DIY Distressed Denim – Can You Tell Which Pair Cost $200?



Back in 1873 when Levi’s invented denim it was definitely not okay for women to wear it in public, let alone a man in a big city (versus on the farm). But thankfully, in 2015 it’s socially acceptable to wear distressed jeans for a fun, edgy casual or dressy look. I can actually remember making DIY distressed denim and cut offs way back in the 4th grade!

Buying distressed denim will cost you anywhere from the $30 range at Forever 21 to $240 and up at high-end department stores. When I was looking for the perfect pair of distressed jeans, I realized I didn’t love the placement of a lot of the rips. I finally found the ones I wore in this post here for $240, but I was inspired to DIY.

Making your own is so much more fun, basically free, and creates something that no one else will have! And besides, who doesn’t love a little DIY couture?

My girlfriend Christina and I got together this weekend to distress some of our old jeans. Hers looked SO good when we were done, that she ended up returning a $200-ish pair of destroyed jeans she’d just bought at Bloomingdales because the DIY pair of distressed jeans actually looked better!

Which pair do you think she bought pre-destroyed? Which pair do you like better?


The pair on the left are DIY, and the pair on the right are these ones.

Steps to becoming a distressed denim artist:

1. Choose your canvas: stretchy versus traditional denim

Picking the right pair of jeans to distress is important. Pull them out of your donate bag, the back of your closet, get them from the rack at Zara, or a thrift store. Any style will work, from baggy boyfriend to skinny.

Super stretchy denim works better for a slits with little fraying, and traditional stiff denim is best for creating a frayed, stringy, distressed look. Fraying on stretch denim will look different, as the strings are thinner and don’t “puff up” like the cotton threads in traditional denim.

I chose a pair of old William Rast jeans (does anyone remember Justin Timberlake’s clothing line? Yep, these are my JT jeans. Never giving them up!  They are made from traditional, stiffer denim, while Christina chose to use an old pair of J-brands which are a stretch denim.

2. Prepare Your Tools

  • Exacto knife
  • A piece of cardboard (thin enough to fit in your pant leg)
  • Chalk
  • Tweezers
  • Sandpaper – fine grain (optional)

3. Get inspired and make a plan

The placement of patches and rips is very important. There are a million ways you could distress your jeans, so to avoid botching them it helps to start with a vision.

Here are some distressed looks we used to inspire our destroyed creations:



From left to right, top to bottom starting with the first picture:

  1. Raggy knees – Current Elliot
  2. A series of slits – AG Jeans
  3. Simple knee slits – Paige Denim 
  4. Big wide rips – Flying Monkey
  5. Super duper trashed – One Teaspoon
  6. Well placed patches – Joe’s Jeans (Christina’s pair that I picked before I knew she had them!)

Once you have an idea of where you’d like to start distressing your denim, mark the jeans with chalk. I chose to make some vertical and horizontal patches, combined with a plain slit on one knee.


4. Ready, aim, start destroying!

Place the cardboard

Stuff a piece of cardboard in the leg of your pants. The stiffness makes it easier to work with, and protects the table and back of the pants when you start to cut.


Sand the denim

Depending on the state of your jeans, you may want to gently sand the areas that you’re planning to add holes to with and paper. This fades the wash and thins out the fabric. My jeans already had wear in the front, so I didn’t need to do much of this.


Cut strategically

Using the Exacto knife, start cutting along the chalk lines. For slits, a simple straight slice will do. For frayed patches, cut a slit at the top and the bottom of the patch area (you will pull the threads from the middle in the step below).



For the long vertical patch on my jeans, I made a series of horizontal slits so it would be easier to remove the fibers (see step below)

Pull out the “warp” threads

The threads running top to bottom in your jeans are called the warp and the white threads you expose through distressing that run side to side are the weft. Using tweezers, grab a tuft of the warp fibers from the bottom of your patch and tug them out, leaving the white weft.





Christina’s jeans were stretchy – you can see the difference in the fibers from mine. Hers are thinner, and will not create as much of a frayed “fuzzy” look



When you pull out the warp (in my fingers) all that will be left if the weft


Feel free to cut the white weft threads or pull some out from the slits and leave them hanging for a more ragged look.  Be prepared to bust out the vacuum after this step, because it makes a mess (worth it).



Throwing your jeans in the wash will soften the loose threads and give them a lived in look, but they will still look awesome if you wear them right away! We couldn’t wait to wear them, so we didn’t wash them first.


How cute are your new distressed jeans??! Watch out JBrand, we got talent!

This was such a fun way to spend the afternoon, and we loved our jeans so much that we decided our next project will be DIY cutt off high waisted shorts. Bring it on!



Top: The City Supply Co

Bottoms: William Rast (circa 2006)

Runners: Vans

Do you have any other DIY denim tricks that I might be missing out on?

XX Jill

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17 thoughts on “DIY Distressed Denim – Can You Tell Which Pair Cost $200?

    • Thanks MaryBeth! I know – I struggle with this too. My aunts and uncles always make fun of my ripped jeans, because when they grew up in the 70’s it was bad etiquette to wear them!

    • Hey Mindi! I’m so glad you like the tutorial, definitely give it a try. The best part is that you will have a pair of jeans that no one else has!

  1. HOLY CRAP. Such a rad post!!! I am obsessed with distressed denim, literally 99% of the jeans that I wear are distressed and I CANT WAIT TO TRY MAKING THESE!!! Secondly, I 100% absolutely thought that the pair that you did yourself were the designer ones, so well done!!! Love love love!

    xox, Maya Beth

    • YESSS please try this and let me know how it goes!!! Wasn’t it totally shocking how good her DIY ones were compared to the Joes??

  2. I LOVE this Jill and I’ve never seen such a good distressed tutorial! PS – I have that City Supply top too and it’s so cute! 🙂 The only reason I would have guessed the right answer about the frayed designer jeans being more is because the bottoms were distressed too, otherwise I like the DIY pair so much better so I would have returned the designer pair too.
    I will definitely be bookmarking this post because I think when jeans get faded or old (especially black ones) making them distressed looks so chic!

    Hope you had a great weekend!
    Dale Janée (@Savvy_Spice) recently posted…Uncaged in ZurichMy Profile

    • Thanks girly!! I am so glad you liked it and found it useful. It’s funny about the fraying at the bottom – we were trying to figure out how to do it, and were like screw that we will make a mess! LOL! Great suggestion to use faded black jeans – they don’t work well as super dressy jeans when they get all washed out and would be perfect for distressing. Hope you had a wonderful Monday!

  3. Love this! Thanks so much for doing such a thorough tutorial. I thought the comparison was very clever. Denim has just skyrocketed in price and it’s cool to see that you can get the same look on your own.

    I recently learned about laser distressing too, which is something I didn’t even know existed!

    I am totally going to try this tutorial. I have a couple pairs of old jeans that either need to be thrown out or distressed and I think I’m finally going to get up the courage to try this. Great post!

    Jes recently posted…How to Distress Denim in Less Than 90 SecondsMy Profile

  4. This was the best by far.. so thorough, I found this DIY Distress Jean Kit on Amazon
    And didn’t have a direction until I found this blog.. And after reading this I had an idea for each tool, and created some nice pieces, aside from jeans I went onto shirts and even faux jean leggings, I didn’t know how to remove the blue fibers and how it was going to turn out till I saw your method.. you just made a reader for life..You go Girl!!

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