How to Distress Jeans for a Relaxed Look and Feel

how to distress jeans

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You’ve seen them in stores. Jeans with rips, tears, and fades that look like they’ve been destroyed, but look really cool at the same time. You can do this yourself, as long as you learn how to distress jeans.

Distressed jeans may not be great for job interviews or other professional environments, but you can wear them in just about any casual situation. Pair them with the right top, and it’ll look great. If you’re into this kind of look, it’s definitely a versatile one.

Learning how to distress jeans can also help you exercise your creative muscle. You can imitate what you see in the stores, or you can create your own spin on this look. Whatever you decide to do, you can create a uniquely spectacular result!

Why Would You Distress Jeans?

Just by going outside, you’ll probably see that distressed jeans are a popular look. But why would you want to learn how to distress jeans yourself? Why is it so popular?

There are many looks that distressed jeans can have. Sometimes, it’s just about holes at the knees. However, some jeans are mangled all over, and some even come with built-in mud stains.

These jeans, which have a “damaged” appearance even when hanging off the rack in the store, can be extremely expensive. Some pairs go for over $1,000! So, of course, rather than spending crazy amounts of money, a lot of people would rather learn how to distress jeans for the same look right in the comfort of their homes.

Why are distressed jeans popular?

People who work in the fashion industry have a few different hypotheses about why distressed jeans are so popular. Tony Glenville, creative director at London College of Fashion, believes that it has to do with a “feeling of integrity.”

That is, instead of looking brand new, the look of distressed jeans resembles reality a little bit more, reflecting the life of a person who’s been through a lot with their clothes.

It’s pretty ironic, given that the appearance of the jeans was contrived and not based on reality. But the effect that the look ultimately has isn’t necessarily congruous with that.

Charlene Lau, who’s a postdoctoral fellow at the Parsons School of Design, believes that it has to do with “street credibility” and “inconspicuous consumption.” Street credibility has to do with gangster culture and the popularity of rebellion in some circles.

Inconspicuous consumption is basically about showing that you have a lot of money in a subtle way, but not really looking like it. And a lot of people would agree that distressed jeans are a great way to accomplish that look. It’s somewhat ironic that ripped, mangled, and stained jeans could now be evidence of wealth.

Incorporating distressed jeans into your wardrobe

There are a few ways that distressed jeans can be great for your fashion repertoire. The shabby chic look is actually very popular right now.

When you’ve had a pair of jeans for a really long time, they’ll inevitably start to become worn around the knees. You can change these holes however you want, or just enjoy them as they are and be fashionable in a comfortable old pair of jeans.

It’s a versatile look. You can wear it even in cold weather. In the winter, you can just combine it with a fluffy winter coat, or you can wear colored tights or fishnets under your jeans for extra warmth.

You can also tailor the entire look in completely different ways. You can dress up with distressed jeans, wearing them with fancy shoes and silk jackets. Alternatively, you can dress down, wearing them with tennis shoes and a casual black tee.

When you’re considering how to distress jeans, you should understand that two very different looks can be created, depending on whether they’re skinny jeans or baggy jeans. Baggy distressed jeans are probably more common, but this look can work on skinny jeans too. It really just depends on you and your taste.

If you have an interest in how to distress jeans, you might also consider that distressed denim can be a part of any garments. You can wear a distressed denim jacket or skirt as well. As long as it’s done right, it can be part of a great ensemble.

How to Distress Jeans

The good news is that you don’t have to spend a bundle of money on a pair of pre-made distressed jeans. You can do it yourself. But it may be a little bit more complicated than you think.

You don’t just want to get a pair of scissors and hack away at your jeans. That way, you could end up ruining them. You want to follow a few simple directions for how to distress jeans.

Once you’ve done it a few times, you can exercise your creative muscle and deviate from the process a little bit. But for now, you should see where you go by following directions.

1. Gather supplies

There are a few things that you will need for this project. Obviously, you’re going to need the pair of jeans you want to distress. You’ll also need a pair of tweezers, some chalk, a box cutter, and a safety pin. For more advanced work, you’ll need sandpaper.

