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  • Fern

A Search for Individuality

In the mid-seventies Calvin Klein started smacking his name on jeans, and other designers were not far behind, like Jordache, Guess? and Gloria Vanderbilt. My kids were in grade school and still rustling their corduroy legs down the hall. I was a young mother living in rural New Jersey and fashion trends were slow in grabbing my attention until sometime in the 80’s when designer jeans hit closer to home. There was the wind-blown horse, the dark wash denim, the “look.” They had to be super dark denim; if they got worn or faded, they lost a lot of their cool factor (thereby assuring repeat sales; no more wearing jeans for years until they were a second skin and shabby.) There were cool pinstripes too. But I was appalled that I would be expected to wear a designer’s name on my butt pocket and pay twice as much for them. I searched diligently for plain, decent looking jeans, though not Levi’s, I admit. I wanted the designer look and shape, but not the name.

Circus Weekly, November 1978

“Once upon a time there were no blue jeans in America. No straight legs, cut-offs, overalls or bell bottoms. No Levi’s, Lee’s, Wranglers, Sticky Fingers or Clippers. In 1850, 20-year old Levi Strauss, working in New York as a clothing peddler for his brothers, heard about the gold rush in California and, lured by tales of fast money, packed up a shipment of dry goods and set sail for the West Coast. He discovered that the miners had little use for his tent material. Legend has it that an old prospector took Levi aside and complained: “Should have bought pants. Pants don’t wear worth a hoot up in the diggins and you can’t get a pair strong enough.” Levi took the free advice and paid a tailor to turn the canvas into pants. Before long, word had spread about “those pants of Levi’s” and young Strauss had a thriving shop in San Francisco. His brothers sent him denim, a though cotton fabric from France, and a special indigo dye was developed for its unvarying color. Copper rivets were tacked on for added strength.”

There was a local store called JM Towne, which was an “apparel specialty store” or maybe a kind of woman’s boutique (before they even knew they were a boutique) and they sold Gloria Vanderbilt jeans and did monogramming. I went there with my request. I would buy the jeans, remove the embroidered name, and then pay them to embroider what I wanted on the pocket on my butt. The sales woman threw up her hands after she saw I was not to be dissuaded from my request. The manager was called. He said he supposed they could do it and what did I want embroidered on there? My Name? Not exactly. I opted to use Kate, a diminutive of my name and therefore, a little less personal. Then I went for an ironic twist. Since it was my rear end, why not label it as such? How about a little tongue in cheek…on my cheek? I told the gentleman I wanted the embroidered pocket to read “Kate’s End.”

He maintained his professionalism and said he would send the jeans to their embroidery person. I could pick them up in a week’s time. I couldn’t wait. The day I picked them up, they were already boxed and ready. Thanks, said I, paying for the service. I took them home to inspect them.

There on the right rear pocket of my new designer jeans were two words that could only be read as: “Rate’s End.” If one could read it as a “K” I’d be surprised. The embroiderer’s “K” was loopy and completely readable as an “R.” My call to the manager at JM Towne was unproductive. He said she’d done the best she could and re-doing it would make it less legible. He said other stuff that is now completely forgotten. I ended up wearing them only with over blouses and sweaters and it wasn’t often that anyone noticed, but when they did, it was hard explaining why “Rate’s End” was embroidered on my posterior.

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