Iggy Pop was the king of the underground punk scene in the early 1970s. As the front man for the Stooges, his live performances were certifiably insane. He would flail around on the ground, stage dive, and bleed throughout the course of a single show. Understandably, this performance style caused a lot of friction, and as a result, the jeans he wore on stage night after night developed holes and tears. But instead of tossing the damaged denim, he kept it. Letting the holes get bigger and bigger. Fast forward 40 years, and a pair of jeans that look like they just finished a set with Iggy, will cost you $2,000 from Dolce and Gabbana. No stage diving required. Distressed denim, that is jeans that come pre-aged, faded and torn have permeated modern fashion. But why are we willing to pay so much for something that appears so damaged? The reason might have as much to do with economics as it does with fashion trends. For much of their existence, jeans were exclusively working wear. In the second half of the 20th century, they became part of the uniform of protest and rebellion. Greasers, hippies, and punks, all have close associations to their denim styles. But it was the antifascist dirtiness of grunge music that introduced the wider world to ripped jeans. The rise of the music video beamed grunge style on to kids living rooms, and the look took off. But today, distressed jeans have become more of a statement piece for their price tag than for their protests. Pre-distressed denim is more labor intensive. Slashing and sandblasting those perfect holes raises the price. But higher prices can also be attributed to the rise of athleisure. Jeans are being ditched for yoga pants and sweats. Denim sales have declined over the past several years. So, designers have rebranded jeans as being vintage and chic, and are leaning into the nostalgia of 90s styles to charge higher prices. Here’s where the funky economics come in. During the height of the Industrial Revolution, economist, Thorston Veblen, observed that the emerging wealthy business class was buying goods simply to show how rich they were, to set them apart from the working class. This behavior is exemplified in what economists now call veblen goods. Typically, the demand for a product decreases as the price increases. But with veblen goods, the opposite is true. The demand increases with the price. What separates a veblen good from a regular good is the snob value. Items above the snob value are believed to be higher quality or exclusive, which is what drives their demand upward. Luxury cars and jewelry are the most common examples of veblen goods. They’re coveted because they are believed to communicate status and importance. Distressed jeans from well-known designers might drive their demand, but what makes them unique among veblen goods might also be tied to the idea of authenticity. As expensive as they are today, jeans remain associated with the working class and rebellious roots. So, your distressed jeans might cost $1,000 but you still seem like a relatable bad ass. Veblen also described how the desire for luxury goods trickles down. Meaning less affluent people are also willing to pay more to display their importance. Distressed jeans find themselves in a strange feedback loop where the higher and lower classes seem to be trying to fit in with each other. Ironically, retail designers are offering more affordable distressed jeans options as a result. High priced distressed jeans will most likely stick around as long as they continue to be viewed as nostalgic luxury items. So, who knows, the next Iggy Pop might have to jump around stage in a pair of yoga pants to stand out. How much would you be willing to pay for a pair of distressed jeans? Comment below, and like, and subscribe for more Cheddar deep dives and breakdowns.