Ripped jeans are denim jeans with tear or rips, often on the knees but possibly in other locations on the pant. They were popular in the late 1980s during the hard rock/heavy metal era and in the 1990s and 2000s during the grunge era. The punk culture also have been known to be fans of fabrics with various blemishes. Pants that are showing natural or manipulated wear & tear are often referenced as distressed.
Worn and ripped jeans remain popular as they are still sold in stores and manipulated by consumers currently. In the early 2010s, ripped jeans came back in style, as a 90s revival, but were sometimes introduced as Distressed – similar to ripped jeans, but the horizontal sewing point was occasionally removed to look like it was distressed.
Prior to the 1970’s, ripped jeans were mainly associated with the less fortunate. Well, NOT ANYMORE!
The world of fashion is often baffling to ordinary people. And every so often a trend comes along which seems utterly ridiculous, yet catches on. Take the current obsession with ripped jeans.
You can barely walk down any High Street without being assailed by bare knees, calves and thighs — all protruding through swatches of tattered denim.
Celebrities, it seems, can’t get enough of it. Yesterday, Jodie Whittaker, the actress cast as the new Doctor, flaunted her ripped jeans on a trip to the supermarket, while War And Peace actress Lily James sported a threadbare pair at the weekend.
The denim market is worth an estimated £1.5 billion annually in the UK alone — and ‘distressed’ styles make up a huge part of that, with prices ranging from Gucci designs at £725 a pair to Lidl’s at just £7.99.
So why is everyone wearing ripped jeans?
WHERE DID IT ALL START?
The first pair of jeans were designed in the late 1870s by Loeb Strauss, a German businessman who changed his name to Levi and founded the denim brand.
Using twilled cotton cloth, he created a durable trouser that would suit the working man. Indigo — a dye extracted from an Indian plant — was used to turn them a dark blue, which was thought to be more practical for the working environment.
The ‘ripped’ trend came later, emerging in the cultural punk movement of the Seventies.
The rips signified rebellion: early punks tore apart consumer goods as an expression of their anger towards society, and denim became a key part of this political statement.
Celebrity devotees included The Sex Pistols, Iggy Pop and Bros, while stars such as Bananarama and Madonna helped popularize the trend for women. Fans began to copy the look by ripping their own jeans at home, and denim manufacturers soon caught on.
… SO WHY ARE THEY BACK NOW?
In 2010, ripped jeans made a comeback — rebranded as ‘distressed’ denim. Designers such as Diesel and Balmain (who sold pairs for $1,800 in 2011) showed the look on the catwalk, and high-end stores such as Harrods and Fenwick started stocking them.
Experts say this coincided with an Eighties fashion revival, marked by the return of jumpsuits, high-waisted trousers and culottes. Today, ripped jeans have become so ubiquitous that even M&S stocks them (including some with patches under the rips so the wearer doesn’t get chilly knees).
At Selfridges, you can invest in a $555 pair of baggy-fit distressed jeans, complete with ‘busted knee’ rips, by trendy brand Unravel.
At Next, there’s even a $30 pair of ripped maternity jeans.
So why does today’s consumer buy pre-ripped rather than do it herself? The answer is denim now is less likely to rip than the lightweight fabric of old. Most jeans today are made of thicker, stiffer fabric — which is far harder to rip.
JUST HOW DO THEY RIP THEM?
Denim manufacturers rip jeans in one of two ways: by laser or by hand. The former tends to be used by cheaper brands which produce garments in bulk, while premium designers prefer the latter.
The machine most often used is called a 2500W Laser Sharp DenimHD Abrasion System.
Jeans are secured vertically against a metal backdrop and the laser is targeted at the denim, where it works by burning holes according to a pattern that’s programmed into the software.
It’s so accurate that not only can it ‘distress’ the fabric by burning into it just a little, but it can cut intricate patterns into it. Each pair takes just a minute to finish.
Brands known to use laser ripping include Hugo Boss, Replay and High Street shop Jack & Jones.
Hand ripping — used by brands such as Levi’s and Abercrombie & Fitch — is far more intricate, requiring individual workers to design, rip and finish each pair, which can take several hours.
