The Vagenda

Please, In the Name of All That is Holey: Do Not Buy Pre-Ripped Jeans

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On every high street in the UK at the moment a sea of knobbly knees peeking out from ripped jeans will greet you as you pass by. Some of you might wrongly think that Primark’s quality control has gone down the pan, and this is one serious factory fault. But no: these rips are perfectly symmetrical, with equal diameters across each knee – this friend, is the pre-ripped jean. And they’re big this season.

According to Topshop’s website, each £42 pair of jeans ‘are toughened up with rips and tears to add some ‘edge’. A well educated guess is that the ‘edge’ Topshop is referring to is a nod toward the youth subcultures of punk, heavy metal and grunge, who all adopted distressed denim as a visual symbol of social dissent. For punks, wearing jeans until they ripped in was a symbol of the fact that they refused to participate in capitalism; wearing jeans until they literally fell off your legs reduced the number of jeans purchased and was a big economic middle finger to shops and advertisers.

However, buying a pair of pre-ripped jeans is about as punk as the new Virgin credit cards decorated with the Never Mind the Bollocks album cover. You didn’t rip those jeans climbing into empty buildings and sitting on curbs drinking Newcastle Brown. No, you bought them from the high street and those rips were put their by a migrant worker in Mauritius who got paid 22p per hour. There is seriously nothing less edgy in the whole wide world.

Ripped jeans have long been a fashion perennial, but why the sudden resurgence? If distressed and worn clothing is a cultural symbol for the rejection of capitalism, is high street fashion feigning resistance? Austerity chic is a bit rich coming from Phillip Green’s Tory supporting, tax avoiding empire. Rather than an act of resistance, pre-ripped jeans represent the ultimate paradox in capitalist production and consumption. Topshop employs Sri Lankan, Indian and Bangladeshi workers in Mauritius where they work for up to 12 hours a day, six days a week for 22p – 40p per hour. Neil Kearney, of the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers Federation, said: “because of the economic conditions of a country like Mauritius, companies are unable to attract local labour. Instead they recruit migrant workers, who pay a significant fee for the job. Many migrant workers who go to work in these garment factories are like slaves.” That’s right – someone is paid 22p for their hard labour to make your £42 jeans look like you give a crap about that sort of thing.

We live in an imperfect world and all of our clothing is made in unequal and wretched conditions due to global capitalism, but there are things you can do to minimise this participation – and one of those is to buy a pair of jeans that will last and wear them down until they actually rip, which might I add, is always at the crotch first.

-  Kirsty Major

26 thoughts on “Please, In the Name of All That is Holey: Do Not Buy Pre-Ripped Jeans

  1. THANK YOU. This has been bugging me for ages, you are PAYING MONEY for some one to PUT HOLES in your clothes. I can understand the aesthetic in some clothing, but I can hardly make my jeans last as it is (anyone else notice how womens clothes are made a bit thinner and worse then the same equivalent in the mens?). I can put holes in my own jeans thank you very much. Great article, thank you!

    • Yes! Women´s clothing is worse quality! I always thought so and wondered if I was being crazy. I suppose it´s because we are supposed to follow trends and dispose of the clothing faster.

      • Dorothy Perkins jeans were like wearing light cotton! One pair last three months then the thighs were gone or I’d skin my knee. But the though spillage would stop me wearing them

  2. Good point. I do have a pair of pre-ripped jeans, but only because they were literally the only pair of black jeans I could find in my size on the high street last time I needed a new pair. We tall ladies have to take whatever crumbs we are thrown when it comes to clothing :(

    • Also, I do wear my jeans to destruction, and they never naturally get holes in the knees. Instead, they get holes in the inner thighs or along the bum seam. But strangely, wearing jeans with a big hole in the arse has yet to become trendy…

      • Yep, my jeans always rip in the crotch first. Then there’s a thigh spillage situation, and I’d just rather wear a pair without holes in them. Somewhat more comfortable…

      • Exactly what I was going to say =P I have plenty of broken tights, trousers and jeans but none of them have knee holes! It’s all worn out from chub rub and tights with holes on the outer thighs because I can’t be trusted to dress myself for a nice night out.

  3. I wore the last pair of jeans I had until they literally fell apart. Right down the bum. While I was wearing a thong. On a packed train. On the way to a weekend away in the middle of the countryside where I had brought no other trousers.

    • I hope you did some classic Mary Kate And Ashley type trick and turned them into a trendy skirt or dungaree

  4. When I wear women’s jeans they tend to wear at the inner thigh rather than the knee first (though less so with men’s jeans). The pre-ripped ones often look like they’ve Just been attacked with scissors anyway, not something that couldn’t be easily achieved at home if one were so inclined.

    • What I do is reinforce that are with iron on patches you stitch over and trying to buy them in a comfortable fit (though this is usually impossible for me as a fat leg haver…).

      I agree with the comment above that the denim on women’s jeans tends to be thinner, but I think it’s the fact they’re worn clingy that tends to hasten their demise.

  5. Why single out pre ripped jeans though? They’re not a style I particularly like or understand (ooh, I’m paying more for clothes that look like they’re from a charity shop, but you know, aren’t recycled) but they’re no more or less ‘slave laboured’ than any other style of clothes.

