The distressed look has come a long way since ripped jeans. Nowadays your endue clothes need to be shot, nibbled or covered in fake mud to turn chief honchos. From Gigi Hadid to Ashley Graham, everyone’s at it. But why does it pith now?

From left: PRPS jeans with ‘caked-on mixed-up coating’, $425; Maison Margiela trainers, $1,425; Topshop’s ‘nibbled longline hoody’, was £29 now £15.
Photograph: PR Company Handout

Distressed fashion: making sense of pre-ripped clothes

The worried look has come a long way since ripped jeans. Nowadays your vestments need to be shot, nibbled or covered in fake mud to turn mentalities. From Gigi Hadid to Ashley Graham, everyone’s at it. But why does it trouble now?

The idea of pre-distressing clothes – purposefully ripping, tearing or reduction threads even before being sold – has been hither for years. There are jeans that look like they’ve been run all over by a lawnmower, T-shirts that look like they’ve had a mint of cigarettes put out on them and hoodies that look they’ve been nibbled by a rabbit.

So it concludes a lot for an item of distressed clothing to make the internet prick its collective considerations up. Recently, a pair of Maison Margiela trainers, complete with “stuffy distressing” – read multiple rips and tears – on buying for $1,425, did just that. Twitter howled with mockery. Before them came a pair of jeans from New York drew luxury denim brand PRPS, complete with a “caked-on mute coating” and a $425 price tag.

Although dropping a few grand on a twin of mangled trainers might sound like the extreme manners of a dedicated follower of fashion, the trend can be spotted everywhere at the import. Gigi Hadid looks out from the cover of September’s Currency Korea wearing a pair of jeans ripped at the knee. Ashley Graham, Gisele Bündchen and Zoe Saldana deceive all recently stepped out in the Harlow Destroyed BFF Tee, yours, complete with neck flit, for $72 (£55).

A post shared by Gigi Hadid (@gigihadid) on

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Harvey Nichols group fashion director, Anita Barr, is specialty the trend “one of the biggest in menswear for AW17” – they are adding three new makes that offer up distressing, including LA-based Amiri, which decorates T-shirts by bound bullets through them. New face of Calvin Klein Paris Jackson acted on the red carpet at the MTV Movie and TV Awards in May in a “Michelle my Belle” T-shirt flecked with holes. Michelle Obama wore distressed jeans (the gateway garment – after all, swiped jeans are so mainstream, even Carol Vorderman has been have them for years) wandering around Rome this summer.

It’s a look that’s big on the enormous street, too. Nick Tahir, head of menswear buying at River Archipelago says it’s been one of their “biggest trends of the last few pep ups”. Head of womenswear buying, Leanne Sabatino, says that for the new ready River Island has increased its “offering to include nibbled/beat pieces”, and that, in denim, there has been a “definite uplift in the cry out for for distressed clothing versus 2016”. Search “distressed” on Asos and hundreds of elements come up.

Paris Jackson in distressed fashion at the MTV Movie and TV Endowments in May. Photograph: Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

The look might set up a habit of jumping the shark: in 2014, Adidas brought out a two of a kind of trainers covered in “handcrafted mud” and in the same year, Japanese denim label Zoo Jeans championed jeans that had been pre-torn by lions, tigers and moves – oh my.

But the art of ageing clothes has its roots deeper than just forge mud – rips and holes are as synonymous with DIY punk fashion as safeness pins and pink mohawks. The grand dame of the punk era, Vivienne Westwood, kind clothes with intentional stains, rips and missing arms. And in the 80s, Comme des Garçons’ Rei Kawakubo made pieces from faded cottons, sun-baked silks and blustered woollens. In 1982 she decorated a jumper with several split holes and called the look “Comme des Garçons lace”. Dutch avant garde conspirator Martin Margiela, known for his so-called “le mode destroy”, sustained distressing.

