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Can You Ever *Really* Wear Ripped Jeans to the Office?

We think yes, but here’s a brief history of how we got to the point of even asking this question

Meredith Boe
Contributor

Workplaces across the globe have started to embrace more casual work environments, from open concept floor plans to beer Fridays. Along with these relaxing expectations comes more relaxed attire. (Picture Meredith from The Office in her scandalous romper. Or Michael Scott’s jean-induced confidence.)

The casual office attire trend started when Silicon Valley and tech startups began to boom, and techies garnered the reputation of wearing hoodies, sandals, or sneakers to work. The younger generations now infiltrating the workforce tend to prefer casual attire, so it makes sense that a shift would happen eventually.

Whatever started the trend, more companies are making the transition to casual. As NPR reported this year, companies like Goldman Sachs and Virgin Atlantic are loosening up on attire standards, and Target told its employees that blue jeans are now acceptable.

According to the 2018 Employee Benefits report from the Society for Human Resource Management, half of organizations said they allow casual dress every day, which is an increase of 18 percent percentage points from 2014.

Clearly there’s something in the air. But where does casual office dress really end? Are shorts allowed in some workplaces? Crop tops? Flip flops?

One article of clothing that’s accumulated a bad rap over the years is ripped jeans. Even with their representation in pop culture, from style magazines to paparazzi photos to Carly Rae Jepsen song lyrics, the internet is still on the fence about wearing them to work. 

Recruiters and HR reps tend to advise that wearing any kind of torn or damaged clothing (even if fashionable) isn’t acceptable in the office environment. For instance, ripped or light-wash jeans made Business Insider’s list of things you should never wear to work.But why? If the IT guy can wear his Nirvana T-shirt to work on a random Monday, why shouldn’t we be able to rock some ripped denim?

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Ripped jeans: A (very) brief history

So, where did it all begin? Let’s first take a look at when ripped jeans came onto the scene outside the workplace. 

Ripped jeans were around before they were making fashion statements. Regular old jeans and overalls were invented in the late 19th century solely for work purposes, as they were created to hold up under tough conditions. And, they were working clothes specific to men. Any ripped jeans back then were a product of hard work.

During the 70s and 80s, when punk was all the rage, denim started to be everywhere—denim jackets, skirts, and shorts, in addition to pants. And then distressed clothing in general became more popular with the grunge movement of the 90s, securing ripped jeans’ place in fashion history. 

That distressed look became a must-have, so brands started to offer clothing that had been pre-distressed. The fact that a clothing manufacturer would make clothing and then destroy parts of it sounds crazy, but ripped jeans and distressed clothing are still sold everywhere and continue to appear on runways. 

The appeal is the same as it was in the grunge era: That “not-trying-too-hard” look that ends up looking cool and care-free.

Casual attire in the workplace

You may already associate casual Fridays with Hawaiian shirts, and you wouldn’t be far off from the day’s origin. Casual Fridays are thought to have begun in the 60s, when a Hawaiian company wanted to sell more “Aloha shorts” to their residents. It was first called “Aloha Friday.”

Ever since Aloha Friday and the startup boom, workplaces have become more casual. However, there are still plenty of standards about attire. As etiquette guru Debby Mayne wrote for the Spruce, even just for casual Fridays, you should still try to look professional. She writes:

“Jeans with holes take away from your professionalism. Even if they were ripped with intention, they’re still not appropriate for the office. Save them to wear to concerts or when hanging out with friends.”

The Balance also says that business casual means avoiding things like old t-shirts (see, Nirvana guy?), ripped jeans, ratty sneakers, or flip-flops. Business casual is still meant for business after all, so you don’t want to look like you just rolled out of bed when you’re meeting with clients or executives.

Read more: 19 Ways to Do Business Casual for Women in 2019

When it’s ok to wear ripped jeans

Remember that these rules don’t always apply. Each office sets its own dress code, and sometimes you might see your manager show up in a pair of holey jeans and sneakers. If this is the case: Have at it! Wear those ripped jeans to your heart’s desire. 

Just make sure you still look somewhat professional. There are plenty of ripped jeans out there that still look good enough for work, including those with holes that don’t have a lot of threads hanging out, those with smaller holes, or darker jeans with a few rips. It’s possible to dress up ripped jeans with nice shoes, like Oxfords, or a button-up blouse.

The most important thing is to be aware of what others are doing in your office, especially managers and higher-ups. If no one else is taking the casual attire that far, you probably shouldn’t either—though we do love a trendsetter.

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