    The other problem I see is that, as a student and parent on a very low income, my choices of what to buy are very limited. I do try and be an ethical consumer and not support companies that egregiously underpay their employees, but the choice then often comes down to ‘do I buy my family clothes I can afford’ (which usually are produced in places like China or Bangladesh where labour laws are very lax and conditions often very poor) or do I not buy them anything? I’ve spent days going through every store at my local shopping centre (whether I can afford the offerings or not) and not found a *single* item produced in a place where I can have some certainty that the person stitching it was a) an adult b) paid reasonably c) working in safe conditions d) for reasonable hours e) without the fear of being abused or molested on the job.
    Charity shops don’t always provide a good answer since the clothes available are often worn to the point of unwearability (particularly jeans in the inner thigh area as someone said above) and/or they don’t have much that fits. I feel annoyed that since ‘vintage’ wear has become fashionable it seems to be a lot harder to find wearable bargains at charity shops, they’ve all been picked over by boutiques before the rest of us get a look in.
    Even buying online rarely solves the problem since many places aren’t clear on where individual items are produced or they are too expensive.
    I’m not writing this rant to complain just to remind people not to start associating particular styles of clothing with disinterest in where they are made (some ripped jeans are ethically produced, even if they style is still silly) ands also to bear in mind that choice in what to buy is a luxury not everyone has.

    • Totally agree with what you’re saying, but I think the reason she singled out this particular style is because it used to symbolise opposition to exactly this sort of thing. As such, it feels in particularly poor taste to buy fashionably pre-ripped jeans. Or something.

  6. I guess none of the people who commented on the article actually read it then? ‘You can rip your jeans at home more cheaply’ is an unbelievably crass and inane response to an article about slave labour and capitalism. What’s the point of reading a feminist blog if you don’t actually give a shit about equality and the lives of others?

  7. Great article! I always think the same thing when I see tshirts with the logos of punk or rock bands in shops like Topshop and Primark. Surely there is nothing less punk than buying a mass produced tshirt selected as the ‘cool’ option from a rack that also contains One Direction and minion tshirts.

    With regards to shopping ethically, it is something that is difficult on a budget yet possible with some forward planning. For example, the brand People Tree do a twice a year sale. The stuff is still expensive compared to primark and the likes but over time you can build a wardrobe of ethically made clothing that will last more than one season. I’ve spent the last year buying tshirts and dresses from them when I had some spare cash, so that this summer all I had to buy from a non fair trade shop was a couple of pairs of shorts. Frustrating that there are no physical shops near me where I could try the stuff on and it still seems almost impossible for anyone with children to shop Fair Trade.

  8. If you find “women’s” jeans (clothes) are lower quality than men’s then at least 14 ounce denim is the fabric to insist on, pre-washed once (not stone-washed). Levi’s, Wranglers and Lee were always the best. My first job was selling jeans from 1975 to 1979.

  9. Haha, you’re so right. This is true for a lot of fashion stuff, not only pre-ripped jeans. I can’t image that Che Guevara dreamed of his picture being used as a print design on mass profitable production stuff like shirts, towels and mugs.

    Isn’t there a term for these type of paradoxes? Like you have greenwashing (marketing something as eco-friendly while it isn’t) and pinkwashing (cancer causing products made by companies that financially support cancer groups).

    Other commentators are right, it’s a system consequence. Fairtrade clothes are not only hard to find, they are very expensive and of variable quality. As for most things in the world today, if you want to it ethically and ecologically, you’ll have to open your wallet (and do your utter best).

  10. Great article; agreed, although as someone else has also pointed out, there is no real difference betw buying high street clothes, all of which have the blood of migrant and badly paid labour from Bangladesh, Malaysia, India, China sewn into the seams, and buying clothes with fake rips in them (which btw anyone with half an eye can tell were put there deliberately), as the effect is the same, but the latter makes you look more clueless and deluded.

    I remember as my jeans ripped in the knee and around the bottoms when I was around 15 in the early 2000s, my grandma was shocked that I continued to wear them (very cool in my post-punk but still-a-bit-punk GCSE phase), as to her, having lived through rationing and the Great Depression, it was a source of shame, something that only people from backgrounds either with extreme neglect or of severe lack of money would have worn out of the house.

    But times change, and counter-cultures shock their parents generation with this kind of thing, with variations worn over the past 40 yrs now as demonstrative of punk, grunge and anti-establishment.

    The worst thing about it for me, is not that the kind of people who buy these clothes are almost certainly not, as the author points out, climbing into abandoned buildings and drinking Newcastle on curbs, but that they’re also probably and worst of all, planning on throwing them out in 3-6 months, whenever rips, or skinny jeans, or high waisted, or light denim or any other variant goes out of fashion. Which people can afford to do these days, bc the price of jeans, in places like Primark, and even Topshop are affordable to most (although personally, £42 for a pair of cheap, shit jeans from Topshop is too much for me, but that’s bc I expect them to last a good 3 yrs and am saddened when they rip, as noted by everyone else here, usually in the crotch first -maybe a deliberate attempt from high st retailers to incentivise us to tone up our inner thighs and get lovely, small-step-away-from-anorexia thigh gaps?)

    But I digress; throwing them away after 3 months and buying new, also made for 22p a day by migrant labour, is the worst thing but will continue until we move away from this attitude to disposable, perfectionist, personality-less fashion.

    • “The kind of people who buy these jeans” all of a sudden the clothes you buy say something about who you are? Great, that was the last thing holding us back from being utterly vapid and judgemental shells.
      Now we can stop worrying about trying to make a mark on the world by we do and how we interact with other people, all we need is to dress right!

  11. Let’s all talk about clothes and fashion! YAY! I thought this was supposed to be different. Not just another Fashion Do’s And Don’t's maga’sine. Way to market yourselves as an alternative and then go ahead and say something all our grans said to us the last time these jeans were in fashion

  12. Maybe, a woman (in this example) whose jeans have worn out in the knees – has spent a good deal of time ‘on her knees’? Perhaps this is both the appeal and the message? A not so subtle upgrade from giving blowjobs to food all day.

  13. This article came across as very self-righteous and holeyer-than-thou.

    Write an article about the exploitativeness of high street fashion by all jeans, but don’t use it to dress up what is essentially a rant about how trashy you think pre-ripped jeans look.

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