Torn Jeans, Tattoos and Other Taboos

Pity Poor Me

Torn Jeans, Tattoos and Taboos

Growing up, I chafed under three parental fashion edicts — no tattoos, no pierced ears, and no torn jeans with frayed edges or holes. Oh, the life of a suffering teenager!

It wasn’t, I admit, as stringent as living under the Taliban, but as a rebellious teen it seemed unjust and unreasonable. Not quite grounds for running away from home, but still, fodder for endless sighs and complaints about how uncool and cruel my parents were — especially my mother.

Torn Jeans, Tattoos, and Taboos

These days I understand that the no tattoos and the no-holey-jeans rules were byproducts of religion. According to Judaism, tattoos are a no-no and that’s that! I wasn’t really that interested in a tattoo but tell a kid “No,” and you know how tantalizing the idea becomes. However, mix “no” with the idea of pain and it was enough to dissuade me from permanent ink! Still, the unfairness of the parental “No” rankled!

But, of course, there’s payback for young and old, and when I became a parent, my second-born child would return each college semester proclaiming, “I’ve got bad news and more bad news.”

“What?” I’d say, falling for this line each time.

“I got a tattoo.”

“What’s the ‘more bad’ news?” I’d ask in a shrill voice.

“It says ‘I love Dad.’”

I fell for this joke each and every semester.

Hip to the Hip

As for the torn jeans? I thought that prohibition was just my mother being fastidious. Uncool. Unhip to hippie culture.

Or, giving her the benefit of the doubt, I thought she had a thing about moths. Maybe she didn’t want people to think that our clothes had holes because of moths. Whatever!

Foolishly I didn’t realize she was just shuddering and whistling past the graveyard, worried about another religious tradition — the rendering of cloth when a loved one dies.

Later, as a parent, l found myself aping my mother regarding this tradition. I became obsessed that my children should never wear “holey” clothes. If I spotted a shirt — even a favorite one — with the slightest tear, if it couldn’t be patched, it was gone. This led to fights and tears, but I didn’t care. I was frightened of the symbolism and was superstitious that it might bring bad luck.

Yet, recently, aging “hipster” me proudly bought a pair of holey, frayed jeans. It was an impulse. Even my non-Jewish husband was shocked when I put them on for the first time. “What would Mom say?” he asked. “I mean you look cute, but …”

Taboo #3

As for the last taboo, my mother’s pierced earring prohibition? Where did that come from? Not 100% clear. All I know is that when I was 12 and all the “cool” girls were going to The Mall to get their ears pierced, my mother said “No.” Why? Because pierced ears looked “European.”


Somehow, to my first-generation American mother, daughter of Hungarian and Romanian emigrants, “looking European” was bad. It made no sense. She adored her parents.

She stuck to her guns on this odd edict for two decades, until she lost an expensive diamond clip-on earring my father had bought for her. Then, suddenly the idea of the more secure pierced earrings seemed smart. The next week, we both got our ears pierced.

But About those Torn Jeans

Writing this blog, I questioned my late-life decision to wear torn jeans. I belatedly realized it wasn’t fashion-motivated. I subconsciously saw the purchase as an act of defiance. Having lost so many loved ones, I figured tempting fate wasn’t really a problem. Take that, tradition! Take that, fate! You’ve claimed my parents, two of my brothers and my best friend. And since I so often feel like I’m in mourning anyway, why not wear torn clothes?

With that flash of self-realization (and unflattering self-pity), I concluded my hipster jeans weren’t so hip and fun anymore. I walked to the closet, took the jeans off the hanger, and threw them away.

Some taboos stick — even when our mothers aren’t around to enforce them.

🏵️ 🏵️ 🏵️

Meanwhile, if — like me — you’re fascinated by tattoos, here’s an article on the subject from Smithsonian Magazine.

8 replies
  1. ARP
    ARP says:

    I had never heard about hole in clothes having a religious connection. I prefer no holes in jeans, but if I really, really love a pair, I’ll overlook it. It was a dress code violation at my daughters’ school, so it really wasn’t an issue. Both have their ears pierced, although I would not allow it until they were old enough to care for their own ears. The older one has tattoos. Not my body, not my money.

  2. Jane
    Jane says:

    Always a fun read! I was not allowed to have pierced ears either. Your mother was kinder, my said it looked like a gypsy! Torn jeans, I was allowed to
    Patch. I bought a pair of torn white Jean last summer! I still have fun wearing them, but husbands asks if I paid extra for the holes! Tattoos never interested me!


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