by Daniel Hartley
‘Distressed’. The name itself should give it away. If you’re looking for a pair of plain jeans, by which I mean good old dark blue – non-distressed – denim, then you’re in for a nasty surprise. Jeans these days have to have ‘character’: some have been attacked with various forms of bleach; others have been slashed in wars of which we never knew the existence, bearing their wounds like Victoria Crosses; still others come with ready-fitted chains, the relics of their time as P.O.W. perhaps. In the bad old days, workers wore jeans on a daily basis; it was their hard manual graft which put holes in them. But even so, they were blessed with the good sense to patch them up, since ‘holes in trousers = good’ is a relatively postmodern formula. And like most things postmodern, it is a symptom of a dysfunctional epoch.
With the decline of the primary industries (mining, ship-building, etc.), most hard labour disappeared elsewhere. But the desire for the very real ‘character’ required for such labour failed to leave with it. Instead, it left an army of office workers casting around for something to help them forget the white-washed walls of their sterile dens. Enter distressed jeans: the ready-made workers’ look. All the sartorial benefits of graft without the graft itself – what could be better? It was the fashion equivalent of decaf coffee or alcohol-free beer. After a day in the call centre, or the insurance company’s head office, during which I speak in a banal manner about banal things to banal people, I can doff my postmodern proud-to-wear-pink shirt, and don my dirty denims.
Jeans have to have character, because the people who wear them have had theirs stolen from them; the fact that we seem aware of this theft, and that we desire to replace it at all costs, is an anaemic but very real ray of hope.