A couple weeks back, I tweeted this: “We’ve been paying premiums for decades for ripped jeans and torn looks. It cannot come as a great shock when we begin paying doctors to try to rip our genes with hormone therapies and genital mutilation. Ripped & torn, nipped & tucked, we hate the image of God.”
A few folks thought that this was outrageous — that either I was implying that it was a sin to wear ripped jeans and thus binding consciences or that I was making some kind of gigantic, farcical leap of logic. Now, I certainly grant that I was taking two or three stairs at a time, but I want to briefly lay out the case for why what I said is entirely on point.
We can retire the first concern fairly quickly: I did not say nor do I believe that wearing ripped jeans is a sin. It certainly could be a sin, and I do think buying pre-ripped (“destroyed”) jeans is almost always thoughtless support of a cultural movement that is rebellious and pagan. But I fully understand that plenty of folks have come about their rips honestly (hard work) or are just wearing what they pulled out of the drawer this morning and have no intention of supporting neo-paganism.
But Christians should be thoughtful people, seeking to love God with all of their minds. This implies studying, thinking, and reasoning. And this means that we need to be students of God’s word and students of our world. We need to read the Word, and we need to read the culture. For today, I simply want to ask: what does our culture say about ripped jeans?
Our culture says that ripped jeans — as a fashion statement — emerged in the 1970s and 80s in the punk rock movement with bands like the Ramones and the Sex Pistols. Joey Ramone wore his ripped jeans almost literally as a fashion-statement-middle-finger. The Sex Pistols were the front for Vivienne Westwood and Malcom McLaren’s designer clothing shop: SEX. Westwood and McLaren popularized the ripped and torn look, modeled off of “fetish wear that they sold to prostitutes” and “those with ‘underground’ sexual tastes.”¹ When SEX was later renamed Seditionaries, it continued ”in the same risqué territory as the clothes sold in SEX, featuring the likes of bondage trousers. A punk archetype, these trousers mix references to army combat gear, motorcyclists’ leathers and fetish wear, and feature a zippered seam under the crotch, a removable ‘bum flap’ and ‘hobble’ straps that restrict movement. Other key looks that expressed a new ‘distressed’ form of fashion included loose-woven, ‘unravelling’ mohair jumpers and torn-looking dresses and tops decorated with metal chains and safety pins.”²
Take note: Vivienne Westwood and Malcom McLaren introduced the “distressed” look to popular culture based on the fashion archetypes of sexual deviance. This was not an agenda-free move. They did this for reasons.
Situationism was another contributing factor in this movement in culture and fashion. Situationism was rooted in a Marxist reading of culture that basically said people are primarily influenced by their circumstances/situations, which are largely capitalist constructs that create discontent and envy. The appropriate response to every capitalist construct is to tear it down, rip it up, and expose its insincerity. Situationism wanted to tear down fake presentations in order to arrive at what it considered genuine or authentic. So punk fashion intentionally embraced ripped jeans and torn looks in order to embody this ideology.
“Punk style’s most enduring legacy can’t be boiled down to a particular item of clothing, or even the popularity of distressed jeans and dyed hair. It’s more about the idea of being authentic, that if you do your own thing and dress your own way, you can make the world change around you.”³
Sexual promiscuity and deviance have been at the center of the fashion industry’s introduction of ripped and torn clothing from the beginning. This has included sadomasochism of various stripes. It turns out that when you rip open the so-called capitalist facade, beneath it lurks a fiendish frenzy of “authentic” self-destruction. It really should not be any surprise that this fashion of self-mutilation has morphed most recently into boutique hormone therapies and nip and tuck sex-change operations.
If the promise of authenticity is found in tearing down the facade of reality in order to remake the world according to your own personal whims, what is more fundamental to reality than the image of God?
¹ https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/vivienne-westwood-punk-new-romantic-and-beyond (HT: Bekah Merkle on Vivienne Westwood)