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The Fallacy of the Ripped Jeans

by Arundhati Roy


Fashion has always been considered an outlet for people with a desire to carve out their self-image. This idea has always remained central to the ways humans have chosen to present themselves to the ‘society’. As far as fashion is concerned, it is safe to assume that trends continue to move in circles and that they tend to make a comeback in every epoch. This however does not mean that a trend cannot become a fad easily. One such ‘element of fashion’ which might or might not be hovering over the grey area is the ‘ripped jeans’.

An un-ripped pair of jeans these days is almost as rare as a good Salman Khan film. The first sight of them can almost be described as disturbing and the question, “But why?” almost instantly escapes the lips. Even then, the ripped jeans have conquered the world with the fake ‘lived in’ appeal that it has. Guys have turned to ripped jeans in their efforts to channel punk rockers, grunge superstars, or even their favorite rapper. But these days there's an inundating amount of pre-ripped jeans on the market and it is amazing to see how wearing torn clothes is considered as ‘fashion’ among people ready to throw their money at the best kinds!

But there has got to be more to deconstructing the fad. There must be a certain mentality behind this look which has evidently worked in its favour till now. The two most important influences on torn jeans are the kneecaps of Joey Ramone, and the abrupt career of the Sex Pistols, a band that existed to promote a London boutique run by their manager, Malcolm McLaren, and his partner, Vivienne Westwood. The torn, ripped sense of fashion draws inspiration from decomposition as a design element. Perhaps this is the irony of the 21st Century - in a market space which is choked with product parity, to sell something and to sell it better than the rest, requires an element of story-telling which puts the consumer at the center of it all; the individuals are made to choose a story in the form of a product which has been pre determined by its makers. The case with ripped jeans and even distressed jeans for that matter is the fact that they have been ‘aged to mimic the look and feel’ of a pair that has been worn for a long time. This adds more depth to the product and lets its buyers slip into the approximation of a lived-in skin and by proximity, to enhance their own personal histories. For a 20-something year old boy/girl, jeans are an everyday fashion staple. The certain aggression and arrogance that the ripped jeans exude perhaps makes these young genes feel that they have worked for something in their lives to appear gritty and rebellious.

What’s exciting about fashion trends is the fact that it catches on very is not difficult to spot someone adorning these (im)perfect pair of annihilation, sold in the pretense of ‘self-expression’. It is the shared experience of a widespread fantasy that people are opting to become a part of; pretending to live a dangerous, alternate punk/grunge (assisted) reality where they can ‘be themselves’.

Fads may come and go but classic fashion remains, just like the idea of a pair of fresh blue jeans (a white canvas, now that you think about it). Ripped jeans are a fundamental trend in fast fashion and a conspicuous waste too. The need to spend on clothes to look like a hobo, a trendy one at that, shows the level of manipulation required to bring about this sense of fashion- desperation in people. All of this is done at the cost of cheap labour who choke on chemicals and dust at the factories and without any thought given to the vast water wastage caused by the industrial laundries. But then perhaps these side-effects are in line with the age-old traditions of capitalism itself. The insatiable thirst to look fashion forward with unsustainably costly products captures the essence of our present era of everyday playacting, where everyone wants to be individualistic while floating in a sea of copycats.

Denim memorializes the history of the lived body in its patterns of fading and fraying, thus fashioning the body as a potentially political site of authenticity and self-possession that is both culturally mediated yet also imagined to be liberated from the symbolic demands of culture itself. Luckily, claiming tatters as finery is a game not everyone can play.