Dotting the throngs of ‘Eaters during that ten minute traffic rush between classes, fashion victims of all stripes strut in ignorant bliss up and down Ring Road. An uncanny vibe settles in as fall quarter did. I’d figured it was the time-warpy daylight savings change, until walking on the catwalk one afternoon, a moment of lucidity hit me like a hayfever sneeze: it was the pants. Dozens of brutalized pants riddled with scars and scrapes and— like the plot twist of a bad Twilight Zone episode — I realized as I glanced at my own mangled-denim legs, obnoxious knee holes.
Framed by frayed holes in distressingly distressed jeans, the kneecap has reared its vaguely-old-man-baby head in the ‘Eater sartorial consciousness as the “it” thing to rock this season. It’s patella couture; kneebones are the new cheekbones, at least for a couple months.
The sheer logical insanity of ripped jeans inspires media-wide rants every few seasons or so. I don’t know if owning these pants myself might invalidate me from commenting. What I do know is that they’re indigo, match anything and fit perfectly. But they look like they’d been previously worn by a human cat scratching post. At the mall-store register, hypnotized by high-sample high-tempo techno bass, I knew the pants were a great idea, like one knows that marathoning the entirety of Battlestar Galactica over 5 days is a great idea. But by the last episode, much like my pants, I am left torn, worse-for-wear, and unbeholden to mortal logic.
Some context: In 1991, MTV mass-marketing amplified the angsty post-punk melodies of a little band called Nirvana from Seattle’s nascent alt-rock/grunge scene to the roaring mainstream. The media riptide swept from obscurity Seattle’s boho-hobo culture — its fashion, specifically, which might be best described as burnout folk-chic: flannel from Goodwill’s fresh-from-the-morgue collection, combat boots and shredded denim.
As I realized our place in the cultural schema, I felt a weird sort of kinship with my fellow victims of yuppiecore consumerism. The why’s and the means of producing these clothes totally elude us. The first generation of ripped jeans were folky, thrifted punk-passion-projects, but now as UCI’s jeans-of-choice we prefer them mass-manufactured in some Guatemalan or Bengali fabric-plant where the words “union” and “working conditions” are NSFW.
Robots sandblast precise ratios of fabric, then laser them into precise chic submission, just how the punk-progenitors did it in Seattle, I guess. Garment factories and the global assembly line run on the industrial indentured servitude of young girls — smells like teen spirit.
But the clothes’ acknowledgement, ‘Made in Bangladesh,’ instead inspires daydream visions of lo-fi, low-rent, low-commitment Nirvana. Zero cultural effort, zero consumer guilt.
Every weekday, the Ring Road runway shows how far off base we’ve gone. I see these pants paired with any and all clothes: baggy UCI pullovers, tees, button-ups, spaghetti straps; like they’re fashion-MSG. The early 90’s legacy of Seattle’s street-bred alternative culture, I don’t think we ever had a real shot at expressing without the auspices of MTV. We collectively look like guests’ plus-ones fresh out of an Urban Outfitters after-after-after-launch party.
Some more looks I think we’re actually pulling off: Sleater-Kinney tribute band air-guitarist. Sick RenFair costume of a hanged drawn and quartered torture victim. Larval-stage yuppies eagerly appropriating and cashing in on subcultures that have nothing to do with us, in the name of a fashionable superiority complex…?
So, how can we understand distressed jeans without feeling like scummy posers? Through something characteristically UCI. Let’s have a seminar. I wonder if anyone can apply a GE category V class, logic or computational reasoning — to justify purchasing a new pair of perfectly-purposely not-new jeans, once the old ones pass some point of no return: too ripped to be cool, not ripped enough to be shorts. After intensively commodifying the female form, these jeans are probably the ultimate manifestation of the nonsensical, arbitrary, impeccably manicured hand of the fashion industry.
If not through strict number-crunching, then to the Humanities. Perhaps ripped pants are a meditation on the essence of man’s multiplicity: like the pants, we’re fundamentally contradictory creations — whole and lacking, chaste and kinky, new and worn. Human ingenuity makes sense of hypocricies. Ingenious embedded networks of fashion, money and culture weave the fantasy of the status quo: culture transforms shredded pants into fashion markets these pants into money establishes them into culture. So sleep easy. Those chewed-up, marked-up, knee pants are of no cause for alarm. They’re dope, remember?