There are primarily three types of ripped jeans.
Jeans ripped naturally be frequent use or age of the denim.
Jeans ripped on purpose by the owner of the garment.
Jeans ripped during the manufacturing process on purpose.
Ripped jeans are denim jeans with tear or rips, often on the knees but possibly in other locations on the pant.
They were popular in the late 1980s during the hard rock/heavy metal era and in the 1990s and 2000s during the grunge era. The punk culture also have been known to be fans of fabrics with various blemishes.
Pants that are showing natural or manipulated wear & tear are often referenced as distressed.
Worn and ripped jeans remain popular as they are still sold in stores and manipulated by consumers currently. In the early 2010s, ripped jeans came back in style, as a 90s revival, but were sometimes introduced as Distressed - similar to ripped jeans, but the horizontal sewing point was occasionally removed to look like it was distressed.
Not all distressed jeans are worn as a fashion statement. Ripped jeans were simply a result of over-wearing. Prior to the 1970's, ripped jeans were mainly associated with the less fortunate. The lower end of the working class could not afford to part with their denim. Obviously, if a family cannot afford to purchase new pants, they may continue wearing them past the point of their own personal preference. The reality is that long before people were wearing torn jeans to express personal style, people wear wearing torn clothing out of necessity.
Those who intentionally display ripped jeans, are typically not poor but do this as a conscious choice.
Which denim jean manufacturer was the first to decide that it was OK to produce ripped jeans on purpose?
Find jean factories in the Apparel Search clothing factory directory section.
The above ripped and distressed jeans examples are from Lucky Brand Jeans (2015).
Below are a few relevant pages that you may have interest in reviewing:
The following external link is also helpful:
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