How consumption and symbolism of jeans have changed over time
I laughed when I found old photos of my grandmother, my mother and me from our teenage years, but then something struck me. At around 16 years old we were all wearing jeans – each in different eras. Jeans seem to be a solid movement from subculture to subculture, changing and adapting through time. My Grandma was part of the social group back in the mid 50s called Bodgies and Widgies. Her jeans were pedal pushers, which she wore with a white blouse and flat shoes made easy for dancing and riding on the back of motorbikes. There was a moral panic over this culture of youth because they presented a threat to the Australian way of life by consuming goods from American culture and being unpatriotic (Stratton 2012, p. 185). This generation of youth ‘articulated a new radical working class critique of Australian society whilst, at the same time, helping to establish the “teenager” youth period as a real category’ (Stratton 1984, p. 21). For the first time there was an abundance of work for youth, allowing them to earn significant money and contribute to a new consumer market.
My mother was part of a subculture known as ‘Sharpies’, which were predominantly located in Melbourne. The ‘Sharpie culture was created when the hippy culture became too mainstream and commercialised’ and it was no longer considered ‘cool’ or deviant from social norms (Beilharz 2012, p. 65). Just like the Widgies before them, the Sharpies were connected by working-class youth consuming the market. However, the Sharpies – considering their working-class wages – tended to wear expensive clothing. (Bessant 2009, p.21) Even certain brands were important to the Sharpies. So was born the demand for ‘Lee’ and ‘Levi’ jeans; you were nothing without that label in Sharpie cultures, if you wore jeans they were the only acceptable ones.
The Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) in the 1970s changed sociological perceptions of youth. Although predominantly focused only on working-class male youths in England, their method for defining subculture and its drivers is still used in society today by some theorists. Subcultures are formed when youths cannot, or will not, identify with social norms of the time. With youth wanting to pull away from social norms, they attract others who feel the same. Subculture is cemented when identity is formed. The CCCS identified that, for the first time, youth had a dispensable income, mostly from working, which allowed them to consume like previous generations had never done before. Such was the way for my grandmother and my mother.
Beiharz, P 2012, ‘Rock Lobster: Lobby Loyde and the history of rock music in Australia’, Thesis Eleven, vol.109, no.64, viewed 18 March 2014.
Bessant, J 1995, ‘Hanging around the streets - Australian rockers, sharpies and skinheads of the 1960s and early 1970s’, Journal of Australian Studies, vol.19, no.45, pp. 15-31.
Deutsch, N & Theodorou, E 2010, ‘Aspiring, Consuming becoming: Youth Identity in Culture and of Consumption’, Journal of Youth and Society, vol.42, no.2, pp.229-254.
Ritzer, G 2006, McDonaldization: The Reader, 2nd edn, Pine Forge Press, California.
Stratton, J 2012, ‘Bodgies and Widgies: Just Working Class Kids Doing Working Class Things’, in R White (ed.), Youth Subcultures Theory, History and the Australian Experience, Australian Cleaning House for Youth Studies, Tasmania, pp. 185-192.
Stratton, J 1984, ‘Bodgies and Widgies: Youth cultures in the 1950s’, Journal of Australian Studies, vol. 18, no. 15, pp.10-24.
White, R & Wyn, J 2013, ‘Youth Identities and Culture’, Youth and Society, 3rd edn, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne.
I am a single parent of three children and had no idea what I wanted to study. Through my four years of part-time study, I found my passion in working with adolescents and hope to further my studies in high school education. I hope to study the Graduate Diploma in Education next year and get to work with high schools in rural areas.
 McDonaldisation is the process by which the ideas and principles pertaining to fast-food restaurants are beginning to dominate more and more sectors of societies thanks to globalisation (Ritzer, 2006).