How To Distress Jeans: The Ultimate Guide To DIY Denim

First published on - february 2018

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Sick of paying top dollar for your distressed jeans? We definitely are.

It seems counter-intuitive to pay extra for someone to cut and rip regular jeans (no matter how good they look), so why not do it yourself?

Our guide will show you how to make distressed jeans so you don't have to part with your hard-earned cash every season.

From how to properly cut, treat and texture your denims, our four fool-proof tips will make you a DIY distressed jeans expert in no time.



Before you do anything, you'll need to choose which pair of jeans you want to play Frankenstein with.

Boyfriend jeans are a classic choice for distressing but mom jeansand slim-leg styles will also work if you prefer a different shape.

Stay away from giving skinny jeans and flares the distressed treatment (at least on the first go).

Boyfriend jeans are the classic go-to for distressing.



In terms of washes, a mid or light-wash pair is the safest bet for getting a cool vintage-inspired style (and is the easiest wash to cover up mistakes!), but darker washes will also work.

If going darker - stick to texturing instead of bleaching the denim to avoid too harsh an effect.

1. Bleach is best

Bleaching your jeans might soundsuper scary but really doesn't need to be.

First thing's first - get hold of a good pair of gloves (don't make your manicure suffer), and plan out where you want to lighten the denim.

There's no turning back once you've added bleach to the fibres so it pays to plan ahead and get inspiration from your favorite bleached denim styles.

With gloves on, pour bleach and water into a wide plastic bowl to a 1:1 ratio (a good tip is to pour the full bottle of bleach in, then fill the bottle up with water and add to the bowl to ensure equal parts).

Dip small areas of the jeans into the bleach mixture one at a time, let them soak for a couple of minutes and remove as soon as you see any sign of the denim lightening in color.

The dip-dye technique is perfect for getting a 70s tie-dye effect.

It's been spotted everywhere recently from Alexander Wang to Gucci's iconic bleached styles, however if you prefer the look of Current/Elliot or LOFT's patchwork jeans you'll need to use a different technique.

Cut out different size squares of denim from your jeans, tie each scrap into a little ball using an elastic band and then soak in the bleach solution for a minute or two.

Once you're all bleached out, wash the jeans or squares of jeans out and dry them fully. You can now sew the bleached pieces back onto your jeans (if using) with colored thread, alternating sewing inside and outside the jean, for a statement-making look à la RE/DONE.


2. Cut

Now that you've got the tones right, it's time to move on to the cut. Ever since grunge hit the scene in the early 90s, ripped jeanshave have been the holy grail for low-key street style.

To make sure you're actually creating a ripped knee (rather than a ripped thigh) look, it's always worth quickly measuring your inseam (from your groin to your knee) beforehand.

Once you have your inseam, simple measure this against your jeans and make a mark where you 'true knee' is (the point of maximum bend) - this is where you want to start cutting.

Grab a pin or slim scissors and start slicing across the knee of your jeans, making sure you leave a couple of inches either side of the hem to avoid sagging or a completely exposed knee (never a good look).



3. Rub

Texture is key when it comes to distressing jeans - you want a genuine worn in look that could pass as real wear and tear.

When creating texture, it's good to use a couple of different rough surfaces to get a variety of looks. You want to rub around the areas you've cut, teasing the strands and threads and roughing up the corners.

For the best results, try switching between a rougher and smoother pumice stone (you can buy them from most good pharmacies), or failing that, a couple of clean rough stones from your garden.

This is where you're changing your denim from DIY-job to 'I bought this from J. Brand'.


4. Tumble

Forget everything you've been told about washing denim - you want to add character to your customized jeans so in the wash they go.

You'll want to leave your jeans in the tumble dryer for a long spin cycle to really wear them in and make them look like they've been around the block.

All the effort you've put into dying, tearing and rubbing your jeans is about to pay off.

Wear your jeans belted with a crisp white shirt and loafers for style Camille Charrière would be proud of.