On May 20th, 1873, Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis successfully invented the blue denim pant: a sturdy, durable, and long-lasting pant originally designed for men working in the mines. A century later, Vivienne Westwood (nicknamed the grand dame of the punk era) would turn the fashion world on its head with a collection of purposefully torn, fraying, and otherwise destroyed apparel. Ever since the birth of the punk era, distressed denim has remained in the zeitgeist of both mainstream and underground fashion.
Recreate your own unique distressed denim wear with nothing more than a few common household items, a few spare hours, and these tips and tricks.
I cannot stress this enough: mark your desired areas of distress while the pieces are being worn. It’s incredibly easy to under or over-estimate where our clothing falls on our body when it’s on the hanger or laying flat. Use chalk, pencils, or pins to mark exactly where you’d like any holes, scratches, or tears to appear on your silhouette.
To avoid an unintended paper snowflake effect, slide a piece of cardboard or old magazine into pant legs or sleeves before distressing with blades or sandpaper.
If using bleach to distress your denim, make sure to work in a well-ventilated area. While the fabric is being bleached, make sure to check back on your denim frequently to avoid complete erosion of the material.
Not all denim is created equal; it can come in different weights and blends, both of which significantly affect the denim’s durability and distressability. Look to your tags to find your denim’s composition and cut accordingly.
There are three basic components to worn-in denim: frayed edges, hems, or pockets; holes, scrapes, or tears; and faded color. Each component can be achieved through multiple techniques -- use a combination of several techniques or stick with the ones that cater to the tools you already have at your disposal.
Fraying: Create soft, fringey hems to your favorite denim pieces by following any of these fraying methods. Use on hems, collars, and cuffs.
Pinking shears create a clean zig-zag cut which will slowly fray over time with wash and wear. Pinking shears are best used for a subtle, long-lasting frayed effect.
Seam rippers separate the individual blue and white denim threads for a realistically severe fray. Expedite the seam-ripping process by making your initial cuts with scissors.
The tear or cut and wash method is perhaps the easiest technique, but also the one that provides the least amount of control.
The name says it all. Use scissors or your hands to cut/tear a raw hem into your denim. Send through at least two washing/drying cycles to get your desired amount of fluffy, white fringe. Denim will continue to fray unless a hem is sewn just above the fringed edge.
There are a myriad of ways denim can become distressed and just as many options for how to achieve the look. Use these methods for pant legs, sleeves, pockets, and any other flat area of denim you’d like to see roughed up.
A box cutter, safety pin, and tweezers can create natural patches of worn fabric, and the precision of these small tools allow you to leave as much or as little skin showing through the distressed area as you prefer.
The more white threads on your distress patch, the more coverage there will be. You can always cut these strands later to reveal more skin, but you can’t sew them back once they’re gone.
As you pick out horizontal threads, a vertical fringe will begin to form. Using your tweezers, carefully pluck out the short, vertical strands to reveal a smooth block of thin, white, horizontal thread.
Sandpaper is great for creating dimensions to your distress. The coarser the grit, the rougher the final product will look. By using multiple gauges of sandpaper, you can create a denim piece that looks like it’s been worn for decades (even if you just bought those jeans on sale two days ago).
For pockets and collars, use coarse sandpaper (around 30 to 60 gauge) to rough up the stiff edges of the fabric.
A tatter patch is a quick way to achieve that perfect peekaboo patch of distressed denim in half the time (and with none of the painstaking tweezing). With a variety of sizes, shapes, and printed design options, the tatter patch is a versatile and simple way of revamping (or repairing) denim.
The true testament to denim’s age is how much the deep indigo of raw denim has faded over time. You can speed up the process and turn brand-new jeans into soft blue vintage stunners with these simple tricks.
A 50/50 bleach-water solution and paintbrush provides the most precision in the placement and desaturation of your denim’s fade.
Sun fading is a longer, but more natural, fading process. All you need for this method is access to a washing machine and a few days of good weather.
Use tea or coffee to add patina to your denim. Patina refers to the golden luster denim acquires as oils from our skin and other elements from the environment absorb into the material over time.