Ripped jeans are more than a swanky way to add built-in air conditioning to your pants — they’re a historical fashion choice. Ripped jeans were first popularized in the ‘70s when bands like the Sex Pistols (and notably their front-man, Johnny Rotten) began sporting torn vests and distressed denim as a counterculture movement.
Eventually, ripped jeans made their way to runways, and through the years, many famous artists, from Kurt Cobain to Iggy Pop, have brought the trend back… much to the chagrin of ripped-jean haters everywhere.
Fast forward to the end of 2022, and we’re happy to report that ripped jeans have made another comeback. Balenciaga and Givenchy included ripped jeans on their 2022 runways, while many male celebs, from Justin Bieber to Harry Styles, have sported holes in their denim.
Why You Should Rip Your Own Jeans
Given that, it’s no wonder you can grab a pair of ripped jeans at pretty much any store these days. However, why pay nearly $800 for a pair of holy jeans when you can rip and distress old jeans at home for free? Not only will taking scissors to denim save you cash but doing so is also a sustainable fashion choice that’s good for the environment. Why buy new when what’s old can be new again?
The other upside to ripping your own jeans is that the jeans you’re thinking about ripping probably already fit you well. We imagine a pair of comfy, soft, worn-in jeans that probably ripped at the knee or are on their last legs (pun intended). Sure, you could go the cut-off shorts route, but ripped jeans are much more practical on a year-round basis, no?
How Should Ripped Jeans Fit and Look?
Of course, there’s a difference between old jeans that ripped at the knees and stylish rips that make you look like the fashionable don you are. That’s why the best jeans to rip are typically straight-to-slim cuts that look tailored and put together and not like you were ignoring your mom and running with scissors again.
Meanwhile, how many rips, the size of those rips and how distressed of a look you should go for is a matter of style. We’re of the mindset that it’s best to start small and add on rather than getting maniacal with your scissor-wielding power.
Before adding holes to your jeans, you should also consider what the rest of your wardrobe looks like. If you tend to own a bunch of grunge-inspired tees or busy patterns, smaller rips are better. Fashion is all about balance, so if you’re going all-out with rips and tears, remember that you’ll probably want to offset that look with basic tees and simple sweaters.
How to Rip Jeans At Home
There are several steps to follow when it comes to DIY ripped jeans:
1. Select the pair of jeans you want to rip
These can be an old pair you’ve had forever that needs sprucing up, an inexpensive pair you found online, or jeans you sourced at your local thrift shop. Take note of the cut (boot, straight, skinny, etc.), fit and color.
2. Figure out your look
Before you go any further, determine what kind of look you’re going for. Browse online for popular styles that you like, print or save photos to your phone, and think about how you would style the jeans with shoes and a top to ensure it’s the look you’re going for. Sometimes it’s best to sleep on it before proceeding with an idea. Or, if you work best under pressure, feel free to proceed to Step 3.
3. Mark and cut
You’re at the most critical part of your fashion journey: figuring out where you want to rip those jeans. Use a pencil or washable marker to mark your envisioned cuts. It’s usually best to wear jeans while you’re doing this so you can see exactly how they will look on you. Then, step back to consider your work before going any further. Once you’ve established the exact placement of your rips, feel free to remove the jeans and cut them using sharp scissors, a razor or a sharp knife.
We recommend making the cuts slightly smaller than you’d like them to be, as fabric tears tend to grow over time.
4. Roughen up the edges
No one wants their jeans to look as though they’ve been hacked up by an amateur, which is why you’ll want to grab some sandpaper next. Place a piece of cardboard in the leg, so you don’t distress both sides, then rough up the edges with a soft-to-medium textured piece of sandpaper to give the rips purposeful texture and depth. If you don’t have sandpaper and want to add a frayed look, gently rub a flat cheese grater/rasp grater along the edge of the cut instead. Steel wool or a pumice stone can also work.
5. Add a distressed look
If you want to add extra distress marks to your jeans (or if you prefer those to full-out rips), sandpaper also does the trick. The coarser the paper, the more distressed the look you can achieve. No sandpaper? A wire brush can also work. Gently rub a spot on the leg of your jeans with either tool (again with cardboard between the legs) and eventually, small holes will appear.
6. Pull out loose threads
Next, grab a pair of tweezers and pull out any extra loose threads. The trick here is to be gentle and slow. Otherwise, you could snag the jeans and cause a pulled look in the final product.
7. Wash and wear
Before you wear your new fashionable pants out in public, it’s a good idea to give them a final wash. When washing ripped jeans, you always want to put the machine on the gentlest cycle possible and use cold water. Not only will that help preserve the dye in your jeans and keep them fresh, but it will also help prevent the rips from ripping further and looking like a mistake.
If you have a large load and are concerned about potential damage, you can put your ripped jeans inside a mesh laundry bag for that extra layer of protection. Then, tumble dry on low and you’re good to go. Put on those fancy new jeans and head out for the world at large to see, you fashion icon, you.