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DIY Jean Distressing

I first started distressing my own denim items a few years ago when I couldn't find a pair of high waisted denim shorts in stores that I liked enough. I was also wildly into watching DIY videos on Youtube and while I knew I would never reach that caliber of intricacy (there was all sorts of bleaching and studding and fraying nonsense that I wanted no part in), it seemed easy enough to just cut up some old thrifted jeans and make them into shorts. The only pair of denim shorts I own to this day are a pair of really old jeans from Target that I turned into my first pair of distressed high waisted shorts.

I've seen super frayed and distressed denim all over for a while now. Skinny denim slashed up the entire legs, loose boyfriend jeans with the knees ripped out, all sorts of stuff. But there is a certain style that I was more drawn to. The entire hem was distressed and super frayed and just gave off an effortlessly cool vibe. I wanted to combine that look with the boyfriend look and I just wasn't into searching high and low on a website for it. So, I decided to go on a quest to make my own. Now, I'm not boasting that these are the most attractive jeans in the world. These are my "Man Repeller" jeans that I will wear loud and proud until the day that the self-made rips start to get too large and gaping. But for now, I will happy parade around in them because I think they're cool.

Now, how did I accomplish this look? It was pretty easy, honestly. Easy, but very time consuming. For me, I wanted thicker layers of distressing, so it took a lot of pulling and patience, but I got it to a place where I was content! If you're doing shorts, it takes less steps and is a lot easier to pull off. You can use the techniques in this jeans fraying bit to make high-waisted shorts, regular mid-rise shorts, or even to distress a denim skirt if you so desire!

First things first, you're going to need a pair of jeans. If you really wanted to distress a pair of newer jeans yourself, go for it, I guess? I wouldn't suggest making your first pair of distressed jeans a brand new expensive pair unless you got them on super sale or are Harry Styles. These are a pair of Levi's that my mom parted with, but you can find cheap jeans at any thrift store so, basically, just find the perfect pair of jeans for you to rip up. Next, you're going to want to gather a few supplies: scissors, tweezers, and a pumice stone. I barely used the pumice stone, so really, just the scissors and tweezers should be fine.

Make sure that your legs are as even as possible when you're hemming them to get the length right. I wanted mine to be above the ankle when they were cuffed, so I folded them accordingly. If you're making shorts or don't need to hem the bottom, still, make sure they're even. They don't have to be perfect, but it helps if they're as close to uniform as possible.

I made sure that my jeans were as even as possible when I cut straight across. I have one hemmed to check the length of them that way while the other is left open and raw. As you can see, my hems are completely jagged, but for me that didn't matter because I was just going to be pulling at it anyways. If you want something more precise, just be more careful when you cut across. I sort of just went wild and wanted to beat the sunset before my work station on my kitchen table became engulfed in darkness.

After you cut the hems, take your tweezers and start pulling at the white lines going horizontally across the denim. I varied my "tweezing strength" as I went down the line so I could leave some of the white bits hanging while other times I tore them right out. It's a bit tedious to do this (I ended up giving up and finishing these later in the week). Distressing them is easy, fraying them is what takes the most effort, I think. But it's really just the simple, monotonous task of ripping out the horizontal white strings all the way around the entire hem of your jeans. I tried to make them an even length and they ended up being much more frayed than shown in the picture above.

This next step is what can be applied most to any sort of distressing. I used this technique on my denim shorts and I would use it to just create holes in the knees of any pair of denim. I pinched the fabric at the knees (on the shorts, I did it right beneath the pockets) and cut three horizontal lines across. You could do two, or even four. I think it just depends on how much space you leave between. Just know that if you don't leave enough space, when you're fraying the strips, some might rip because there's not enough fabric to keep them there. I found that three worked okay for the jeans, but I think I only did two on the shorts. In the same manner, all you have to do it pull a bit at the white horizontal strings just to fray the holes a bit. Definitely don't do it as dramatically as the hem of the jeans because they will rip a lot easier and since they're at your knees, there will be a lot more natural wear as you bend and move and wash them. 

And voila! That's what the jeans look like completed. As I said, I know that these aren't the most popular style of jeans and I might be the only human who think they're cute (well, they're not cute, they're ugly, but they're cool to me). But these simple steps can be used to create shorts, boyfriend jeans, or even just to distressed a pair of skinny jeans that you want to make a bit more summery or edgy. Trust me, if I can do it, you can do it. 


  1. Thanks for this! I bought a pair of white jeans a few months ago and I’ve been meaning to do this to them. Now that school’s over, I finally have time to take on a DIY. You’ve saved me the “trouble” of googling a tutorial :D


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