Premiering Monday, Feb. 7 at 8 p.m.
American Experience kicks off its new Winter-Spring season with “Riveted: The History of Jeans,” the fascinating and surprising story of the iconic American garment. Worn by everyone from presidents to supermodels, farmers to rock stars, they’re more than just a pair of pants — America’s tangled past is woven deeply into the indigo fabric. From its roots in slavery to the Wild West, youth culture, the civil rights movement, rock and roll, hippies, high fashion and hip-hop, jeans are the fabric on which the history of American culture and politics are writ large. Written, directed and produced by Anna Lee Strachan and Michael Bicks and executive produced by Cameo George.
The ultimate symbol of cool, jeans have become a wardrobe staple worldwide— at any given moment, half the people on the planet are wearing them. “Riveted” explores the garment’s rich history, featuring interviews with a diverse cast of historians, authors, designers and so-called “denim heads.”
The story of jeans usually begins with Levi Strauss, a Bavarian immigrant looking to make his fortune selling garments to the 49ers during the California Gold Rush. But half a century before Strauss, enslaved people in the American South were wearing a precursor of denim made from a coarse textile known as “slave cloth.” The blue hue of jeans resulted from an arduous dyeing process using the indigo plant. Eliza Lucas, the daughter of an 18th-century colonial governor, has long been credited as the savvy entrepreneur who jump-started the southern economy with indigo production. Left out of this narrative are the West African enslaved people, whose invaluable expertise for growing, processing and dyeing the plant had been brought with them.