Two photographs from college yearsbooks in the late 1960s early 1970s.
Along with the Army-Navy store surplus, denim would become the defining style of the late 1960s. The expansion of jeans surplus into collegiate fashions was part of the general trend toward more rugged and casual clothing for students. But, unique to the late 1960s, jeans and surplus also figured prominently in social and political movements of the era. They were more than just rugged, hard-wearing, and cheap clothes for students. “If jeans or army surplus were just sturdy and cheap, would they enjoy the prestige they do? Beyond their obvious material advantages, their uniformity speaks to a generation that finds its identity en masse (the Peasant, the worker, the soldier, the primitive horde – whatever mass preys upon urban civilization, suffers at its hand or renounces it, whatever mass lives outside it.),” wrote a professor at Stony Brook University in 1972. While not in uniform, military surplus and denim as a uniform by young people signaled their opposition to the status quo, or as the professor wrote, “outside of it [society].” The use of uniforms as a tool against uniformity is, of course, ironic, but more importantly, it is attempting to remove clothing from fashion and by extension, American consumer culture.
The garments in question, blue jeans and olive green fatigues, and field jackets were not designed as fashion but as utilitarian garments which may make up the raw material needed for an individual style. Made outside the fashion system, they can be used for true self-expression and not what is fashionable. Interviewed by the Boston Globe, one female student said in 1970 fashion “is the epitome of competition. It is the basis of a materialistic society.” Further along in the piece, a Radcliffe student comments, “the great counter-culture movement has instigated a breakdown in traditional dress. There has been a great change in values. Fashion designers have lost their control.” The author continues, “The young who are boycotting fashion are examining the whole concept of American advertising and the Madison Avenue myth, which chips away at the subconscious by hammering home the idea that trappings, like fashion, are a mark of excellence.” At the heart of the denim and surplus style was rejecting the dominant American culture.