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I saw a beautiful picture of two men and a woman — looking dapper in blue jeans, T-shirts and a jacket. One little detail got my attention. It was the blue jeans — ragged and torn at their knees. It was so badly mangled that a piece of the cloth hung to dear life from the rest of the jeans. I looked on, amused, because I was reminded of so many things about torn clothes, jeans and my 18-year-old niece, Sim.

Last summer, when I was in India, I watched Sim argue with her mother about torn jeans. “They are expensive”, the mother told me making a valid point. To be honest, I wanted to laugh. I mean, who in their right senses would pay for clothes that are torn? It is logically wrong. But, Sim insisted, she wanted to be “cool”.

Back in the days, torn clothes were scorned upon. We grew up wearing many hand-me-downs or “pre-loved” as we call them these days. Many a time, a loose hem, or a button or a sleeve would give way and my mother insisted we mend them on time. She had taught us to thread a needle and sew the right way. “A stitch in time”, she would say and watch our clothes with a keen eye. A torn piece of clothing reflected poorly not only on the finances, but also it on our ethics and we were taught to relentlessly work towards filling any gap.

But, over the years, our relationship with clothes have changed. Today, I see so many sashay in ragged jeans with style and attitude. No wonder, Sim took it upon herself to make her own signature “distressed jeans”. She picked up a fine pair of sharp scissors and put them on a perfect piece of clothing. As the loomed threads gave way, my heart broke into a thousand pieces. Rationale and common sense vanished into thin air.

“How could you?” I asked her.

“Just wait and watch how this gets transformed”, she told me excitedly.

Strangely, I could only think of my grandmother who would have said, “Sim needs help”! But, I decided to watch her as I gained new insight about jeans with a hole. Turns out, tearing clothes is not just snip-snap. It takes effort and style. I never would have guessed in a thousand years that a tear should look pretty by itself. If that is not bizarre enough, the glaring gap came with three S — size, style and Shape! And, I had assumed putting a scissor to a piece of cloth is easy-peasy! But, after an hour of tearing, Sim told me she still had to work on the “look of the tear”! She then, held one end of the torn jeans and asked me to hold the other end, while she toiled on the garment with a serrated knife.

“It can’t get weirder than this!”, I told her.

“But, that’s what is going to happen if mum doesn’t let me buy those jeans”, she shrugged her shoulders.

After tormenting the jeans for what seemed to be eternity, staring at me was a huge gaping hole. A perfect piece of cloth disfigured badly.

Back in the days, this garment would have to be tossed into the garbage. Today, this is celebrated. Back in the days, a torn dress would mean that you cannot afford clothes and that you are poor. Today, a torn piece of garment means you have money to splurge! Back in the days, tearing up clothes was called insanity. Today, we call it styling.

As I watched the picture of the three models amusedly, I saw a bit of Sim, giggling in her ragged jeans, sashaying with the bandwagon of ‘cool kids’. I am not sure if grandmother would have approved any of this, but every time someone passes by in distressed jeans, I think of Sim and I can’t help thinking: “Another rags-to-riches story — quite literally!”

Sudha Subramanian is a freelance writer based in Dubai and the author of Life ... full of commas. Twitter: @sudhasubraman.