Recollection: Chemin de Fer Americana

In the early 70’s my family moved from Connecticut to the city of angels. It was right before 7th grade–an already challenging time in life–and one of the “angels” teased me mercilessly for wearing floods. Now we call those floods, cropped flares–boom!

Photo#1This was my first lesson in regional style, and in the fashion rules that at that time strictly dictated what was in or out. My middle school fashion-smack-down convinced me to play it safe and choose teenager-trying-to-fit-in style in high school. I wasn’t the rebellious girl who wore the F U styles. The jeans we all chose were Chemin de Fers.  I remember the surge of excitement when I walked into Judy’s in the Valley, and splurged on my first pair. The style I bought had six bronzed-buttons going up the front, with the top one left unbuttoned as it parted just slightly in a V. The buttons had a locomotive embossed on them. The other Chemin de Fer style I had to have was the sailor pant. Both styles had butt-enhancing emphasis that made them hot.

…I had no idea I would become such an agitator. Yes, a style rebel if you will!  😉

In southern California the look of the day was surfer-chick-meets-Stevie Nicks. Girls in my high school wore romantic/sexy DIYed, ribbed tanks paired with our french jeans. We put our Home Ec skills to work by cutting a slit all the way up the middle of the front of the tank, and sewing crocheted binding along each edge. It was then laced up with silk ribbon through the binding. The final stage was dunking it in Easter egg-colored RIT dye.  Sidebar–we were on the tail end of the first wave of the Women’s Movement. I don’t remember, were the boys required to take Home Ec?


Anyway, I never wore those sweet little tanks because you had to go braless. Back then, like weird FCC censorship contradictions, it was more acceptable to go braless than to show your bra straps! So depending on your breast situation, these tops either looked cool and beachy, or like you were looking for a wet t-shirt contest.

When I graduated high school and packed up my safe California-style with my newly-gained college independence, I had no idea I would become such an agitator. Yes, a style rebel if you will!  There in Mt. Vernon, Iowa among the quiet, midwestern corn fields and sunny dispositions…(Hold it, let’s start again.) There among pulsing parties, drunken love and testing “the man,” my innate L.A. fashion sense wasn’t blending in. And I discovered…that I kind of liked it. I was feeling quite cool when a guy shyly whispered to me over the salad bar, “Your pants are unbuttoned.” I had to explain to this nice, hick that these were Chemin de Fers! It’s intentional!


Jeans have always been as American as homemade Iowa pie. Jeans fit any lifestyle. With the invention of stretch denim there’s now a jean for everyone–no more lying down to squeeze into them and button up. What’s in fashion today is having your own unique style–breaking rules. Wear the jeans you want–skinny, trouser, or flared, floor-skimming or cropped, shredded, embellished or colored.

There’s nothing like a flared jean to reconnect to my young, seeking spirit, when the world was wide-open.  These were the jeans of my youth. They were with me when I needed to fit in in high school, and worked in college as I looked for my own path. It’s still a good look!

What jean was popular in your high school?

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