Thursday, March 28, 2013

Lee Riders (1946-1950)

Good morning!

Well, the scoop today is that it's Staff Appreciation Week's "dress down day" here at the library, and I am uncharacteristically clad in a pair of blue jeans and one of my favorite t-shirts, a concert souvenir from a 1982 Elton John show I obviously did not attend (but someone having a yard sale about five years ago did! And I thank them!). Why is this headline news? I am the person most likely to wear jeans in this building! "For-never in blue jeans", they should call me. It's become easier because the dress code on the reference floor actually specifically outlaws blue jeans on the job, but even in my civilian life, I'd usually have to be doing work up in the attic or going to play kickball or picking up sticks in the yard to really think " Ah, yes, jeans today". A sartorial anomaly in this, our twenty-first century! But something about the lack of casualness in my daily dress makes me stand up a little taller, and feel a little more put together. Do you vintage-wearing or dress-loving girls and gals out there feel the same?

Thinking about denim in general, I went back to my beloved Google Books and nosed around Life magazine from the forties' for examples of blue jeaned baby queens. What I found was Lee Riders! While I remember this brand primarily being paired with weird, southwestern patterned cowboy shirts on the backs of nineties' country singers on CMT, the line actually has an illustrious blue collar past as the "jeans that built America". Take a look:

That's right you don't wear the pants, lady! It's 1946, and you're no doubt wearing shoes and stockings and a day dress I would kill a person for, so why would you want to wear jeans! I'd rather buy the pants than wear 'em, too! Look at the blonde homemaker's grey, scallop collared dress and little gold cuff. See how happy 1940's Ronald Reagan is to receive his Lee overalls. Additionally, wouldn't it be funny to wait for the new model Lee's the same way you would anticipate Ford's new line of coupes for the next calendar year?

I'm ashamed of myself for having cropped this picture so that you can't see that the little boy is wearing this HIGH cuban heels on his cowboy boots, but just sit and be satisfied with that quirky mental image for a moment. One of the advertising angles of these Lee ads is having little boys wear "the same pants the grown up guys do!" And what do the grown up guys do when they wear their denim? They work! From left to right, I see an architect, a farmer, an airplane mechanic, a cowboy, a gas station attendant, and a machinist. Do you see how clean and sharp all these guys look in their jeans? There's no distressed, oversized, acid washed, craziness going on here. Just clean, pressed denim for working in. And I love that! 

This is cut from an ad that goes on to tout Lee brand jeans as bringing western romance eastward (for you aspiring greenhorns who haven't quite made the passage into the frontier yet, obviously). My issue with this ad is not the stack of four inch ribeyes the woman is's the guy holding the plattter's jeans. What in the world! WHAT IN THE WORLD! You're supposed to look like Gary Cooper in your Lee Riders, not Gumby! I am so weirded out by the proportion of this man's denim pants that I couldn't even properly enjoy his neckerchief (so movie cowboy of the thirties' and forties') and his wife's perfect permanent wave. Ah, well.

Here are some more illustration of guys on the go in Lee pants, and the different kinds of pants you may want to order:

The context of these ads, again, is everything. Look at the pretty girl getting a tank of Esso in the top right hand corner. How about that airplane mechanic on a cotton candy colored runway? I love that Lee Riders have an alias of lower case "cowboy pants" (in common vernacular, you needn't name us by name), and what in the heck kind of scooter are those teen denim wearers sitting on and standing next to, respectively?

Note that the denim comes in different colors! It might not be lipstick red or bright yellow, but that olive drab is kind of a fun change up from the indigo wash of the overalls and the cobalt blue of the all-in-one. The man on the right reminds me of how my dad would describe his grandfather, a career truck driver, as always dressed in one of two pairs of overalls in his retirement. He had his "work overalls", which were worn with a work shirt and good for working on the tractor or maintaining the small farm he lived on, and he had his "good overalls", which were starched stiff, darkest blue Liberty overalls he would wear with a  nice shirt and hat. The class of it! You know? I love that.

We're all marching for Lee! Isn't this advertisement beautiful? I always wonder about the original paintings that show up on Antiques Roadshow every once and awhile of these glowing, gorgeous 1940's illustrations that appear in commercial advertising. Do you know what I mean? The original oil painting of this or whatever kind of painting must have been even more glowing and eye catching in its original.

Well, that's about it for today. How are you fixed on the blue jeans thing? With long legs and a short torso, I feel like I look weird in high waisted, vintage style jeans, but gosh I wish I could wear them for the occasional "Carole Lombard on the weekend" look. Do you remember your parents or grandparents having specific for or against arguments for the pervasive denim devil?

I'll see you guys tomorrow for Photo Friday! Til then.


  1. At my old job they used to grant us "jeans days" all the time and I never really got why that was such a treat...but people used to go apeshit about it. I would usually ignore it and wear a skirt or nice pants and my coworkers would always act like I was being an idiot for ignoring the "gift" we had been given.

  2. Oh, I love these!!! Great find!

    I'm in the minority with vintage lovers... I couldn't live without my jeans!! I've been lucky enough to find several pairs of '50s jeans, and they're wonderfully flattering (side zippers!) but also totally hardy. I like to think I get away with them, as the high-waist style seems to trick people into thinking it's a fashion statement rather than me being lazy ;)

    1. Haha, I've seen you in your jeans, and they're too cute! How lucky to find some vintage side zipping kind with the "can't bust 'em" denim in good shape! I love how "formal" even jeans looked back then.



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