I’m sure you’ve all heard it from your mom when you were younger: “Why are you spending money on jeans that are already ripped?!” But there’s just something about the look of distressed denim that’s so much cooler than a regular pair, MOM. Although she was right that sometimes distressed denim can be super expensive… maybe even more so than unripped pairs. Whether you’re trying to save money or love to dive into to a fun fashion DIY project, there are a bunch of ways to get that same worn-in look on your own.
And the good news is that you don’t need any fancy tools. Almost all these methods use household items you probably already have laying around. (I know you have a *plethora* of bobby pins, admit it.) With some time and a lil patience, you can transform any of your old jeans into the tattered, frayed, holey pair of your dreams. Choose one, two, or all the tips at once to distress your jeans just the way you like ’em.
1. Fade the dye (optional).
If you prefer the look of jeans that have really been put through the wash a few times, you can achieve this by washing the jeans for two years straight, or here’s a more realistic and less arduous option: Make a mixture of 50-50 water and bleach. I painted the bleach water on my jeans with a brush to give it a streaky effect and focused most of the bleach water at the knees, where jeans tend to fade the most.
Let the bleach water set overnight to make them really light (I recommend checking on them every hour or so to make sure your denim isn’t fading too fast for your liking), and then an hour before I washed and dried them, I painted the seams (where jeans tend to hold on to color the most) one last time for an even fade all over.
If you don’t have a paintbrush on hand, soaking the whole pair in a mix of water and bleach also lightens them all over (like in the video above), but with this method, you can’t really lighten one specific area. Or you can skip this step completely if you’re satisfied with the color.
2. Fray the pockets and edges.
One of the quickest ways to fray denim is with a regular disposable shaving razor or sandpaper. These are particularly helpful when going over the zipper area, waistband, and pockets. Just scrape the razor or press the sandpaper back and forth until you get the look you want. You can also use the items to make frayed patches on the jeans.
3. Use bobby pins to make smaller holes.
These are actually great tools for subtle distressing. Use a bobby pin with a blunt metal edge to pick and scrape at the denim and create tiny holes. Watch the video above to see what I mean.
4. Cut and pluck for big threaded holes.
For not-so-subtle distressing, follow these steps: Cut horizontal strips half an inch apart. Make the strips as long as you want the hole to be. Take a pair of tweezers and pluck all the blue threads out of the strips. As a pro tip, the white threads run horizontally and the blue run vertically in denim. By removing the blue threads, you can create that horizontal white-threaded look. I also tore some of the white threads to make the opening a little messier.
5. Rub with sandpaper for softness.
To make your jeans look (and feel) more lived-in, rub them down with some sandpaper. The coarser the grit (i.e., the rougher the sandpaper), the more it will create holes in your denim, so if you only want to make the fabric more soft, choose one that’s less coarse.
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