You Don't Have to Spend a Fortune to Get Perfectly Distressed Denim
When it comes to buying jeans, distressed denim can sometimes serve as the ultimate catch-22. Despite ripped holes, shredded seams, and — cough, cough — less fabric, chances are your heart will still skip a beat when flipping the price tag over. And yet, time and time again, I kept forking over my hard-earned cash because, let's face it, nothing amps up an outfit like beautifully destroyed jeans.
Finally, one day, I realized enough is enough. (Well, that and I was in the midst of a year-long shopping freeze.) The time had come for me to take matters into my own hands and conquer the worn-out look myself. And although this DIY attempt could have quickly spun into an at-home disaster, it turned out to be quite the opposite. In fact, I learned distressing your own denim is quite easy to do, not to mention budget-friendly. So if you want to save a ton and still capture those nonchalant, downtown-cool vibes distressed jeans immediately radiate, follow along for step-by-step instructions!
What You'll Need
- Denim of choice — If you don't already have a pair of jeans in your closet that you'd like to distress, I recommend heading to a nearby thrift store or secondhand shop so you don't have to spend a fortune on something you're about to rip up. If you don't have any luck there, opt for a cheaper pair at a less expensive store such as Forever 21 or H&M.
- Measuring tape
- Chalk (or pencil)
- A magazine (or piece of cardboard)
- A sharp pair of scissors (or a box cutter)
Step 1: Measure Up and Make Your Mark
First, slip on your jeans to get an idea about which areas you'd like to distress. Once you've done that, it's time to get specific. By measuring along the inseam of your jeans, mark the exact spots you want to cut.
If you're aiming for a hole in the knee area, I recommend cutting a couple inches above the knee, as well as below. I ended up cutting two inches above and two inches below, which worked out great!
Although you can eyeball these marks, I found it helpful to draw a solid horizontal line across my targeted areas. While chalk would have been a lot easier to see, but because I didn't have any on hand, a pencil ended up working just fine.
Step 2: Protect the Bottom Layer
In order to protect the bottom layer of your jeans, make sure to insert a magazine or piece of cardboard into the leg, especially if you're using a box cutter instead of scissors. This way, you can avoid tearing both sides of your denim.
Step 3: Begin the Distressing
Next comes the arm workout! Depending on how worn you want your jeans to look, grab your piece of sandpaper and start scrubbing. The trick here is to move your hand in a circular motion. If you want to keep your distressed look to a minimum, feel free to skip this step.
Step 4: Get to Snipping
Here comes the fun part. Whether you're using scissors or a box cutter, when you start snipping your jeans, make sure to cut straight, horizontal slits over the marks you previously made. Although these cuts don't need to be equal in length or width, keep in mind that they should be about a 1/2 inch to an inch apart. Trust me, this will make the next step much easier and more manageable.
Step 5: Pull Apart the Threads
Use a pair of tweezers (a safety pin works, too!) to pull apart the indigo threads. This will enhance the level of distressing and give your jeans a more natural look. Don't fret if you can't get out all the threads, as more will fall out when you wash them.
Once you've plucked out as many threads as possible, you'll start to notice some frayed fringes forming and the cluster of white threads running horizontally will be the start to your ripped hole. If you want to take your worn-out look even further, use sandpaper to fry the edges of each hole.
And Voila, Denim Destruction Complete!
After you've conquered the previous steps and successfully distressed your denim, the rest is up to you. Want to tatter up some hem lines? Add some patchwork? The best part about distressing your own jeans is that you're the designer — you can customize as much or as little as you desire.
Don't Forget to Wash and Dry!
Finally, throw your newly tattered jeans into the washing machine a couple of times and let your natural wear take the reins. While it will take some time and patience, rest assured knowing the more you wash and wear, the more worn-out character your jeans will adapt.