Ripped denim isn’t exactly a new trend—supermodels have been rocking rips in their loose-fitting jeans since the early eighties. But it is a look that’s going nowhere, and with warmer weather on the horizon, the amount of shredded denim you see on street stylers and A-listers is only set to rise. While shopping for pre-ripped jeans is, of course, a strong option—especially with so many incredible denim brands currently upping their jeans game—it does mean you have slightly less control over the look and placement of your rips. The same goes for distressed details.
Also, if you’ve finally found your denim soulmate and plan to buy multiple pairs to see you through the foreseeable future, it can be bummer when they don’t come in the ripped styles you also want to add to your jean-drobe. The answer is to get your DIY on. But while slashing the knee on a pair of jeans may sound easy, there’s actually a knack to making it look good. Luckily for you, we’ve tapped denim guru Donna Ida Thornton—who also offers an in-store alteration service, by the way, if you’d rather leave it the experts—for the ultimate guide to ripping your jeans like a fashion pro.
Keep scrolling for everything you need to know about how to rip jeans, plus how to DIY the latest denim trends.
1. Before You Start, Do The Prep Work
Before you pick up the scissors and start slashing, Donna stresses that some prep work is essential. Along with considering the best placement for rips that’ll flatter your body type, she also advises you run through the checklist below:
i) Practice, practice, practice
If it is your first time customising jeans, practice on an old pair, just in case the end result isn’t quite what you hoped for. It’s a good idea to start off with something simple, like a knee slit or a frayed hem, and build your confidence slowly.
ii) Get the right kit
When ripping or distressing your jeans, make sure that you have the right equipment—you’ll need a good pair of scissors or craft knife, a pair of tweezers, as well as some sandpaper to get the best finish. Also, when using your sandpaper or scissors, remember to always put something between the front and back of the jeans you’re distressing—you don’t want to cut right through to the other side!
iii) Find the right denim
It’s best to rip jeans that are not too stretchy or have elastane in them, as the fibres tend to be more delicate and can fall apart, leaving you with a big hole. Ideally, look for a pair of blue jeans that are a good mixture of blue and white on the inside—if they’re mainly white, then your rips may look stringy rather than frayed.
2. How To Rip Your Jeans
3. Now you’ve done the prep, you’re ready to get shredding. See Donna’s step-by-step guide below for the perfect DIY.
Step 1: For ripped knees, first put on your chosen jeans and mark with a pen or pencil where the fold of your knee is. Then remove the jeans and lay them on a flat surface.
Step 2: Cut a horizontal slit along the mark of the knee—remember to pop a piece of card inside the leg to protect the back. If you want more slices or prefer the extreme slashed denim look, add another slit about an inch above or below the first one, and carry on as you wish.
Step 3: Using tweezers, pull individual horizontal threads from the sides of the slit, and then carefully pull the vertical threads in between the slit to give it a distressed feel.
Step 4: To add the finishing touch, use your sandpaper (or a cheese grater can work), fraying and fluffing the edges—or any other areas of the jean—for your desired torn effect. Finally, wash and tumble dry your jeans to really nail that worn-in look.
Step 5: Add as many slits as you like to your jeans to create your perfect custom ripped jean. Remember that rips will work best where your jeans would naturally wear and tear—think knees, back pockets and hems.
4. DIY Denim Trends to Try
Feeling confident? If you’re ready to move on to bigger projects, try these tips from Donna on nailing six of the biggest distressed jean looks right now.
Pockets: Try adding areas of distressing around front pocket details using sandpaper. This looks great on everyone, and it’s a subtle but effective way to ease yourself into DIY customising.
The knee rip: A basic knee-rip, which is just a simple slice across the knee with some fraying, is so easy to do yourself. You can do both knees or just one if you prefer—it’s nice for ripping and distressing to not be too symmetrical.
Patching: If you’d prefer not to flash too much flesh through your rips, a denim patch added behind the tear can add texture and create that distressed look without leaving you feeling too exposed.
Slash it: If you’re feeling bold and want more of a statement, add multiple rips on the knees and thighs. Make sure the rips are not too big or close to the seams, as you don’t want them to affect the overall fit of your jeans.
The ladder rip: A ladder rip is when you have a long patch that is cut out with strands of the fibres running across. To create a ladder, cut a slit at the top and one at the bottom of where you want the ladder rip. Then work from the top and bottom, separating the strands until you reach the middle.
Frayed hems: Frayed or unfinished hems are a hot look right now, but they can also be a style saviour for shorter girls who want a quick fix for length issues. When you’ve cut your jeans to the desired length, use a needle or tweezers to pull the fibres for a few pieces to hang down or use sandpaper to distress the edge for a softer effect.