Republished from OBSOLETE! #4.
Style is a product of it's era. Through most of history, fashion has been a luxury of the well-to-do, and styles have reflected the morals and values of the wealthiest in a society. Working class “finery” has generally consisted of cheap knockoffs or homespun imitations of the styles of the wealthy. In the 20th and early 21st century however, the style has come up from the street, and no look has been more consistently revisited than the blue suit.
I speak not of the definitive navy blue wool business suit, that timeless uniform of the bourgeois, but of the blue denim suit- jeans and denim jacket. The “denim sandwich” or “Canadian tuxedo” has been alternately loved and reviled by fashionistas and worn unapologetically by cowboys, bikers, iron workers, farmers, punks, metal heads and hillbillies for generations. Countless designers have tried (and universally failed miserably) to improve on it- acid washed, studded, cropped, tailored, distressed, dyed- yet nothing and no one has managed to change the basic rule- only the traditional cut and color will do, and only the wearer can make the blue suit cool.
For those of us who grew up in the 60's and 70's, the blue suit is something we have never been without. For much of our lives, the uniform of the day has been the same timeless combination. Sometimes it has been a statement, but in general, it's just what you wear- a habit of sorts. Riding your Stingray at 12, delivering pizzas at 18, playing in a punk band at 20, hanging drywall (or going to your copy-editing job) at 30- it's always been there.You've slept in it, then gone to work in it the next day. It kept your skin on when you laid down your bike. Who fucking cares if it's “in”? Fashion websites run articles with titles like “How to rock a denim jacket” and “How to wear a jeans jacket without looking like a douchebag”. All of them state that rule #1 is to not wear a denim jacket with jeans. I say, rule #1 is, if you ARE a douchebag, you will look like one in a jeans jacket.
For fans of various musical genres, though, the blue suit is nothing short of iconic. Lately it's the favorite of rappers and country singers. It seems that the rappers generally know enough to stick with dark blue and opt for the high dollar Levi's jacket. The country singers (and American idol rejects) almost universally fall for the 1980's Jersey girl/Bon Jovi/Brighton Beach Russian housewife designer-faded shit.
For metal heads and punks, it has always been the warm-weather alternative to leather- or the jacket you wore while saving up for a biker jacket. If you see a photo of one of the Ramones not wearing a biker jacket, they are probably in a denim jacket.
The most important thing about choosing a blue suit nowadays is finding items made in the USA. Levi's moved production overseas in the 90's but they are currently advertising “Hand Made in the USA” jackets and jeans. However, the price tag is an astronomical 210 bucks for a jacket and 190 for a pair of 505s. Other US companies sell made in the USA jackets and jeans in the $50-$75 range- Carhartt, Pointer, All-American clothing and others.
The history of denim is the history of America, and there is still nothing so quintessentially American as blue jeans. Many a pair of Levi's has been bartered away by broke Americans traveling abroad. As America's star rapidly falls and the value of the dollar drops, the blue suit is becoming once again as relevant for it's utilitarianism as it's style. The stream of “Oakies” that brought the denim “look” to California in the 30's did so not as a fashion statement, but because it was the only suit of clothes that could hold up to their circumstances. It is not hard t imagine that in the new age of “austerity” that the blue suit may once again take it's place as the “uniform of the day”.