“Why would you spend money on something that’s already destroyed?” I don’t even remember when my dad came up with this question. But he’s been asking ever since. “If you’re spending hard-earned money – why not buy clothes that look nice?” Well, seems like all the good education was in vain: your daughter is obsessed with all things pre-torn and distressed. But why actually? For a long time I kept telling my dad I simply liked the look, the aesthetics of this style. Recently I decided to dig a little deeper. I figured there was more to it than just distressed denim being a fashion trend. So why is it that 90s kids love destroyed things?
The short answer would be: because we can. Those of us who grew up in a western country in the 1990s pretty much grew up in a perfect world. No, I’m not saying the world was perfect back then. I’m saying our little world was perfect. We didn’t know hunger, we didn’t know war, we didn’t know not being able to afford something new. As a child I didn’t know anything but the pastel yellow house in the suburbs my family lived (and still lives) in. We had a lovely little pond in the backyard, two pet bunnies and our Gameboys to play the latest Pokémon edition. School trips, family holidays, going clothes shopping with friends – as a child and teenager I never realized that while we took these things for granted we were probably the first generation in human history that had absolutely everything and more. More food, more clothes, more THINGS than we could ever need.
This generation, who has been given the name Millennials, has now grown into adulthood. And while we wish all children in this world could grow up like we did we started craving what we never had. This craving is equally evolutionarily useful and absurd and it is deeply human. We grew up in a world overly full of perfect things so at some point we became curious about getting to know a world with fewer things. A world with imperfect things. Not actually imperfect. Just the perfect amount of imperfect.
It is not a coincidence that the minimalism trend is huge amongst Millennials. Pictures on the walls, brightly colored curtains, a figurine here, a candleholder there? No, thanks but no. Our grandmas keep hoarding bed linen as this was the right thing to do for their generation. We keep getting rid of things because it feels right for our generation.
It is not a coincidence that big, natural eyebrows became a trend. It is not a coincidence raw natural material like wood and stone are trending when it comes to furniture. Or when have you last seen people sip their pumpkin spiced latte at a place that used table cloths?
Now don’t get us Millennials wrong. This has nothing to do with being ungrateful for what we have. In fact, we look on our sheltered childhood as a safe haven that allows us to venture out and explore what is unknown, exciting and maybe a bit scary to us. You know, like watching a horror movie while being all snug and comfy with a bag of chips. Or like going to a climbing park letting the height tickle your senses while wearing a safety harness. Always seeking new challenges is, again, deeply human. And having a whole bunch of nice looking things is simply not a challenge for a generation that grew up lucky enough to know nothing but abundance.
But it does open up the possibility for our generation to tackle a whole new kind of challenges. A generation that has everything has no need for more anymore. For the very first time we are free to make the conscious choice to dial it down a notch to make this world a better place. Because we are finally in a position where we can – without actually sacrificing anything. It’s not a coincidence vegetarism and veganism are trending amongst Millennials. It’s not a coincidence traveling a whole year with nothing but hand luggage is trending. It’s not a coincidence that sharing is the new owning.
The same notion that sprouted the seemingly absurd behavior of buying pre-torn jeans also holds the potential for some groundbreaking changes in our society. It has made us aware of how lucky we are. It has made us aware of our responsibilities as individuals as well as a species. No, we don’t want to just buy nice looking things with hard-earned money and die. We crave nature and rawness, we crave what is true and pure and real. We crave the perfectly imperfect in everything we do. And like every generation we want to make this world an even better place – but maybe in a different way this time.
So, Dad, there is no need to judge. No need to judge the bed linen hoarders, no need to judge those who buy distressed clothes. Every generation will build upon the achievements of the last. You gave us a world full of nice things. Now we’re gonna build something new. And I can’t wait to see what our children will get up to.
And by the way… of all the weird things humans do distressed jeans aren’t exactly the most absurd. I might at some point, for instance, sip my pumpkin spiced latte and reflect about why I voluntarily got 13 pieces of surgical steel pierced through my body. But that’s a story for another day.