Older Women in Jeans, 1939

thewomen39These days well-fitting jeans are on style lists for all women, regardless of their ages.  When did they start to be part of older women’s clothing choices?

The 1939 movie The Women featured an older woman in jeans, the much married and often divorced Countess de Lave. She was played by the actress Mary Boland, who was then in her late fifties. Part of the film was set at a ranch outside Reno where the major characters in the film had gone to await their divorces.  Their clothing changed from elegant dresses to Western wear. According to James Sullivan’s interesting book Jeans: The Cultural History of an American Icon, this was meant to illustrate the then-popular dude ranch style.

The older and rounder Countess chose the most extreme version of this look in her close fitting jeans, studded forearm bands, and pearls.  Was this meant to serve as a warning for older viewers?  Don’t try this at home?  Or did the Countess inspire some in the audience to put together their own fanciful dude ranch look?

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4 Responses to Older Women in Jeans, 1939

  1. Jann Gumbiner says:

    LOL. I know this movie well. I think the pearls are supposed to symbolize the status gap. Look how she is stuggling with a menial task. She is “too good” for ranch work. Women of that social class in that era would not be caught dead in jeans. Jeans were work clothes for poor women, ( well, really mens’ clothes. These may have been mens jeans) like ranch hands. Women like the Countess had servants and were always divorcing and marrying up to increase their fortunes. That was why she was in Reno on a special ranch for divorcing women. Where do those women go now? Aspen? Telluride?

    The whole idea of jeans becoming fashionable is fascinating. I hope you will write more on this topic. How about white washing jeans with all kinds of environmentally unsound chemicals to make them look used and increase profit margins? Sounds like an interesting book.

  2. Paula says:

    Wondering if you saw any of the stories in the media last week about a study done in the UK that jeans are best left to the under 53 set?

    Here’s the Guardian’s take on it – in their “Older People” section: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/nov/02/why-jeans-are-just-for-cowboys-gardeners-and-the-under-53s

  3. Fabrickated says:

    That article made me cross as it is just silly these days to talk about age limiting fashions, especially with something as useful, timeless and ubiquitous as jeans. The photo though shouts USA to me. I don’t think Brits would have worn them in 1939 under any circumstances as they were not part of our culture then.

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