I never saw my father dressed in blue jeans. He didn’t own a pair and he fit in with our neighborhood fine without them.

Bob Kalish observes life from a placid place on the island of Arrowsic (motto: You’re not in Georgetown yet). You can reach him at [email protected]

I’m no fashion historian but from my memory, it was following the Second World War and the rebounding birth rate that set the stage for a sea change in fashion. It resulted in a gap between two generations and the democratization of style. How? The popularity of jeans started when Levi-Strauss & Co. decided to expand the market for its iconic denim blue jeans to a growing new group of consumers: men. They discovered that a pair of jeans made with “a skosh more room” in the thighs and waist proved popular with the adult male. Didn’t take too long before you noticed just about every grandpa or retired cop you saw wore a pair of roomier Levi’s. Not jeans, but Levi’s jeans.

But the marketers were just getting started. They delivered hot pants, wheat jeans and Nehru shirts, sure. But what really changed things around was the introduction of the pantsuit. If men could wear
Levi’s to work, then women should be allowed to wear matching coordinates of color and material to their workplace. As quick as you can say Ricky Nelson, one began to notice more and more women wearing outfits composed of pants and a coordinated top. Every female host on daytime television wore them, every contestant on “The Price is Right.” Even my mother succumbed and bought an outfit to wear to her regular mahjong game. She swore it made her look thinner.

Soon it was obvious which generation you belonged to. Fathers of children my age didn’t wear blue jeans, didn’t wear gym shorts outside the gym nor did they wear track shoes (sneakers) to work. The gaudy pants and mismatched socks never left the golf course. My father played in a company softball team whose participants wore their work clothes to play, just loosen the necktie and get out there.

And look how boomers changed the way we travel. Used to be the standard for women to wear a dress, a man a tie and sport coat. Nowadays you think you’re seeing a plane full of awakening sleepers or folks just finishing their workout.

“What will they think of next?” was my mother’s favorite response to the newest fashion bomb. Indeed.

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