Think back to when you were a kid. What was your favorite piece of clothing?
Was it the pair of shorts you cut from an old pair of pants? Was it the shirt that you and your friends wrote your names on in pen? Or was it the jeans that you wore every day until they frayed at the bottom?
Chances are, your favorite piece of clothing was something that reflected your adventures and experiences — and as such felt exclusively, entirely your own. According to Bill Curtin of BPDWashhouse — a leader in denim technology, trends, and development — that's why distressed denim, complete with rips, holes, patches and everything in between, is all the rage this season.
"When many women wear jeans with fraying or destruction, it reminds her of when she was a kid and had a hole in her jeans from day-to-day use, and she just loved that," Bill says. "It makes her feel youthful and edgy — and lets everyone know that she's on the hip side."
The destructed theme also is in line with the '70s narrative, which has been woven into recent fashion seasons. Which is why, when you walk through the doors of your local Old Navy this season, you will see a sea of frayed denim, patches etched onto jeans, and holes in the knees of pants.
"Right now the trend is authenticity — wearing jeans that have the beat-up look," says Lauren Armbruster, OLD NAVY merchandise manager, women's denim and bottoms. "Our customers are more fashion aware. She wants the current trends, and she wants denim that looks as if she's been wearing it for years."
Achieving this requires a scrutiny-filled, scientific approach to denim production. Each rip, each patch, and each print has a purpose — whether it's shadow patching, where fabric layers are removed after a denim wash for discoloring; or print patching, where patterns are intricately stitched into the jeans.
"It's the little things," Lauren says, on what makes a pair of distressed jeans really stand out. "Some details you might not even notice at first glance. We use little tricks and techniques to make it look like you bought a pair of raw denim and wore it for 15 years."
The fever for fray has even hit Old Navy headquarters, where Lauren and her team are taking their Old Navy denim and adding their own detailed features.
"We've all been cutting our jeans into raw hems," Lauren says. "Just take a pair of fabric scissors, cut where you want them to hit on your ankle, shake really hard five or 10 times and pull out the threads a little more. It's that easy."
The DIY denim experience was recently recreated during New York Fashion Week, where Old Navy hosted a denim workshop, in partnership with BPD Washhouse, as part of Refinery29's carnival-esque celebration, "29 Rooms." Visitors were invited to individualize their own denim with household tools such as sandpaper, stencils and stamps.