Today they sell pre-faded blue jeans online. With one click you can own blue jeans that look like you have worn them a long while. However if you are sixty-something you remember you had to actually wear jeans until they faded and became as soft as a baby’s blanket. The process was just you living life in them.
In junior high and high school I used to buy my blue jeans from Paul Scott’s, a men’s store in New Rochelle. They had Levi’s, Lee and Wrangler jeans by the width and length. In 8th grade for a while they had the “stretch jeans” but that fad only lasted for a short while. In those days when you bought jeans they were stiff and had a dark blue denim color. With time, use and washings they just became softer and bluer.
In the spring of 1974 my dad phoned me while I was attending college at George Washington University. He said he had access to hundreds of thousands of old blue jean pants for rags, (our family was in the rags business for two generations) but some of them were in really good shape maybe I could sell them. I think my initial response was. “What are you talking about?”
Reluctantly I drove to the family “rag factory” in NYC and spent a whole college weekend sifting through thousands of blue jean pants that where in 1,000 pound bales. Finally I picked a few hundred of the best blue jeans loaded them into my car and headed down the turnpike back to D.C. Before I could sell them I had to get a “Vendor’s License,” because the plan was for me to sell the jeans on a corner in trendy Georgetown on weekends. To “market the jeans” I bought three huge plastic trash cans form the Georgetown hardware store and with a tape measure sorted the pants by approximate width and then tucked them into one of the three cans. Eventually I had a fourth can for overalls.
Being a novice I showed up one spring Saturday in 1974 at 7 a.m. to sell recycled blue jean in Georgetown on a corner. That first morning I almost lost my life. It seems I took the spot of the king of the vendors. When he and his posse of 15 other venders showed up they were upset and about to beat the hell out of me with actual baseball bats. Then an old woman, perhaps sixty-something, with the worst blonde wig you could ever see (she was a jewelry vendor), just appeared and said, “Stop it!” And amazingly they did. She said, “I’ll take him, he’s new… he just don’t know!” Then she said, “Come with me,” and I went to the next corner with her and I set up. Later I found out the lady was named “Tippy,” and had been a vender for 30 years. In one hour she taught me everything about collecting money, making change, how to handle hustlers, etc. To the amazement of all the vendors, by 11 a.m. I was surrounded by what seemed to be thousands of people and by 4 p.m. every pair of jeans I had was gone!
So the next day, Sunday, I drove to NYC and told my dad and my brother Elia the whole story and together with their help I went through more 1,000 pound bales of blue jeans to select pants for the next weekend. What a difference a week makes because the next weekend, every vendor wanted me to set up next to them, but I stayed loyal to Tippy. However soon vending in Georgetown was outlawed because the shop owners complained. Now armed with money I walked into a location not fifty feet from the corner I sold the jeans and rented a small space upstairs in the tiny, funky Georgetown Mall. I asked Lee Brandreth, a fellow student at GWU and a dude I was in cub scouts with as a child, to be my partner. Lee is still to this day honest, hard working and as loyal a friend as one will ever find walking on this earth.
With Lee’s help we kept the shop named the “Bone Zone” stocked with those long rides to dad’s factory and we stayed opened seven days a week! We hired seamstresses to make long and short “blue jean dresses” and made cutoff shorts of the weird length pants. Our first seamstress was Gina Winchester from way out west. She was 19-years-old and we were 20-21-years-old and, like so often in those days, she was an earth girl who loved the nightlife. Gina helped sow the patches on my jeans. I had a very artistic chaotic array of patches that covered the holes of the knees and rear of my favorite jeans.
Doing what we did, Lee and I had quite a collection of old jeans, many with wonderful sewn on patches done by Gina. We sold the shop at a nice profit after our one-year lease was up because we needed to finish college and get on with our life. Lee added both turquoise jewelry and head shop stuff to the items we sold that made the shop desirable by other local shop owners. Lee, who received an Economic Degree from GWU, negotiated the sale brilliantly. Many folks bid against each other until someone put in that final crazy high bid number and produced the check.
That was a memorable year. The “Bone Zone” brought us many good friends and memories and quite a tidy profit, too. We graduated from GWU with great apartments and over the top stereo units, a big deal back then for a great social life.