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Wardrobe Dysfunction

Wardrobe Dysfunction

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

It always makes me feel old to start a post with “When I was a kid …”

But when I was a kid it was embarrassing to be seen in public with ripped clothes. Outside of the playground, after an afternoon of rough-housing, wearing torn pants in a social setting or at school would send the message that your family is too poor to even mend the damaged garment, let alone replace it.

Today it’s all the rage to walk around with your knee protruding from a pair of jeans, and they are even sold that way. I find myself fighting with my two sons (the younger likely modeling the older) to prevent them from leaving the house that way. Inevitably I come across like the old coot who just doesn’t get it.

I guess I should be grateful that neither are interested in the more offensive trend of going around with their pants halfway down and shorts exposed, which some schools and even municipalities have tried to ban. But I’m far from enamored of the ripped look, and contemplating a ban of my own.

It used to be that people paid extra money to look better. Now you can pay top-dollar to look worse by shopping at The Gap for “distressed,” meaning pre-faded or ripped jeans, or shirts wrinkled or tied in knots.

Is it because of the recession that wardrobe dysfunction is catching on? Or is it just a fashion statement from a generation that assumes it will be able to permanently eschew office work and business meetings and work on computers at home wearing whatever they please?

In Jewish tradition, ripped clothing is a sign of mourning. We read in Megilat Esther that Mordechai, fearing for the fate of his people, rended his garments, rubbed ashes on himself and sat outside the king’s palace. After a funeral, Jewish survivors tear a garment to begin the shiva process. Some wear a black ribbon, but in stricter practice the torn garment is worn until the end of shiva.

Wearing garments of whole cloth signifies a resumption of normal behavior.

The late Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan once warned about society’s acceptance of “defining deviancy down.” What will happen to us when ripped, sloppy clothing becomes the new business suit?

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