2. Put your pants on!

The first thing you should do is put the pair of jeans on. Using the chalk, mark the area that you want to distress while you’re wearing them. If you want a big hole in the knee area, you should mark the boundaries as starting two inches above the knee and ending two inches below.

After marking all the areas that you want to distress, take the pants off. You’ll need them off in order to do the next step.

3. Protection is important

Roll up a magazine, and then insert it into the leg of your pants. This’ll make it so that the box cutter won’t be able to slice through both layers of fabric on your jeans. If you don’t have a magazine, you can use cardboard or anything else that you think is thick enough to protect the back side of your jeans.

Whatever object you choose, place it firmly under the area you’re about to cut.

4. Time to slice!

Using the box cutter, start slicing horizontally at the line that you marked. Continue to slice up the fabric in horizontal strips between the two chalk boundaries you created. Each of the strips should be about half an inch to an inch apart.

You don’t need to make all the cuts exactly identical. If you want it to look as natural as possible, you can do small slices at the top and bottom, with the slices becoming longer towards the middle.

Repeat this process for every place on the pair of jeans where you want to create a hole.

5. Be a tease

Now, flip over the strip on one of the edges. Use a safety pin to individually tease out each of the white threads, which are the long woven strings that run from side to side on a pair of jeans. Do this carefully with each thread, making sure that you’re not breaking them.

6. Start the hole

Once you’ve teased out a bunch of the long white strands, you’ll see a frayed fringe on the edges. Using a pair of tweezers, pluck out these little vertical threads. When you’re done with this, all you’ll have is a bunch of white threads that run horizontally.

Do this with all the horizontal strips that you’ve created as part of your hole. Repeat this process for all of the holes you’re trying to create. If you want some variety, you can try leaving a strip alone here and there and use sandpaper to fray some of the edges.

7. Wear and enjoy!

Now, you officially have a pair of distressed jeans. Pick the right top and pair of shoes, and you’re good to go!

Other Tips for Distressing Your Jeans

What we’ve described above is a key aspect of the look of distressed jeans. The holes in these jeans are probably what’s most noticeable about them. However, there are also other things that you can do in order to create the look of a well-worn pair of jeans.

For a fade…

If you want your jeans to look faded, what you can do is mix water and bleach in equal amounts and streak them all over your jeans. You can use a paintbrush and make some areas lighter than others. If you want a realistic effect, you can put more bleach water in the knee areas, since this is where jeans tend to fade the most strongly.

Then, let the bleach water set for a few hours. You can leave it overnight if you want your jeans really light.

For a frayed look…

If you want frayed edges on your jeans, You can use a regular disposable shaving razor.

Just scrape it back and forth on edges, such as around the pockets, bottoms, waistband, and zipper area. You can also use a razor to create frayed patches on your pair of jeans.

Another thing you can do is use a bobby pin with a blunt metal edge to create tiny holes at random locations on your denim. This is good for a subtle distressing look. It can add to the big holes you’ve already created.

For softness…

In order to give your jeans a more lived-in look and feel, you can rub them down with sandpaper. Generally, this won’t create holes. However, it will make the denim really soft.

You can do this in just a few locations, or you can do it all over. Another thing you can do is just rub down edges around holes with sandpaper to create more fraying.

Don’t Be Too Distressed…

Now that you’ve learned a bit about how to distress jeans, you probably want to go out and experiment. If you don’t have too much confidence in your abilities to ruin a pair of nice jeans properly, you might want to practice on denim patches first. After all, you don’t want to distress a pair of expensive jeans the wrong way, only to leave them unwearable.

Considering how expensive distressed jeans are, it makes perfect sense that you’d want to emulate the look on your own. Also, it gives you a chance to get creative. You can rip, tear, and stain your jeans however you want.

Learning how to distress jeans can really open a window into a whole new world of art. Even better, it’ll be wearable art! This can be a great craft that you’ll be able to showcase wherever you go.

What do you have to say about everything you’ve just learned about how to distress jeans? Give us a shout out in the comments section!

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