Distressed denim is a fashion trend that has been around for years. It’s not only a super cool look, but distressed jeans can also be very comfy to wear when lounging around the house or while out running errands. The ripped jean look first came into style in the 1970s during the punk rock era and has essentially been in and out of the fashion must-have lineup ever since. While ripped denim initially began as a political statement and act of rebellion on behalf of punk rockers, somehow it’s skyrocketed to become one of the most well-worn trends of the last decade. From rockers to pop stars, fashion icons to career women, and moms to their teenagers, distressed and ripped denim seems to be en vogue with just about everyone.
Regardless of who you are, if you’ve ever worn distressed or ripped jeans, you’ve probably heard your parents ask, “why would you buy ripped jeans!?” In a sense, your parents are right in that they point out a strange irony in the distressed jeans phenomenon. Most of the time, distressed and ripped jeans are significantly more expensive than a fresh pair of new women’s or men’s jeans. But we have good news—if you are keen to rock this look, then distressing jeans yourself is pretty fun and easy to do.
Depending on how distressed you want your jeans to be, there are several ways to go about distressing them. Perhaps you just want them to be softer, or maybe you want them to be ripped and rugged. To soften your jeans, use some sandpaper to gently sand and soften the jean. To lighten the jeans for a distressed and worn look, carefully use bleach to fade the jeans from dark to light blue. To rip, tear, or add tasteful little holes to your jeans, you can use a wide range of household tools such as disposable razors, bobby pins, and scissors.
In our user-friendly denim distressing guide, you’ll learn how to distress your jeans to match the look you are going for. Ditch the expensive designer ripped jeans and grab a pair of new or neglected men’s or women’s jeans to get started.
The most important item you need to properly distress your jeans is the right pair of jeans. You will want a pair of classic, traditional, starchy jeans that are 100% cotton. Jeans with elastic, like skinny jeans, are structured differently than classic jeans and won’t work with our distressing techniques.
You can either source a new pair of jeans, or see what’s been left neglected for all these years in the back of your closet. If this is your first time distressing denim, then maybe use a pair of jeans you don’t mind practicing with (just in case you don’t seem to get the look you want the first time around)!
Next, you’ll need the right tools. Luckily, most of these tools are common household items that are easy to find and even easier to use. The full denim distressing kit is as follows:
* Real denim jeans
* Laundry bleach
* Bobby pins (without the protective cover)
* Disposable razor
* Seam ripper
* Sandpaper (with a lower grit like 80)
A lot of people choose to distress their jeans simply because they want to turn a starchy pair of jeans into a pair of super comfy jeans. Other people choose to distress their jeans to produce the same trendy aesthetic they love but prefer to make it themselves rather than spend the money on an expensive pair of distressed jeans. Whether it’s just to make your jeans more comfortable or to channel your inner punk rocker, there’s an easy DIY method to bring your jeans to the end result you’re looking for.
1. Fading Your Jeans
If you’re working with a darker pair of blue jeans and prefer them to look faded or washed out, there’s an easy and creative way to get that done. Rather than continuously washing your jeans over and over just to get that faded look, grab some bleach and a brush. Start by mixing the bleach in a 1:1 ratio with water. Then, you can use your brush to paint the bleach solution onto your jeans to give them a faded or streaky effect.
To have your jeans look naturally faded, brush most of the bleach around the seat and knees where jeans tend to fade. To make your jeans really light, let them sit with the bleach mixture overnight, though we recommend checking on them every hour to be sure they aren’t fading too fast. When you’re finished, wash and dry as usual.
You can also soak the jeans in a bleach and water mixture to lighten them. This method isn’t great for lightening specific areas, but rather the entire jean. Just don’t let them for too long or you’ll end up with a pair of white jeans! Wash and dry as usual.
2. Soften the Denim
We all love a soft denim feel, and if your jeans are feeling too starchy or tough, you may want to use this technique to soften them up a bit. Make your jeans look and feel more lived in with some sanding. Choose a less coarse grit of sandpaper to rub your denim. If you are just trying to soften your jeans to turn them into some comfy casual pants, then it’s important to use lower grit sandpaper. The coarser the grit, the greater the chance of putting holes in your denim. But if tearing your denim is part of your distress plan, then grab the coarser grit of sandpaper and sand away.
3. Make the Holes
Time to grab the scissors and razor. Before ripping, use your chalk to mark some places on your jeans where you want to open the fabric. Keep in mind that you can make holes bigger, but you can’t make them smaller. Start small and go from there. Use scissors to cut larger holes, such as across the knees, while using the razor to achieve the look of smaller holes, for example around the thighs. If you also like the look of frayed hemlines, you can also cut the bottom of the jean legs. We like the look of cropped straight-leg jeans with some tasteful tears around the knees and thighs. That being said, search up some photos on the internet to see what look best fits your style.
4. Fray the Denim
Now to achieve that cool frayed look that jean designers seem to do so well for us. The truth is, it’s quite easy. Using either a seam remover, a metal bobby pin with blunt edges, or a pair of tweezers, you’re going to remove the blue threads. In a typical pair of jeans, white thread runs horizontally and blue thread runs vertically. You will want to use your tool of choice to pull out the blue threads and replicate that super cool white thread look. You’ll also want to do this around the hem of your jean legs to release the white thread frayed look. This part of the job is kind of fun but also requires some patience and gentleness. Take your time to be sure you don’t accidentally break too many white threads.
5. Sand and Wash
Once you’ve got your holes and frays in the right place, you can use your sandpaper again to soften the edges around your new holes. When you’re done, wash and dry as usual. Washing will also help more of those nice white threads come out. The last step is to try them on! Distressed denim looks awesome with a cool women’s T-shirt or a cute chunky knit oversized sweater.
Find your new favorite tops to pair with your newly distressed jeans at Lands’ End. Loads of tops match with the distressed jean look so you’re bound to find something you’ll love. Whether you love the trend or just want softer jeans, distressing your own denim is an easy and inexpensive DIY project to get the dream jeans you’ve been looking for.