It's a rip-off.

That's the latest step in Shabby Chic in Washington. Young men and women are ripping the neckbands from T-shirts and sweats, ripping hems and sleeves, all in the interest of comfort and style.

"It's comfortable and informal and a good way to make old stuff look different," said Leslie Hicks, who was wearing a ripped sweatshirt on Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown Saturday. She's a recent graduate of Georgetown Visitation school, where she wore a uniform, never ripped, for 12 years; she's not sure if she'll wear them to Howard University, where she will be a freshman next year.

James Miler, a computer programmer at Compucare Inc., ripped his 7-year-old sweatshirt to make it cooler on a sticky, hot day. He liked the look so much, he said, he was heading to the Commander Salamander boutique to buy some pre-ripped shirts.

Leslie Brooksher, who just graduated from Vanderbilt University, first started ripping things for a New Wave party at school. She started with her father's old T-shirt; now she's ripping new ones. "I hate anything that grabs too tight at the neck," she said.

Ripping shirts to show more skin or to show off other T-shirts layered underneath is fast becoming the rage across the country. But Shabby Chic is happening internationally, as well. Top Japanese designers showed scissor-ripped clothes in their fall collections in Paris in April. And kids on Kings Road in London have piled on a ragtag look that incorporates ripped edges, which is more hobo than punk.

Jeanmarie Brown, who was wearing a ripped shirt while downing pizza in Georgetown Park Saturday, says she wouldn't wear anything ripped to her summer job at the Export-Import Bank. She started ripping away, she said, when she saw a lot of her dancer friends at the Jason Taylor dance group doing it.

"It makes everything looser and more comfortable," insisted Matthew Carper, who was wearing a Japanese T-shirt with the neckband ripped out. He does his own ripping and also makes clothes for his sister, Margo Carper, an actress. "It adds flash," he said.

George Fauntleroy says he ripped a new sweatshirt so that the old turquoise T-shirt he was wearing underneath could be seen. "It's a New York look," he said. Besides, Wacky Wear, where he is assistant manager, is pushing the look. What could be a better reason!