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What are Ripped Jeans?

By Dorothy Bland
Updated May 21, 2024
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Ripped jeans refer to a style of denim jeans that can feature tears, ripped knees, and other signs of distress. Originally, ripped jeans were just a sign of overuse. Instead of throwing away these faded or frayed jeans, poor or thrifty users would continue to wear them.

By the 1970s, clothing was being increasingly used as a medium for individual expression, and individuals allowed their clothing to represent everything from political views to religious beliefs. Among some groups, ripped and worn jeans were looked at as means of rebelling against or standing outside of the culture mainstream. Hippies embracing the casual look, for instance, could be seen wearing ripped bell-bottom jeans along with colorful tie-dyed t-shirts.

Rock and roll punk artists of the 1970s had also begun to appear on stage wearing destroyed jeans. Punk as a fashion statement during this era often included dark torn jeans held together with safety pins along with leather jackets and tattered t-shirts. Usually, male and female punk artists alike wore dark cosmetics and adapted messy hairstyles as part of their personae.

In the 1980s, ripped jeans remained a fashion statement associated with the rock and roll lifestyle. These frayed jeans, however, were also gaining commercial appeal and were being manufactured by designers. Prior to this, most ripped and frayed jeans were do-it-yourself (DIY) projects. They were offered in various styles, including bleached, acid-washed, and stone-washed jeans. Holes and tears could be found on various areas of the garment, including the pockets and derriere.

As the grunge subgenre of rock music became popular in the 1990s, ripped jeans became a look embraced by its teenage fans. Emulating their favorite musicians, such as Nirvana, suburban teenagers often paired torn jeans with plaid or flannel shirts and scruffy-looking footwear. Although the particular look would fade out before the decade ended, new trends in ripped jeans would emerge. As of 2011, jeans have reached fashion icon status, and those who wear ripped jeans are usually not looked at as being poor or militant. Instead, chic distressed jeans are created by designer fashion houses and are often spotted on celebrities and youths in continually evolving colors, styles, and shredded looks.

Despite the fact that ripped jeans are now commercially available, some individuals looking to save money or desiring a more authentic and unique look still prefer to wear torn jeans that they ripped themselves. A distinctive ripped look can be created using scissors or a razor to cut holes into a pair of old jeans. Use of a pumice stone, sandpaper, and even a cheese grater may be utilized to help distress the jeans. To make the fraying look more natural, they can also be bleached, washed, and dried.

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Discussion Comments
By anon997176 — On Nov 25, 2016

Purposely torn jeans are the dumbest fad ever. I was hoping they would die out years ago but idiots (mainly celebrities) are still wearing them today. It's just dumb.

By fify — On Apr 21, 2011

Cutting up your jeans yourself is not always a good idea. I did that once. It looked good in the beginning, but the cuts kept getting bigger and bigger with time. I think ready-made ripped jeans are sewn up in a way to prevent that from happening. Maybe different materials might work better too.

It might be a good idea to cut a little bit and see what will happen after a few days.

By bear78 — On Apr 20, 2011

I remember in middle school and high school, a lot of my friends wore ripped jeans and tie-dyed t-shirts. It was common and it didn't carry any of the meanings from the 70s and 80s. It was just a trend and people wore it because it looked cool.

Even though I've never been a fan of ripped jeans, I've also bought several ripped jeans and worn-out style jeans myself. The worn-out ones weren't torn but just looked like it had been worn for a long time even though it was new.

I guess that's the effect of commercialization. When clothing trends are commercialized, it becomes easier and more acceptable for people to wear them. I remember at one point, I looked at several different stores unable to find one new looking jeans for my age group and size.

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