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When and Where Is It Acceptable to Wear Distressed Jeans?

Updated: Apr 18, 2019

Is Wearing Distressed Jeans Like Giving Someone a Torn Business Card? I say no, but not everyone agrees.

Last week I was contacted by Marc Rudov, a branding expert, advisor to CEOs, and published author. He asked me to explain why people wear distressed jeans. What a great question! I can hazard a guess but perhaps the more interesting question, that merits review, is when and where is it appropriate to wear these jeans?

I don’t think Marc was convinced by my response. His question convinced me to reevaluate my torn jeans position. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll focus narrowly on wearing torn jeans in a business context. I can defend wearing torn jeans in social settings and in my free time. They’re edgy, fun, on trend, and help me differentiate from my work attire.

Times have changed. Business attire is more casual now than it has been in the past. Business casual is certainly open to interpretation and perhaps least understood by the younger members of the workforce in corporate America. They never suffered through the suit and nylons era.

Here are three quick tests to determine if your jeans are work appropriate.

Is it Advisable to Wear Torn Clothing to the Office?

I would advise against it. Workopolis, published an article a few years ago about clothing choices that can “seriously hurt your career”. They state that wearing anything that is ripped or torn is a bad idea. I agree. Leave your distressed clothing for occasions in which you’re not drawing a paycheck. Your bank account will thank you.

Perhaps it is a good idea to start with a discussion of what message wearing clothes with holes conveys. If I understood Marc correctly, he asserted that presenting oneself in torn clothes is like handing clients and prospects a torn business card or tattered brochure. This makes sense. Don’t do it. But is there a caveat?

What if My Industry and My Clients Wear Distressed Jeans?

Tim Nunan, human resources manager, at a New Zealand radio station, makes a valid point. In short, he asserts that your workplace may support the torn jeans trend. If you work in an environment where your clients wear torn jeans, you can too. If you are trying to sell ripped jeans, he believes you can also wear them.

I asked two friends who own successful clothing businesses for their opinion. The first entrepreneur sells bohemian and casual clothing in a trendy location. Her brand supports torn jeans. She wears them. The second business owner caters to a sophisticated clientele in a suburban neighborhood. She sells distressed jeans but does not wear them to her work. Neither do her employees.

Adapting to the situation is critical in almost all of life’s situations. Think Melania with the “I Don’t Care” jacket. It’s inexplicable but it happened. Recall the backlash Michelle Obama faced for wearing torn shorts on a European vacation.

As a woman, your presentation is judged and it is often judged harshly. Dress appropriately and remember to think through the message that your image presents. When in doubt follow Oscar Wilde’s famous quote. “You can never be overdressed or over educated”.

What Social Settings Should Not Include Ripped Jeans?

While I was in graduate school, I had a professor who always wore custom shirts and cuff links. A student challenged him about wearing such formal, corporate attire at a university. The professor was a very accomplished entrepreneur, former special forces military officer, and ultimately a Renaissance man. He told us to dress out of respect for the people that we encounter in our lives. What he meant was that we should wear clothing to business meetings, special occasions, and places of worship, weddings, funerals, that show we appreciate the nature of the event and the people we will meet and engage with during the socializing.

Isn’t that an easy barometer to judge our wardrobe choices by? If I want to demonstrate respect or show appreciation for another person, I should wear clothing that expresses these sentiments.

Let me know in the comments what your thoughts are about wearing distressed jeans!

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