PBS presents ‘Riveted: The History of Jeans’ | Arts and entertainment

Could blue jeans reflect the fabric of history, when many of the legends surrounding it were made up of an entire canvas? “The American Experience” (8 p.m., PBS, TV-PG, check local listings), “Riveted: The History of Jeans,” offers a quick look at sides of the American story refracted through the lens of changing attitudes toward this enduring material.

Riveted challenges the notion emerging from advertisements that jeans were somehow an invention of Levi Strauss. Denim has different origins in Europe, India and Africa. The indigo dye that put blue in jeans was a large product of American slaves, whose knowledge of working with indigo survived from the middle passage of Africa.

Cotton raised in the South and milled and dyed in New England was sold to the South to clothe workers and enslaved people. Blue denim was so associated with farm work that it was originally sold as a “nigger cloth.”

The California Gold Rush in the late 1840s sent thousands of fortune seekers to that state that had recently been wrested from Mexico. Many found that hard work would rip their clothes off. This did not go unnoticed by a tailor and store owner in Reno, Nevada, who came up with the idea of ​​putting rivets on the pockets to make them stronger. Demand was so strong for his new clothes that he entered into a trade with a dry-goods merchant in San Francisco, a man named Levi Strauss.

Riveted explores jeans’ association with the American cowboy, himself an enduring symbol of “white” culture that ignores many black Americans, Mexicans and Native Americans in the saddle. Whiteness also loomed large in the history of jeans in the 19th century, when anti-Chinese sentiment spread. Several jeans labels, including Levi’s labels, have been stamped, “White Made,” to assure customers that Chinese garment workers were not “stealing” American jobs.

Oddly enough, jeans, a garment associated with manual labor, became fashionable in the 1930s when wealthy East Coast women, vacationing in Western “dude farms,” ​​loved to wear cowboy pants. A decade later, denim dressed millions of men in uniform as well as many of the women who worked in wartime manufacturing.

Just as the 1950s saw a backlash against women working outside the home, blue jeans were suddenly associated with motorcycle outlaws and juvenile delinquents. Watching their sales plummet, manufacturers formed a board selling blue jeans as an all-American apparel, perfect for Roy Rogers and Del Evansis on the court.

Jeans’ association with workers, untouchables, and equality brought them to life in the youth culture of the 1960s. At one point, Levi’s ads used an aerial shot of the Woodstock rally and simply called it their slogan. No words were necessary.

However, within a decade, jeans were reinvented again, turning into “designer” fare for a market that embraced Studio 54’s velvet rope exclusivity. In the ’90s, they were reinterpreted again, embraced by hip-hop artists and designers like Tommy Hilfiger, who provided their services.

As one historian comments, it’s a long way from “cloth of niggers” to Gloria Vanderbilt’s jeans and fashion shows.

• Blending the gentle indifference of “Absolutely Fabulous” and “Miss Marple,” UK series Agatha Raisin enters its fourth season, on Acorn.

Other Highlights of TONIGHT

• 2022 Winter Olympics events include short track, speed skating, free skating, alpine skiing and snowboarding (7pm, NBC); mixed doubles curling (8 p.m., CNBC); and Figure Skating (7:15 pm, USA).

• Stranded on a no-date night on “9-1-1: The Lone Star” (7 p.m., Fox, TV-14).

• Tony’s tough choice in The Cleaning Lady (8pm, Fox, TV-14).

• The effects are not quite what they seem on “NCIS: Hawai’i” (9pm, CBS, r, TV-14).

• Veronica’s fight for “The Promised Land” (9 PM, ABC, TV-14).

• Owned: A Tale of Two Americas documentary on Independent Lens (9pm, PBS, TV-PG, check local listings) explores the contradictions of housing policy in the United States.

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