The Weekend Read: I Dream of Jeanie


Photograph by Zanita

Photograph by Zanita

They say distressed denim is in. Owner-of-jeans Rachel Delahaye rips in.

Photography by Zanita

Apparently the ripped jean is back in. I hate that: a ‘jean’. I think Trinny and Susannah of What Not To Wear do that singularly annoying style-speak, too. They often urge the rounder-bottomed to look at a straight-legged trouser. It’s plural, surely, even though it isn’t.

Well, never mind. The issue at hand is rips, tears, slashes and gashes. Collectively known as ‘distraught’ (I think ‘distressed’ is reserved for grazes). I don’t normally give a hoot about the hots and what-nots of fashion, but denim is different. It inhabits a little fashionable corner in all our hearts.

And such is our love of denim jeans, like dogs we’ll take them in even if it does look as if they’ve been tortured, abused and abandoned. I regularly browse the charity shops, flicking through denim racks with a reluctant index finger – I’m not sure where they’ve been, after all. Although I do. They’ve been on people’s bottoms – over, around and… yes, under. Break it down like that and, on paper, you’d never give a home to something that had been so potentially unhealthily close to its previous owner. But jeans? They’re different.

You might come across an original Levi’s, a laughable Lee Cooper and a limited edition Earl; every single one of them a viable fashion item, a style-maker. Because jeans, all of them, can never be style-breakers. Apart from bleached drainpipes (although I know there’s a hardcore group out there who will shoot me down with rivets for saying so). I don’t care how geometrical your prints and Bakelite your earrings, the `80s was a mixed bag and bragged a catalog of errors. Bleached drainpipes…

Style writer Polly Vernon writes in The Guardian: “Me and ripped-up jeans go back a long way. Back to the days of Levi’s model Nick Kamen, and 501-loving pop icons Bros. In 1988 I was 16 and in the habit of wearing oversized 501s, belted tight around my waist so that the excess denim ballooned around my hips and crotch like a stonewashed forward-facing bustle. My jeans cost in the region of £17 a pop (pretty damn ruinous), and they came from The Real McCoy, Exeter’s premier retailer of vintage clothing. Crucially, they were knackered. Ripped and faded and torn, almost to the point of laddering. They were, as a consequence, obscene, particularly from the back.”

And now they’re back, in the shops. Racks and ruins. Although now the racks are in boutiques and the ruins are astronomical. Even if I could afford them, I’d look stupid. Torn jeans require either youth or structured style. Motherhood’s put paid to both.

It’s stripped me of my youth – I was getting on a bit, sure, but the refusal to stop doing what people 10 years my junior were doing kept me perky enough, as did the formaldehyde effect of the alcoholic pickling I subjected myself to in the name of networking. I swear the wrinkles started when I cut down. Dehydrated, obviously.

But whoever’s fault, with youth gone I can’t get away with a traditional `80s teen holey-jean accompaniment of white crop top and hoop earrings. Give me a crop top and I’ll give you a figure of fun, like those headless shots of ‘shoppers’ on news items discussing the state of the nation’s health.

So my alternative: structured style, meaning a well thought-out outfit (I apologize immediately and profusely for using that word but I just can’t think of another right now). What would save someone in ripped jeans from looking as if they’d come straight from the workhouse? An expensive strappy top. Yes. A tailored jacket (or am I severely stuck in the `80s smart-casual rut?), perhaps. A long Sienna-style (it’s always her, isn’t it) knit cardigan, belt and Uggs.

Well – and I will unashamedly blame motherhood this time – I sometimes don’t get a chance to shower until after the school-run, which I do in yesterday’s clothes. Then by the time pick-up comes round, in a flash, there’s really no point in putting on anything nice as we’ll probably go to the park and get revoltingly grubby. An expensive top ruined, a tailored jacket over-dressed, a knitted cardy pulled and pilled to pieces, suede Ugg-like boots dirtied beyond recognition. So if, perchance, after my shower I plucked an incredibly trendy pair of slashed jeans and pair them with flip-flops and a hide-all t-shirt, I’ll look worse than workhouse: I’ll look like slobbery. What a waste of money that would be. I can look like a slob without expensive distraught denim.

No, despite my desperate desire for slashed, ripped, distraught jeans, they shall remain a firm fixture of past glory – of Culture Club youth, of pot-smoking (okay, coughing) in Amsterdam, of hanging out in parks with cider; it should remain purely in the realms of nostalgia. It has no place in my wardrobe now. Besides, my knees will never look 16 again.

Can you be too old to wear ripped jeans? Tell us in the comments below.

Rachel Delahaye


Rachel Delahaye is a freelance writer based in Bath, England. She owns eight pairs of jeans, seven of which were bought second-hand, and all are distressed, naturally. She has an abandoned blog called Rattle Tat (which, like the more forgiving elements of her `80s wardrobe will be revisited in time) and you can follow her on Twitter.