First, the design is sketched on the denim, using chalk or a fabric marker. The cuts are made using large, blunt dressmaking shears (the bluntness makes the holes look ‘natural’), or, for more dramatic effect, a Dremel tool, which is like a drill fitted with a piece of circular sandpaper, which rotates and gradually grinds a hole in the denim.
Finally, the threads are pulled apart using a fabric picker, which frays the material and gives an authentic finish.
THE RISKS TO FACTORY WORKERS
Ripping is only part of the process. For that truly fashionable feel, the denim needs to be frayed around the rip. Manufacturers use various tools, from heavy-duty sandpaper to pumice stones, and until recently a process known as ‘sandblasting’, which involves fine sand being channelled into an air gun and then sprayed at high pressure on to the denim.
It’s effective but highly dangerous, causing a condition known as silicosis, when small particles of dust from the sand embed themselves in workers’ lungs.
Factory employees found themselves short of breath, suffering painful coughs and feeling dizzy and weak. Silicosis is incurable and, in its acute form, fatal.
Levi’s and H&M announced a ban on sandblasting their denim in 2010, and, following lobbying from campaign groups, other companies followed suit.
But investigations subsequently found that demand for ripped denim was fuelling a black market. In Turkey, one of the world’s biggest jeans exporters, 1,200 people have silicosis and 46 have died as a result.
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IT’S A VERY DELICATE SCIENCE
They may look random, but those rips in your jeans are anything but.
Firstly, there are different types of rip: a hole (which cuts right through the fabric), a shred (where threads remain, covering up the hole), and a scrape (a small abrasion on the surface). While the latter two tend to be small, holes can be much larger.
But fashion experts say that holes should always be horizontal (vertical ones go against the grain of the denim and can mean the jeans fall apart), never wider than the leg of the jeans (for the same reason) and never more than an inch high when you’re standing up (as they’ll expose even more flesh when you sit).
Mithun Ramanandi, formerly a denim buyer at Selfridges, says rips should be ‘on the thigh, the knee and the back pocket’ and not ‘too sporadic’.
‘Rips on the calf don’t look natural,’ he adds.
According to fashion bible GQ, there’s even an optimum number of rips: two and a half.
Any more than that and you risk exposing too much — like reality star Kim Kardashian, who’s been known to flaunt her entire thigh in hers. Kim often over-flaunts herself anyway, so we’re used to it -right?
FRAYING? IT’S A RIP-ROARING COST
It would seem logical for ripped jeans to cost less than unripped, as you’re getting less material for your money — but in fact it’s the opposite.
At Selfridges, a pair of Hoxton jeans by upmarket brand Paige denim, with frayed ankles and mismatched holes on each knee, costs £295, while a near-identical unripped Margot pair costs £200.
A pair of J Brand Indigo cropped jeans costs £200, while the ‘distressed’ equivalent is £220. Frame’s skinny jeans cost £123; a ripped version costs £155. Even at High Street chain Topshop, high-waisted skinny jeans cost £36, while a ‘super rip’ pair costs £46.
The reason for these mark-ups is simply that the manufacturing process takes longer. At least that’s what they claim – we know better don’t we?
CAN YOU WEAR THEM ANYWHERE?
In short, no. They are banned at Claridge’s, and Harrods excludes ‘clothing that reveals intimate parts of the body’ — which could easily include thighs and buttocks. Some folks still retain a sense of class aye?
Many schools advise against them on non-uniform days, while nightclub doormen can refuse entry to those in ripped jeans.
SO WILL THE FAD EVER END?
As with every fashion fad, early adopters are already growing bored of the ripped jeans trend, fuelling demand for weird and wonderful alternatives.
At Topshop, you can now buy ‘window pane’ jeans, which incorporate flexible sheets of perspex into large rips in both knees.
Fraying is a growing trend, with many retailers — from Zara to Citizens of Humanity — fraying the hems of their cropped jeans, as if someone had hacked off the bottom inch of each leg.
‘Distressed’ denim is also taking on strange new forms. Earlier this year, online retailer Nordstrom sold a pair of jeans spattered with mud (‘a crackled, caked-on muddy coating’) — for $330.