Are ripped jeans just a trendy fashion statement, or a powerful commentary on our values? Join Jennifer as she tears into her least-favorite fashion trend.
TRANSCRIPT OF EPISODE 32
In publishing news, The Rose Keeper is on track to release on March 15, 2021. The e-book is currently available for pre-order on Amazon, and I’m even running a special giveaway for members of my Reader Community who pre-order the book. For details visit my website, sparklingvintagelife.com, and scroll down to the Reader Community section to sign up.
I’ve also recently signed a contract with Barbour Publishing to write a historical romance novella to be included in a collection called Lumberjacks and Ladies. That will come out in early 2022. If the “lumberjack” theme sounds familiar, it’s because my story in The Highlanders collection, called “The Violinist,” also featured a lumberjack. So maybe I’m becoming something of a specialist in the lumberjack romance genre.
It’s midwinter here in northern Idaho, and as I do every gray and gloomy February, I enjoy seeing signs of color, light, and warmth in those harbingers of spring–the spring clothing catalogs! I love the colors: the pinks and peaches and robins’-egg blues and grass-greens. They make me happy and give me hope of warmer, sunnier days to come.
Well, earlier this week I opened one such catalog and felt my spirit sink to see page after page of distressed denim, particularly jeans. I had to ask myself why the sight of so much ripped and torn denim depressed me. After all, it’s just a fashion trend that I’m free to embrace or ignore at my will, right? So, as my ruminative mind is apt to do, I spent a goodly amount of time this week thinking about it, and decided to share some of my thoughts with you.
Now, a couple of caveats here. First, I understand that many of my listeners might adore distressed denim and ripped jeans. You might think the distressed look is cute and love to wear it. In that case, more power to you. You do you, and you might want to skip this episode, which is perfectly okay with me, as long as you tune back in next time when I promise to talk about something less annoying.
The other caveat is that I am not in any sense a fashion maven. I am a sixty-year-old woman living in Idaho who writes historical fiction and favors vintage clothing and old-fashioned ways of doing things. So if you’re looking for fashion advice on contemporary trends, you, too, might want to skip this episode, and possibly the rest of my podcast, too.
If anyone’s still with me, thank you, and I promise to make this brief. A moment ago I said that I like vintage clothing. But I don’t like distressed clothing. What’s the difference?
Vintage clothing is sometimes a bit distressed because it’s you know, vintage. A dress that’s several decades old might be a bit sun-faded, or it might need a bit of mending here and there because of its age. That’s natural distressing. And that’s not what I’m talking about.
When I say distressed clothing, I’m talking about brand-new garments, usually jeans, that are intentionally ripped, torn, burned, stained, stretched, and dirtied at the factory. Yes, dirtied, as in having mud or soil rubbed into them. They are often horrifically expensive compared to normal, non-distressed jeans.
I did a little research into this clothing style. The roots of distressed jeans lie in the hippie era of the 1960s, got a big boost during the punk era of the 1970s, and have enjoyed a surge of popularity in just about every decade since. It seems we’re in the middle of such a resurgence now. I keep waiting for the trend to start petering out, just as I’ve been waiting more than a decade for the Amish bonnet fiction trend to peter out, but it just keeps going and going.
At its most basic, superficial level, fashionistas claim that distressed jeans do two things for one’s wardrobe. (1) Strategically placed rips and tears draw attention to one’s positive qualities. So if you have toned thighs or kneecaps to die for, positioning a hole over them will draw attention there. (2) Distressed jeans can be used to dress down dressier pieces so as not to look so perfect and polished.
I have two responses to that last one. (1) No one has ever accused me of looking too perfect and polished. I’m not even sure what that is. (2) Wouldn’t regular, non-distressed jeans do the same thing? If I wear a tailored office-worthy blazer with a regular pair of jeans, isn’t the dressed-down effect achieved without sporting rips and tears? So I think we can dismiss ripped jeans as a flattering objects of grace and beauty.
Once upon a time, wearing ripped and torn clothing signified rebellion against social norms and a spirit of anti-capitalism– a literal tearing apart of consumer goods. Such mangled garments expressed anger toward society, and also a lifestyle that said the wearer had other, higher-minded things to think about than clothing. Ripped jeans are meant to signal creativity and sophistication.
