Academic journal article Journal of Social History

The Blue Jean Generation: Youth, Gender, and Sexuality in Buenos Aires, 1958-1975

Academic journal article Journal of Social History

The Blue Jean Generation: Youth, Gender, and Sexuality in Buenos Aires, 1958-1975

Article excerpt

In 1975, tango poet Hector Negro wrote about "an invasion that began sometime in the 1950s and put an end to an entire lifestyle: at that point, Buenos Aires was dressed in a winter-like fashion, a grey city." In 1975, meanwhile, Buenos Aires looked different because it had become "beautifully blue." (1) Negro illustrated the changing city lifestyles as an invasion of color, where blue replaced grey. The blue of the jeans, to Negro, marked a new lifestyle, developed by young people, that spread to transform the city. This article tells the story of that blue invasion by focusing on the social and cultural life story of a commodity. (2) It reconstructs how, at different stages of its life story, the blue jean was commercialized, who wore it, and the meanings they attributed to the jeans. In addition, it explores the cultural representations of the blue jean and analyzes the debates it sparked in the public arena, which revolved around the "Americanization" of Argentina's culture; the shifting understandings of gender and sexuality; and the changing youth identities the blue jean allegedly embodied.

Scholars who have studied youth of the 1960s and 1970s in Europe and the United States have often pointed out the importance of dressing practices in the making of youth cultures and subcultures. Scholars have analyzed, for example, the way English mods appropriated of Edwardian suits or the French blousons noire made use of leather items to develop identities and styles, and how these styles were later domesticated, or commodified. (3) Ironically, however, only a few anecdotal accounts have been devoted to unraveling the meanings and uses of the blue jean by youth in the 1960s and 1970s. These studies have also focused on the birthplace of the jean, the United States. (4) Jeans, which pervaded most youth cultures and subcultures, have been taken for granted.

As in most places in the West, the blue jean came to epitomize youth in 1960s and 1970s Argentina. The blue jean helped young people to cementing a sense of generational belonging at the same time that it served to registering the multiple differentiations that crossed by "youth" as a seemingly homogeneous category. As sociologist Fred Davis has asserted, dress acts as a visual metaphor for identity and for noting the culturally anchored ambivalences that resonate among and within identities. (5) In 1960s and 1970s Argentina, the blue jean acted as a prime marker of a youth identity as separate and eventually opposed to an "adult" identity and fashion. Indeed, jeans were the first dress item to be worn exclusively by young men and women, who increasingly dressed--and thought, and behaved--differently from the older generation. Yet the blue jean also served to signal and reinforce class distinctions and gender differences among young people. Jean styles, brands, and "nationalities"--whether imports or locally produced--became ways of elaborating intra-generational differences. By the mid 1970s, there was a "blue-jean generation," although young people neither wore the same jeans nor endowed them with the same meanings.

Writing the life story of the blue jean not only involves addressing the making of youth in 1960s and 1970s Argentina but also, in doing so, shedding new light into the transformations of gender and sexuality that youth came to embody. The limited historiography on gender and sexuality in 1960s and 1970s Argentina has so far accounted for the prudent liberalization of sexual mores and practices as well as for the opening of new spaces and expectations for young women, especially from the urban middle classes. (6) In this regard, by looking at the uses and meanings that young people made out of the blue jean, this article seeks to expand our understanding of the transformations in the performances and representations of masculinities, femininities, and eroticism in 1960s and 1970s Argentina, and to disentangle how those transformations intersected with class and political dynamics. …

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