Stress-Free Ripped Jeans: How to Distress Your Jeans

woman wearing ripped jeans

Ripped jeans are cool but often get a bad rap for being “lazy, expensive jeans.” Lazy because it looks ripped, expensive because you’re paying for already-ripped jeans. Your parents may have commented on your jeans before, wondering loudly why you pay so much for a pair of ripped jeans.

But there’s just something special about the look of distressed denim. Compared to a regular pair of jeans, ripped jeans are cooler and more relaxed plus they look vintage and chic. They also look good with anything: streetwear, a regular white t-shirt, a denim jacket and more. Even if you wear a wife beater shirt with some ripped denim jeans, you’ll still look cool.

The downside is your mom and dad are right, they can be pricey. Distressed jeans are more expensive than regular jeans, which validates the “lazy, expensive jeans” comment.

To be fair, you can create naturally distressed jeans if you live a labor-intensive lifestyle. Your jeans will most likely fade, tear, cut and have abrasions at the end of the day. But what if you don’t live a hectic lifestyle and still want a good pair of distressed jeans for a festival or a party?

This is where you probably Google “how to distress jeans,” which may have landed you to this DIY guide.

Fortunately, there are many ways on how you can distress your jeans. You can achieve the same vintage, worn-in look without breaking the bank. Almost all of the methods to distressing your skinny jeans use simple household items like razors, scissors and even bobby pins!

So, with time, some patience and a little fashion creativity, you can transform a plain set of jeans into a more vintage-looking, frayed and tattered pair.

How to Distress Jeans: The Basic Method

The traditional way to distress your jeans has several steps involved. You’ll also need the following tools:

  • A pair of jeans
  • Tweezers
  • Scissors/razor
  • Box cutter
  • Safety pin

Step One: Lay the Groundwork

  • Start by choosing the jeans you want to rip. You can distress any type of jeans. If this is your first attempt at ripping your jeans, you may want to start with a pair you don’t mind fraying or ripping.
  • Try on your jeans and mark them. Jeans fit everyone differently so there’s no one spot to rip. Wear your jeans and mark the areas you want to rip using a marker, pen, or chalk. If you’ve never ripped jeans before, refrain from distressing the side seams since these hold your jeans together. One wrong tear could compromise the structure of your pants.
  • Find a workstation. Distress your jeans on a flat table or the kitchen counter. The area must have good lighting so you won’t rip anything by accident. Also, lay down a tarp on the surface to catch fabric scraps while you fray your jeans.
  • Sandpaper your jeans. This is an optional step but sanding the jeans will make tweezing and cutting easier. So, it’s best to sand your jeans, especially the thicker ones. Sanding is also good if you want to achieve a faded look for your distressed jeans.
  • Insert cardboard into your jeans. Take a piece of cardboard and cut it until it’s the same size as the pant legs. Insert it into your ripped jeans. The cardboard functions as a barrier between your scissors and the back of your pants.

different colored jeans

Step Two: Cut Your Jeans

  • Scrape or cut horizontal slits. If you want to make cleaner holes, cut horizontal lines across your jeans. If you want the thread to show, scrape the edge of your blade across the fabric to expose the threads.
  • Use tweezers to pull out the threads. Once you’ve made the cuts, remove the excess fabric with tweezers. Pull out as many threads as you can and only work in the areas that you can cut. Try to remove the colored threads.
  • Use a lint roller to clean up the area. After making all the cuts, clean up the area with a lint roller. Roll the lint roller as many times as you can to remove the excess fabric.
  • Wash your jeans. You might be excited to slip on your newly ripped jeans but it’s best if you wash them first. Washing your jeans removes the thread and debris.
  • Make adjustments. Once you’ve washed your jeans, try them on again and see if you’re happy with the look.

There are two ways to distress your jeans: using a razor or a scissor.

Distressing your jeans with a scissor is the common way to do this fashion hack. A scissor gets the job done by cutting the holes but it doesn’t give you the “worn” and vintage look. Scissors are handy when you want to create distressed shorts, change the length of your jeans or add some edge to the hems.

If you want a more unique design, you can also use your scissors to create a simple tassel style. Once you’ve cut the hem off the bottom of your pants, cut vertical strips. After cutting the strips, shake the tassels and separate them with your fingers.

To distress your jeans with a razor, add the first slit where the bottom hole should be. Once you’ve made the first slit, add more slits (measuring 1.3 cm each) until you reach the top. You can also use a disposable shaving razor to fray your pockets and the other areas.

Apart from razors and scissors, you can also distress your jeans with an unusual household item: your cheese grater. Add more texture to your jeans by rubbing the fabric of the cuts on the cheese grater.

Other Ways to Distress Your Jeans

So, how can you make your jeans look more vintage? Apart from making some cuts, here are other ways to distress your ripped jeans.

Fade the Dye

Many people prefer jeans that look as if they’ve been washed more than a few times. A faded ripped jeans look is achievable by washing your jeans for two years straight. But if you can’t wait for that look, you can make a mixture of 50 percent water, 50 percent bleach. Paint the bleach water mixture on your jeans to give the fabric a streaky effect. Add more bleach water to the knees because this is where jeans fade more.

Once you’ve applied the solution, let your jeans set overnight. Check on your jeans every now and then to make sure the fabric isn’t fading too fast. After an hour, wash and dry up your jeans and paint the seams.

Use Bobby Pins to Make Smaller Holes

Bobby pins are great tools for subtle distressing. Use the blunt metal edge of a bobby pin to pick and scrape on your jeans and create tiny holes.

Achieve Bigger Threaded Holes by Cutting and Plucking

Start by cutting horizontal strips half an inch apart. You can cut them as long as you want them to be. Use your tweezers to pluck all the blue threads out of the strips. By removing the blue threads, you leave behind a white-threaded and vintage cut.

Avoid the Most Common Distressed Jeans Mistakes

One of the most common mistakes people make when making distressed jeans is not using the right material. They think they can rip or distress any pair of jeans. On the contrary, denim jeans come in different weights. It’s best to distress jeans that weigh at least 1.25 pounds (20 ounces). These jeans will not easily tear during the distressing process. Check the label of your jeans before distressing them.

Also, before you wash your jeans, make sure you read the interior label. Distressed jeans are more prone to damage during a wash. If your jeans have special care instructions written on the label, follow them.

Finally, wash your jeans infrequently. Washing your ripped jeans often will cause more tears. Avoid washing them regularly to keep them in good shape.

distressed jeans
Photo by Ergita Sela on Unsplash

Final Tips for Distressing Your Jeans

As a rule of thumb with any DIY project, work slowly. Take your time with distressing your jeans to make sure they don’t fall apart at the knees. Paying attention to the smallest details keeps you from destroying your jeans.

Also, don’t hesitate to use embellishments. Add a personal touch and accentuate your style by adding patches to your jeans.

Finally, practice makes perfect. Not everyone perfectly distresses their jeans in the first run. Working with different types of fabric can help you learn more about how to distress your jeans perfectly.

Distressed denim is making a comeback to the fashion scene and you should not miss out! Instead of spending money on expensive ripped jeans, you can make do with your current pair of jeans, especially if they have holes. All you need is some scissors, chalk and plenty of creativity. Enjoy your stress-free distressed jeans right now!

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