TORONTO – The resurgence of ’90s grunge-inspired fashions has broadened beyond ripped jeans with a wide assortment of apparel showing noticeable signs of wear and tear.
Consumers seeking an edgier look are gravitating towards distressed and destroyed garments like ready-made knee-baring denim and shirts bearing holes and cutouts.
High-profile stars have embraced the retro revival, with Beyonce, Rihanna, Kanye West and One Direction’s Harry Styles all spotted sporting ripped jeans in a range of washes.
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Christie Ressel, image consultant with Fashion Translated, said purchasing distressed clothing may appeal to those who want the feel of their favourite worn-in sweater without worrying about the garment falling apart.
“You get that same soft, comfortable fabric and luxury appeal with something that’s got maybe more strategically placed holes …. It’s got a little bit more refinement to it.”
Daniel Carman, co-owner of Over The Rainbow, a premium denim boutique in Toronto, said there has been a lot of rips and use of distressing in denim this season.
“It’s really exciting because it breaks the standard clean norm that we’ve been used to seeing in the past couple of years, and it’s been growing because people just want something new and different.”
Carman said considerable work goes into making holes, raises and etches in the material to achieve the weathered look. But despite its frayed, worn-in appearance, he said there isn’t a whole lot of difference when it comes to caring for distressed denim compared to “clean” jeans.
“It really depends on how the customer wears the product,” said Carman.
“It’s going to go through the same wear cycle as any normal jean…. I think it’s common sense if there’s a hole in a jean, you have to be careful where you put your foot because you might create a bigger hole.”
While some may be unsure of how to pull off wearing shredded styles, Ressel suggested opting to wear either a top or bottom that’s distressed — but not simultaneously.
“Of course, you can wear two at the same time, but that’s more of a very heavy trended look and it’s a lot easier to make a mistake with putting that look together — so it’s easier to look sloppy.”
As with any type of clothing, fit is always king, Ressel noted.
“If you can find something that flatters your body type and flatters your silhouette, it really doesn’t matter what you put on, it’s going to look amazing.”
Canadian Living fashion and beauty director Julia McEwen said for those employed in a more creative environment, distressed garments could be an option for the workplace — with a few caveats.
“If you’re seeing more skin than jean, it’s absolutely not appropriate for the office,” she said.
“However, if you have a few strategically placed rips in certain areas — maybe nothing close to the butt, maybe more on the knees, just a few little slices — then I think you can definitely sneak it in by pairing it with … a very crisp oxford shirt. So you have that nice juxtaposition going on of something very casual with something that is more posh.”
McEwen suggested women can polish off their ensemble with a pair of strappy sandals or bright pumps.
As anyone who’s seen me arrive at work in mismatched sandals, or wearing a peasant blouse made from Indian bedspread fabric woven on one of Gandhi’s looms, or in my flowered skirt with a hemline from 19never — as any one of these horrified witnesses can testify, I am not a fashion maven.
I never have been.
The hairdo in my school photograph from 7th grade looks like Claire Underwood’s would if she’d stuck her forked tongue into an electric socket while standing in a pool of water deep enough to submerge her 12-inch stiletto heels. In a more recent picture taken of me in a sculpture garden, I can easily be mistaken for a statue jointly crafted by Rubens and Andy Warhol, both of them on acid. Starting when my daughters were about 3 and 8 respectively, it was they who sternly told me “You’re not going out of the house like that.”
So okay, I stipulate that my core competency is not in picking or accessorizing clothes. But I am nonetheless observant about them. Like German, fashion is a language I don’t understand but am endlessly amused (and yes, a little frightened) by. Just as a words like Vergangenheitsbewältigung or Schwarzwälderkirschtortenlieferantenhut have highly precise meanings (“inability to cope with the past” and “the hat worn by the black forest cherry cake delivery person” respectively*), I know that a pelvis-high gingham skirt, a leather blouse with more flounces than a colony of scallops, a macramé belt made from recycled Venetian blind pull-cords and a maze of Chinese tattoos on the left thigh signals something very specific about the class, outlook and demographics of the wearer (even if I don’t know exactly what).
However, I’m mystified by pre-torn jeans.
Acid washes and other manufacturing techniques designed to make dungarees looked distressed — these I understand. After all, who wants the tedium of wearing a pair of jeans multiple times if you can just buy a pair that already looks worn? And not just worn, but actively worn, as if while in them, the wearer had done something exotic and unfathomable like … work. But meticulously rent pants? Why pay a premium for those? Why buy them at all?
Last week, while on a tram up to the Getty Museum in a toney suburb of Los Angeles, I studied the attire of the couple sitting opposite my husband and me. The man’s garb was standard Rich Dude — tailored khaki pants, knit blue shirt with a prominent Izod logo on the pocket and a Rolex the size of a King Cobra on his left wrist. His wife wore many delicate gold chains around her tanned neck, a gauzy blouse too complicated to even try to describe and mustard-colored flats of achingly soft Italian leather on her feet.
But it was her pre-torn jeans that mesmerized me. Carefully shredded at the knees, they were a marvel of apparel engineering. The slender bundles of threads traversing each bare patella looked like miniature prison bars, and I wondered what kept them from unraveling. Was there perhaps a cylinder of tiny stitches keeping each fray of fabric intact? Or had the filaments of denim had been chemically reinforced to withstand not only bending and laundering, but an asteroid’s impact? How did they test the quality of the jeans? And most baffling of all, why did the manufacturer make them in the first place?
I was going to ask “Why did she wear them,” but I think I know the answer. We are a genetically diverse species. Just as some base pair on one of my chromosomes has programmed me to be visually attentive to others and blind to myself, hers directs her to seek novelty and display new plumage at any cost. (Well actually, not at any cost. I suspect that the price of the display has to exceed most people’s weekly income. Otherwise, why bother?)
So I’m just going to let this go. Like past trends, pre-torn jeans will pass from being in vogue, and I look forward to their replacement. With any luck, coffee-stained tee shirts will be the next big thing, and at last, I’ll be a fashion maverick.
Author's note: *I must thank my erudite librarian friend, Kevin O’Kelly, for reliably entertaining me with funny German words, bizarre personal ads from the London Review of Books, and obscure facts that are occasionally even more bizarre than the highly publicized ones.