The clothing industry predicts that the global market for denim
jeans will be $64.1 billion by 2020. That’s billion (with a “b”).
Everyone—from the president of the United States to two-year-old
It wasn’t always so. Back in the day most of the teenage boys
wore cotton trousers to school. A few kids wore corduroy. In those
days denim was used almost exclusively to make work clothes. So to
be appropriately dressed, even working class kids wore cotton. Take
Elmont Richens, for example. He was a working class kid back then
and he wouldn’t have been caught dead walking into the high
school wearing jeans.
Decades passed—wars and rumors of wars, moon shots and
space ships, fads and fashions came and went—but Elmont retained
the cultural context of his youth—denim was used to make cheap
working class clothing. Good clothes were made with cotton.
Staying culturally naïve had been easy until recently. Elmont had
lived all his life in Port Hall, a village about 20 miles from
Letongaloosa. He was a bachelor and was shy. Even after moving
here he didn’t get around much. He was a good man. Good and
Elmont loved to read and he went to the public library a lot.
One day he asked for a book that wasn’t available. The librarian
said, “They might have that book at the Letongalosa Community
Junior College library.”
I don’t work up at LCJC, “he said.
“Oh, you don’t have to be affiliated with LCJC to check out
books. Any resident of Letongaloosa can have a library cared.”
Elmont was delighted. He got a card and started checking books
out at the LCJC library. That’s where Elmont was when he saw the
girl in the stressed jeans.
She was walking toward him. She was tall. Her blonde hair was
pulled back in a ponytail. Her jeans had ragged horizontal holes in
the front of both thighs. There was a ragged square hole in the right
knee. The back pockets were patched with material from a red
bandana. The right leg had an eight-inch tear. She wore rubber flipflops.
Elmont’s heart went out to the waif.
Despite his shyness, he said:
“Miss, may I speak to you for a moment? This is awkward,” he
said. “My name is Elmont Richens. I grew up poor in a small town. I
know what it’s like not to be able to afford nice things. If you’ll let
me, I’d like to buy you some new clothing.”
At this point some readers are going to say that I ran into a plot
snag and decided to use dues ex Machina. That’s a literary device
some writers use to save a drowning plot. All I am going only going
to say is: sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.
The young woman was not poor at all. She was rich. Her
name was Melissa Stafford, and she was president of Zeta Omega
Zeta, the wealthiest and most exclusive sorority on campus. She had
just finished attending a sociology class. The lecture: “Our Social
Responsibility in an Aging Population.”
Melissa extended her hand.
“Hi, I’m Melissa.”
“Where do you live, Elmont?”
“At 556 Horton Street. “
“It’s awfully hot. Did you walk all the way up to campus,
“Yes. Look, I know what it’s like to not to have the right clothes.
I’d like to buy you a new pair of jeans.”
“Thank you, Elmont. That’s sweet of you. But these jeans are
brand new. My Mom bought them at Bloomingdales in New York
City. She gave them to me yesterday.”
“They’re NEW? You’re not poor?”
“No, Elmont, I’m not poor. Look, it’s quite a walk back to your
house. I’ll give you a ride home.
“You have a car?
“Yes. Stay here. I’ll be right back.”
A few minutes later Melissa pulled up at the curb in a grey 2015
Elmont stared for a long moment, then walked to the car.
“Hop in,” said Melissa.
Dr. Larry Day is a retired J-School Professor from KU and author of Day Dreaming: Tales From the Fourth Dementia available on Amazon.