There are hues of blue that speak to me. Cobalt blue glass. Iznik tiles. Lapis lazuli and ultramarine. I have a small collection of blue trinkets from around the world.
Before I started nursery school I knew I preferred blue. It is as if part of my brain stopped developing at four years old, stuck in the binary at blue. I wanted navy blue sneakers, blue and white striped shirts, blue overalls, and a blue tricycle. I told everyone my favorite color was blue. I refused to wear pink.
Blue doesn’t have a gender. We assign gender to concepts and objects almost as much as we assign gender to people. I assign a gender to everything; some things get thrown on the girl’s pile. Discarded. It is a hard habit to stop. I wear a lot of blue. I still have a hard time with pink.
I imagine myself coming out of the womb clad in denim diapers, but I didn’t get my first pair of blue jeans until I was twelve. They were a compromise; bell bottoms from the Junior’s department. My next pair was Levi’s 505’s. The exact same style of jeans that my brother wore.
I wear blue jeans almost every day. I also have black jeans, corduroy jeans, and khaki jeans. All from the men’s aisle. I assign jeans a gender, male, and I want to be gendered male by association.
Neither of my parents wore jeans. My mother rarely wore slacks, and my father wore “golf pants” and “polo shirts” although he did not play any sports at all. My parents were hopelessly square; mortified by what the kids were wearing. They made concessions reluctantly. We were allowed to wear jeans as long as they were ironed.
Jeans were invented by Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis. The early prototypes were made for miners during the California Gold Rush. The miners needed rugged clothing. Originally, Strauss cut the pants from canvas (which chaffed), and then from denim (which softened up). The rivets were added by Davis, in 1873, making the pants much more durable. Jeans didn’t go casual for men until the 1930’s, and they didn’t get popular until the 1950’s. Thank The WIld One and Rebel WIthout a Cause. Marlon Brando and James Dean.
We gender people continuously, unconsciously. Every time I see a new person I gender them. My brain races forward, sorting by haircut, facial hair, glasses, make-up, jewelry, clothes. I tried to stop doing it, for just one day. To see a person instead of a gender. To stop looking for blue.
Blue rarely occurs in nature. It is difficult to create blue dye from raw materials. In ancient times there was not even a word for blue. Poets did not describe the sea or the sky as blue. When a language acquires words for color, black is first, then white, red, green, and yellow. Blue comes in late in the game. Its attachment to gender is arbitrary.
Today I am wearing a navy blue T-shirt over a pair of faded blue jeans. I take blue for granted, but I’m trying to look at it differently.
Notes: This twenty minute podcast from Radio Lab explains the history of blue, including why the word blue doesn’t appear in the original texts of the Bible, The Iliad, or The Odyssey. A shorter written explanation on the same topic from The Guardian can be found here.