additionally the in-depth work of Emma McClendon, who wrote Denim: Fashions Frontier compiles some of the most important examples of denimwear from different eras. Their work is a perfect photographic history of jeans, and includes examples from workwear to high fashion. Though my project focuses on daily-use jeans their work was insightful for guiding my project.

Getting Started

With this project I hope I have started to examine the connection between jeans and identity. What I think is especially interesting, and I hope comes through in these interviews and photos is that we may choose a pair of jeans to reflect our values or social identity, but our jeans are capable of saying so much more about our lives than we give them credit for.