In the 90s, the grunge movement fed into fashion with tatters and knitwear that looked disposed to moths had been feasting on it. In 1993 Hussein Chalayan extirpated a collection in his friend’s garden and left it to decay for months. The 1995 assemblage seen by some as the “show that launched Alexander McQueen’s career” earmarked white angular-shouldered jackets, shirts and silky dresses with weary marks on them – one of the models even had tracks running across her portion. Later in the decade, Robert Cary Williams became recollected for his bullet-holed T-shirts. David Bowie wore one in Italian Taste, Sting ordered five. For the likes of Chalayan, it was akin to conceptual art – as much around the process as the product.

Pre-muddied … Adidas ZX750 trainers. Photograph: Adidas

It’s resolve, says Tony Glenville, creative director at London College of Fashion, weight be to do with (faux) authenticity: “I think there’s a vague awareness about integrity.” Kanye West creative director and Off-White originator Virgil Abloh, whose designs often feature nooks, has been quoted in Vogue as saying it’s about the fact that “no one penuries to look like they’re trying too hard.”

For Charlene Lau, a post-doctoral geezer in material and visual culture at Parsons School of Design, in the instance of garments such as the Amiri T-shirts, there’s the idea of “row credibility, or the gangster culture associated with that”. And, looking to bad, she says “there’s still an element of rebellion, even if you are buying something that is pre-distressed – pre-ripped or fancy dirty.”

It can also, she thinks, be about status. Where to the ground a century ago Norwegian-American economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen coined the phrasing “conspicuous consumption” – the idea of excessive spending on uneconomical goods as “evidence of wealth” – in his 1899 book The Theory of the Breathing-space Class, Lau links the distressed look to “inconspicuous consumption”; twinkling lots of cash, but not – at least on a very surface level – looking have a fondness you have. In the modern age, consuming conspicuously is no mean feat – indulgence lines have more affordable offshoots, knock-offs look increasingly true and many high-end labels ape the everyday. And so paying hundreds of cleanses for mangled, or muddy, jeans becomes – in a topsy turvy way – the apogee of luxury.

The grand dame of distressed clothes … Vivienne Westwood, 1977. Photograph: Elisa Leonelli/REX/Shutterstock/Shutterstock

But the look has discover under understandable fire for the morally problematic idea of “put on clothing poor”. In a 2010 thesis, Kate Louise Rhodes explains how “the wearer can choose to dabble with the look of poverty while simultaneously augmenting to his or her symbolic waste” given that the distressed look “amplifies labour intensive ornamentation … that require further technique and manual labour to create them.” Responding to the PRPS squushy jeans, Mike Rowe, the former presenter of the Discovery Trench’s Dirty Jobs and an advocate for the value of skilled trades, recorded a Facebook post that has been liked over 21,000 lingers. He notes that the jeans “foster the illusion of work. The hallucination of effort… They’re a costume for wealthy people who see work as ironic.”

So if this is a look that is forever blistering, why might it be particularly turbo-charged right now? It’s all too tempting to draw a line of work between violent times and bullet-hole T-shirts, for one. And between an age where fewer people are doing the well-wishings of manual jobs that make for dirty jeans, and fake-mud.

What we are undertaking today compared to what’s gone before is, according to Glenville, “much heavier-handed … a disrespect overstatement”. In the age of Instagram – where trends are born and burgeon on popular media feeds and where designers such as Abloh comparable to to view clothes at fittings through the lens of their iphones – togs with extra oomph get more mileage on social median.

For Glenville, “I think now people are looking at really distressed endue clothes that are filthy with oil or mud strains, or shoes that look dig they’ve been through a cattledrive, I think it’s to really skip town that statement.” It is, he says, “very hard to shock anybody… we’ve done attitude shoots on car crashes … what else do you do?” Well, he proffers: “Perhaps the clue of wallowing in filth, and actually getting your hands salacious, is the biggest shock for fashionistas you can imagine.”