Today, I think the opposite is true. Wearing distressed denim seems inauthentic to me. Maybe at one time it really did signify the rebellious and anti-capitalist values it’s said to represent. But as for rebellion, how is it rebelling against convention if every suburban mom is wearing some version of ripped jeans? How anti-capitalist is it to wear a mass-produced, heavily marketed, environmentally sketchy luxury item? If you want to appear creative, why not actually create something? Why not actually work on becoming sophisticated, if that’s important to you? Why all the play-acting?
Today, paying possibly hundreds of dollars for mangled clothing seems the ultimate in consumerist luxury. Mike Rowe, the former star of the TV show Dirty Jobs, wrote in a Facebook post that distressed jeans “foster the illusion of work. The illusion of effort. They’re a costume for wealthy people who see work as ironic.”
Jeans I’ve worn out myself in the course of living my life are one thing. Those are authentically distressed. Frequent laundering, heavy yard work, or whatever, does wear out denim. I might not love how they look anymore, but I often love how they fit, because the fibers have conformed over the years to my shape. I even love faded jeans, not because they’re faded, but because I love that soft, gentle shade of blue. Such jeans become like old friends, and I miss them when they’re gone. A farmer or rancher or mechanic’s jeans, worn out authentically in the course of hard work, make sense.
But to pay lots of money for jeans that are artfully distressed, especially with gigantic rips and tears that show a lot of skin, is inconceivable to me. They can even be immodest, depending on the body part that’s being revealed.
Supposedly ripped and dirty clothing confers upon the wearer street credibility and gangster culture. That’s another reason I dislike distressed jeans. They express values that I don’t personally abide by. One website described ripped jeans as being edgy, tough, daring and hip. Anyone who’s met me can tell you that I’m about as far from edgy, tough, daring and hip as you can get.
I read some of the comments in an online discussion about the merits of ripped jeans. Most of the women who liked them gave some version of the “they’re cute” or “they show off my figure” reasons I mentioned earlier. But some of the other comments shot up some real red flags.
“I enjoy wearing them to express the side of me that’s dark and hopeless,” wrote one commenter. Dark and hopeless? Is that what the best-dressed women are wearing this year?
Another woman wrote, “Ripped jeans tell the world I can’t be bothered to give a [expletive].”
A third woman wrote, “Distressed jeans say I’m preoccupied with more important things than what I’m wearing.” Chances are she spent a great deal of money to say she’s uninterested in clothing.
To me, these are all good reasons for not wearing distressed clothing.
And here’s another question to ask ourselves. Do we want to be seen as edgy and rebellious? And if so, why? And how does that honor God? Is God honored by a rebellious spirit? Is God honored by darkness and hopelessness? Is God honored when we celebrate decay destruction and uncleanliness in what we wear? I don’t think so.
And finally, I don’t like distressed jeans because they seem morally questionable.
One commenter on the forum wrote, “I wonder what the dirt-poor factory workers in Bangladesh are thinking when their employers instruct them to rip and tear up the jeans before packaging them for first-world markets.”
A commenter named Emmer wrote, “I’ve lived in various parts of Africa and seeing how hard people work to stay clean and neat and pressed there made me feel a visceral objection to destroying clothing deliberately. It feels so incredibly privileged.”
And it is privileged. I wonder why people who are more Woke than I aren’t yelling from the rooftops about privileged cultural appropriation, and so on and so forth?
For whatever reason, I won’t be wearing purposefully ripped jeans anytime soon, although they may rip on their own, the way a beloved pair once did on a crowded cross-country flight, straight across the backside. And that, my friend, is a funny story for another time.
What about you? How do you feel about distressed jeans? Love ‘em? Hate ‘em? Let me know in the comments. It’s even okay to disagree with me! I just want to hear from you.
And you know who else wants to hear from you? People who read reviews of podcasts, that’s who. Your rating and review will help like-minded listeners find the Sparkling Vintage Life podcast and join our merry band. So I’d be most grateful if you’d take a moment to leave a review at Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you like to get your podcasts. It really means a lot.
And be sure to tune in next time when we discuss another aspect of A Sparkling Vintage Life.