The `blue jeans, white shirt` line goes way back to the birth of the American teenager in movies. In 1955 Nicholas Ray was directing the movie that would become an eternal reference for teen dramas and rebellion – Rebel Without a Cause, starring James Dean, Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo.
The laid-back attitude that James Dean shows as the troubled young man Jim Stark is a solid rock in the history of teen cinema, a source of continuous inspiration for everything that appeared after – from John Hughes’ teen comedies to the geeky productions released after 2000.
Not only the attitude, but the entire presence of the character turned Dean into an icon.
Who can forget those shiny blue jeans, white shirt and red jacket that he wears from the exact first minute of the film? “It is not difficult to understand how James Dean in a pair of Lee 101 Riders jeans was the birth of the American teenager.” The blue jeans and white shirt quickly turned from a casual outfit into the coolest thing one could wear.
The entire ensemble made by costume designer Moss Mabry reflected the character’s state of mind. The clothes didn’t matter so much, they became history because of the troubled mind of Jim Stark. He was cool by not showing off too much.
So it was only an illusion? The jeans, yes. The cool american teenager, no. James Dean wore the clothes that every teenager of the ’50s wanted but none of them could get, because they only existed on screen. He turned the denim into a symbol of rebellion. But over the years fashion got to the point when jeans became the favorite item of almost everyone, not only the rebellious teenagers who wanted to be cool.
Nevertheless, in cinema, James Dean symbolizes blue jeans just like Marlon Brando is the master of leather jacket and Audrey Hepburn is elegance itself in the little black dress. They are linked to fashion and fashion owes them big time for what certain clothing items mean today.