"The Velveteen Rabbit"
Levi’s blue jeans. 505’s. Mine are thirty four inch waist, thirty two inch length, unwashed, $34 a pair at a local store. Deep indigo blue, the color of a dark winter night’s sky, with multiple wearings and washings, my Levi’s eventually fade as they get broken in. The older, the more worn, the more ragged, the more “real”, all the better.
In the American wardrobe there may be nothing quite as “real” as a trusty pair of Levi’s blue jeans. Unlike other clothes that can fade in popularity as they age, get shoved to the back of the closet or dumped into the Goodwill bin, jeans improve with the wear and tear of real life. Get more “real” somehow, even as they break down.
Created as work pants in the late 19th century for western workmen by two immigrants-- Latvian tailor Jacob Davis and German fabric supplier Levi Strauss--overalls (they weren’t called jeans until the 1950’s) were and are still made for real life. Copper rivets secure fabric that’s practically indestructible. There’s a handy watch pocket too. Well worn and dusty blue, there may be no more comfortable or utilitarian or real pair of pants on the planet, at least to this Levi’s acolyte. Except for a traumatic middle school episode when, in a fit of household expense cutting, my Mom tried to make me wear Sears Toughskin jeans (HERESY!), I’ve been a Levi’s guy all my life.
So it was with a mix of humor and horror I read recently that the Nordstrom’s Department store chain now sells a pair of $425 “jeans” with a “heavily distressed” look and “real” mud stains too! Thus quoth Nordstrom’s: the pants “embody rugged, Americana workwear that's seen some hard-working action with a crackled, caked-on muddy coating that shows you're not afraid to get down and dirty.”
Except that if you have to buy fake jeans with fake mud and dirt falsely caked on, you probably haven’t seen “hard-working action” beyond taking an I-Phone out of those pants to pay for a Unicorn Frappucinno at the local Starbucks. To be fair: I’m not a steelworker riveting together a skyscraper or a cow hand riding a bucking horse in my jeans either. The most action my Levi’s see these days is getting mud stained in the garden or worn out from wrangling an ornery office chair.
What strikes me most about this weird idea of work jeans, is that it seeks to convey to the world that you are someone, who in fact you are not. How all too human that behavior is. How common. How normative. And at its worst, how sad. To try and be someone we are not: like a pseudo mud stained worker. To imagine, even, that we are not good enough or worthy enough just as we are: real, as God made us, and so instead we don absurdly expensive fake work jeans. We try to become someone else.
We get a nip here or a tuck there or a stealth injection to stave off the wrinkles. “My looks are who I am.” Or a woman sees powerful cultural cues that declare only thin is good, extra fat is bad, and so she frantically diets, or worse, secretly binges and purges. “If I’m really ‘real’, folks won’t like me. I won’t like me.” And so a teen decides that because he did not get into his first choice school, there must be something really wrong with him and so he hurts himself, falls into depression. “I’m dumb. Every one else is smarter than me.” And so a fifty-something unemployed man drinks too much to take the edge off his feelings of worthlessness. “If I was young I’d get that job.”
To be real, to be really real: it is very hard work in this life. To get real. To be the actual person our Creator made us to be. To remember and accept that we are all like a beloved pair of old jeans. We’ve got our rips and tears, our frayed edges and our imperfect seams, our holes and our patches. But that’s what it means to be human. To be authentic. To be loved. And we worked hard for every one of those imperfections too! No counterfeit dirt for us.
So when it comes to real life, just give me my funky and fading 505’s every single time. It’s who I am. In a way it’s who we all are too: beautiful, God-made, broken in, and really and truly real.