TRUE BLUE: For many, jeans are synonymous with American fashion, and an upcoming PBS documentary will explore the evolution of the well-worn staple.
American Experience’s “Riveted: The History of Jeans” will premiere on Feb. 7, marking its first fashion-centric documentary. Tracing the garment’s evolution, the program will highlight how jeans have traces to slavery, the Wild West, the Civil Rights movement, hippies, hip-hop, high fashion and beyond.
The hourlong documentary has been written, directed and produced by Anna Lee Strachan and Michael Bicks. Cameo George has acted as executive producer.
Advance material about the program referenced Levi Strauss making a fortune selling jeans to the Forty-Niners during the California Gold Rush and noted how 50 years prior enslaved people in the American South wore a coarser precursor to denim that was known as “slave cloth.” The program will also explore how Elizabeth Lucas, the daughter of an 18th-century colonial governor, sparked the economy in the South with indigo production. “Left out of this narrative are the West African enslaved people” whose know-how in growing the indigo plant, as well as processing and dyeing with it, had been brought with them, according to the program’s notes.
While Strauss often is credited with inventing blue jeans, “Riveted” highlights how Jacob Davis reinforced pants with copper rivets, which made them durable for the majority of American laborers. Dude ranch culture and the youth movement of the ’50s (including Marlon Brando’s 501-wearing ways in “The Wild One”) are also in the mix.
All in all, there are dozens of companies featured in the documentary stretching from the late 1890s such as Can’t Bust’em, Can’t Rip’em, as well as Blackbear, Dubbleware, Duz Fit and more, according to a PBS spokeswoman.
More familiar brands like Wrangler, Lee, Gloria Vanderbilt, Calvin Klein, Sergio Valente and Tommy Hilfiger will get some air time too. Hilfiger’s namesake founder will be featured, the PBS spokeswoman said. “Riveted” will also debut via PBS’ site and app on Feb.7.