What Are Distressed Jeans?

S. McNesby

Distressed jeans are denim pants that have been intentionally damaged to look aged. Jeans can be distressed by abrading the fabric with friction, chemicals, or bleach, or by ripping and tearing portions of the fabric. There are several ways to get distressed jeans, including buying authentic old jeans, intentionally damaging a pair of new jeans, or buying a pair of new, old-looking jeans.

Distressed jeans have an aged look.
Distressed jeans have an aged look.

New jeans that look old are usually aged in several ways. The denim used for the jean is bleached to a faded blue to simulate age. In some cases, the entire pair of jeans is bleached to a pale color; in others, just parts of the legs and seats are faded to a lighter color to mimic the look of old jeans. The use of bleach or a chemical agent also weakens the cotton denim fabric used to make the jeans, providing a fragile, threadworn appearance. This effect can also be achieved through stone washing.

Household bleach can be used to make a pair of distressed jeans.
Household bleach can be used to make a pair of distressed jeans.

Commercially distressed jeans are also given a vintage look by the addition of holes and tears. Strategically placed holes of varying sizes add to the vintage look, as do long, thin tears at the knee and cuff. The edges of holes and tears are left raw so they will continue to fray and age over time, adding more authentic aging to the jeans. The bottom hem can be abraded with sandpaper or other rough material to produce a frayed edge and add to the worn look.

Versions of distressed jeans are available for men and women; some stores also stock distressed jeans for kids and babies. Most people will wear their usual pants size regardless of the amount of aging and damage done to the jeans. If jeans are shredded at the hem, a longer length may be required. These jeans can be worn with any type of footwear, from boots to sandals, and work well with any type of casual shirt.

Individuals who enjoy sewing, crafting, or DIY projects can make distressed jeans at home with a few simple supplies. A solution of bleach and water can be used to age the denim fabric by fading the color and weakening the fibers. Small, sharp scissors can be used to make holes in strategic areas. A seam ripper is useful for making crosswise tears in the denim at the knees and hem. Any jeans can be distressed to make them more fashionable; the process is particularly useful for jeans that have already been damaged in some way.

A seam ripper may be used to make holes in the knees of distressed jeans.
A seam ripper may be used to make holes in the knees of distressed jeans.

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