When I was younger I used to spend a lot of time outside. My friend Rich and I roamed around the Somerset countryside, playing commandos. We’d smear our faces with grease and creep through the woods, making as little sound as possible, stopping only to carve sticks or shoot at things. We climbed fences and vaulted stiles, and barbed wire snagged our clothes and tore at our skin.
I used to come home muddy, scratched, and elated. My mum didn’t feel the same. Our adventures showed on my clothes and she hated to see the rips in my new jeans. But I liked the scars from the barbed wire, some of which I still carry today, and each tare told a story. They added character and personality to off-the-peg garments.
I’m riding the Moscow metro as I write. A girl is sitting opposite me. She’s wearing a bit too much make up, but otherwise she’s pretty. She’s also wearing ripped jeans.
I may be wrong, but she doesn’t look the type to crawl on her elbows and knees through the boggy woods north of Moscow. She bought them like that. The holes are reenforced so they don’t get any bigger.
Has fashion always been this surface? Has appearance always trumped substance?
Maybe I’m being unfair. It may be that the ripped-jeans fashion of the last few years is a legitimate expression of something sophisticated – a wabi-sabiesque aesthetic. But I think not.
This all brings to mind a quote commonly attributed to the 14th Dalai Lama:
We have bigger houses but smaller families;
more conveniences, but less time.
We have more degrees but less sense;
more knowledge but less judgment;
more experts, but more problems;
more medicines but less healthiness.
We’ve been all the way to the moon and back,
but have trouble in crossing the street to meet our new neighbour.
We built more computers to hold more copies than ever,
but have less real communication;
We have become long on quantity,
but short on quality.
These are times of fast foods but slow digestion;
Tall men but short characters;
Steep profits but shallow relationships.
It’s a time when there is much in the window but nothing in the room.
Tenzin may not have penned this, but it’s no less well said, nonetheless.
Coming back to ripped jeans, I think one reason they are desirable is that they hint at a story – at greater depth beyond what we see at first glance.
But what’s the purpose?
Anyone who stops to think about it knows that within every individual there is infinite depth. Our stories are rarely linear. They twist and turn, crisscross and tangle to form the web that supports our sense of self and legitimises our dispositions. Some of these stories are predictable, but many of them are surprising.
I get it. Leaving aside the fact that we are more than the sum of our stories, without a front we all feel naked and vulnerable. A lot of the time we don’t think what we are is worthy and we don’t show ourselves unadorned.
No individual is to blame for this, but we can’t escape it. We all play the game. If a shop’s website isn’t up to scratch it’s unlikely they’ll get your custom.
Taking the tea industry as an example. Yunnan Sourcing is a great marketplace for tea, but their website is barebones. It doesn’t have that consumer sheen of say Jing Tea. But I’m certain that many a polished tea company sources some of their lines from from Yunnan Sourcing. (After marking up the price first).
I’m acutely aware of how strong this tendency is in the healthcare world. Who are you going to book for an expensive treatment? The guy with the barebones, budget site? Or the health-centre whose white walls you imagine to gleam with angelic cleanliness – like the pages of their website. Of course you’ll choose the latter.
This time next year, I will be training to be an osteopath and following that, I will need to play ball too.
Unfortunately, because we are so easily swayed by appearance, we may be missing out. The best health treatments I have ever had have come from people who are too busy mastering the art of healing to pay much attention to marketing. Likewise, the best food I’ve ever eaten was from a street-vender frying noodles in a wok caked with twenty years of cooked-on fat. Contrast this with the clean-looking American restaurant in the same city where I got the worse food-poisoning of my life.
Don’t get me wrong the hipster movement has brought quality in its wake – salted caramel anything is good with me. But, much of the time, what seem like quality products may just be sickly combo of deceit and clever marketing.
Ripped jeans deflect from the real story and, as a French friend of mine once said, a latte with a shot of syrup is for someone who doesn’t really like coffee.