This morning whilst still half asleep I read the above line on a popular forum as part of a discussion about buying the individual “grail” leather jacket, and it struck me so that I had to ponder the thought process behind it. There can be no doubt that we in the denim scene dress very differently to the average man in the street, and we carry a small smugness about this I think. On Sunday morning I found myself sat on a pebble beach with a man wearing a bowler hat and several men adorned in denim jackets and vests of all description with their extremely well made American work boots, not your average weekend morning beach dwellers I thought. So, here I was feeling pretty individual, feel apart from more regular society as someone who puts more than a rational amount of thought into what I buy and wear, whilst still managing to spend at least 50% of my time looking like a homeless person. Not for the first time thought it seems that I am just about as wrong as a person can get, and it’s all down to the chap who wrote the above line.
The guy was making reference to a debate a couple of fellow posters were having about a pair of leather brands having very similar offerings, one argued for the similarity and the other argued that the devil was in the details and small differences made the two items just about incomparable, then in wandered this thought terrorist with his revolutionary concept. His point began easily enough by demonstrating that both brands took inspiration from vintage designs, this drew an inner nod from me as this is something which happens very regularly in the denim and work wear market, but then he posted the above line, and completely screwed my tiny mind.
He was entirely correct, no one is re-inventing the wheel here, we are all drinking from the same well of ideas and there are only so many to go around. Sure, designers add their own tweaks and interpretations to give their items a signature that is recognisable to fans of their work, but straight cut 5 pocket jeans will always be exactly that, type 3 denim jackets by anyone other than Levis will only vary from the original by so much and an A1 leather jacket made by one brand is going to look really, really similar to one made by another brand, so in reality just how much choice is there?
Well, in terms of design none of us is chasing individuality. To do so in a market dominated by vintage inspired and reproduction work wear would be absolute idiocy. The only way that any of us are going to find a degree of differentiation is through materials and small details that carry importance only to people who obsess enough to find nothing wrong with spending $400+ on jeans regularly. So whilst we might very well feel like we apart from society in our passions it seems that we are far from unique.
Giving it even more thought I question whether individuality is something we aspire to with denim and work wear, I doubt that we could with any sincerity. I think that more common concepts and emotions associated with our societal niche are nostalgia, appreciation of details, ethical awareness and a passion for timeless design and superior quality in terms of materials and manufacture. We buy on confidence that what we buy may well be derivative but it is also made to be one of the best of its kind ever produced or ever likely to be produced. what this means in reality is that there is very little room in this market for innovation, in fact much of what we enjoy definitely comes from the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” school of thought, but that is exactly what we want.
So the end result of this mentally binding, individuality challenging thought is that whilst we might lack distinction, we are certainly apart from the majority and that is enough to keep my expensive work boots floating on a cushion of self satisfaction a little longer.