Unafraid to be frayed

She was her family’s jean-patcher growing up, so she hated holes as an adult. But what about fashionable ones?

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
One woman abandoned her patches for the liberty of torn jeans.

When I was growing up, my mom attempted to hone my hand-stitching skills by assigning me the household patching duties. Mostly this meant repairing the holes that regularly appeared in my brothers’ jeans. 

With three brothers who spent their free time playing pickup games of tackle football and sliding into home plate, I got plenty of practice. 

But my patches had brief lives. As soon as I fixed one hole, another appeared. I was often tempted to ask Mom why my brothers couldn’t patch their own jeans or why we couldn’t just accept the gaps as they appeared.

But I knew she wouldn’t put up with back talk any sooner than she’d tolerate her sons trotting about town with holes in their pants.

Patching with bitterness did nothing to improve my hand sewing. But I must admit those tedious hours might have been good for my imagination. At about the time my middle brother was growing sweet on a girl in his class, Mom handed me his favorite pair of jeans sporting two fresh holes – one in each of the back pockets. 

I rolled my eyes and grudgingly grabbed the scrap bag. As I sifted through the pieces of denim, I got an idea: Instead of cutting two proper squares, I snipped one swatch into a heart shape and the other into an arrow. 

For the first time, I happily patched the holes.

My mom wasn’t pleased at first. But my brother was good-natured about the unconventional mending, so she let it slide. Whether it was my personal rebellion or my brothers’ increasing independence in earning money to buy brand-new jeans, I was soon relieved of my mending duties.  

Though freed from that tedious chore, I carried into adulthood a level of unease over breaches in britches. Dec­ades later, my daughter changed all that. 

One night she appeared at dinner with one knee poking out of her jeans, topped by a threadbare section on her thigh. I had seen this look on others, but it seemed inconsistent with her usual sense of understated elegance. 

I had to ask: “Did you fall on the way over?” 

We both laughed. “They’re really comfy!” she said. “You should try a pair.”

I could see her point. The hole in the knee provided more freedom of movement and a sliver of ventilation. But it was the courage and confidence she exuded by wearing deliberately defective denim that impressed me. 

I wanted some of that. 

Given that I’ve completed my sixth decade, the idea of buying jeans with holes immediately conjured the phrase “age inappropriate.” 

But the rewards of rebellion beckoned. I boldly went out and bought a pair. Admittedly, they leaned toward the conservative side. The high waist qualified them as “mom jeans,” but the eye-shaped hole riding atop the right knee was pure shame-kicking defiance. 

I loved the idea of them – until I got home. I washed and dried them, hung them in the closet, and waited for courage. It was weeks before my guilt over the unworn purchase reached a tipping point. It was time to give them a try.

Standing in front of the mirror, I felt daring, youthful, and almost fashionable.

Stepping outside, however, I felt conspicuous, like a 60-something trying to be a schoolgirl again. As I went about my errands, I watched for looks of disapproval. But no one seemed to care. In fact, there were plenty of jeans with gaps on wearers of all ages. Were they, too, waging their own personal rebellions? 

With each step, a flash of knee popped through the slashed denim, catching my eye and reinforcing my sense of liberation. It wasn’t my responsibility to fix the flaws that came my way. I had the right to choose them, embrace them, even if others disapproved.

Like most fashion trends, I’m sure torn jeans will be out of vogue at some point. I’m planning to keep wearing mine. Liberty is always in style.  

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