DIY Ripped Jeans: I Just Learned How and Now I Want to Shiv Everyone’s Pants

Not everyone can trust their mother to buy them clothing they’d actually wear, but I’m really lucky. Even with 1,200 miles and 28 years separating us, my mom has fantastic instincts about what I’d want to wear, and she regularly sends me care packages filled with great finds from outlets, off-price department stores, and thrift shops.

I chalk up her ability to be an awesome personal shopper (voluntarily, to boot) to not only our close relationship, but her history as a Pratt Institute fashion grad and a former designer for a couple brands who focused on juniors. Granted, I haven’t been a “junior” in a long time, but I think it helped her keep an eye on trends that might appeal to someone younger than herself.

One of her most uncanny talents is finding jeans I’ll love—and that fit me—without my needing to try them on. It’s like she has a special denim radar system. In fact, last year, she sent me a super-comfy pair of Calvin Klein boyfriend jeans she’d found at TJMaxx or something; a few months later, she found the same style elsewhere and, having forgotten she’d sent the exact same jeans already, mailed me the second pair. She just knew upon looking at them that they’d work for me—both times.

“Oh, how funny,” I said when I opened the later of the two packages while on the phone with her. “You’ve already sent me these Calvin Klein jeans. I wear them all the time.”

“Oops! Well, it’s always nice to have two of something you love wearing,” my mom said. “But maybe we can rip one of them up.”

“Like, make jorts?”

“No, no,” she said, “like, distress and tear up one of the knees or something.”

Good ol’ Mom! Always thinking of things that would never occur to me.

I only recently bought my first pair of pre-ripped jeans, because a) I wasn’t previously sure I could pull them off, and b) I kind of didn’t get it. Historically speaking, ripped jeans went from a frowned-upon reflection of poverty in the early 20th century—the holes were a result of long-time wear, and people simply couldn’t afford to replace the damaged jeans with new ones—to a statement about humility and freedom in the late ’60s and early ’70s to a form of rebellion when punk and rock crowds started deliberately shredding their denim.

And now? Now it’s just a cool thing people will pay a lot of money for. I admit, I like the look, and since I didn’t inherit any of my mother’s fabric-manipulating skills, that’s what I was prepared to do now that I’d jumped on the bandwagon.

But then she said she’d show me the easiest way to do “cool” rips in jeans next time we saw each other, and that’s exactly what she did.

Here’s what you’ll need, in addition to the jeans of your choice:

Step 1: Decide and mark where you want the rips.

My mom had me try on the jeans and roll up the cuffs like I would probably wear them to get a good idea of where on my legs I wanted the rips the fall.

“To make it look like normal wear and tear, the knees, pockets, hems and tush area are a good places to think about,” she said.

Of course she said tush area.

When we decided where on the knee we wanted to create the tears, she marked with chalk the lines we’d use as slicing guides. We did four parallel, horizontal lines—nothing too wide, as they would tear further out with time.

After I took off the jeans, Mom laid them flat on the floor and emphasized the lines to make them easier to see.

Step 2: Make your cuts.

Insert a takeout menu or piece of card stock or cardboard or a pile of old love letters from an ex you hate into the leg under where you plan on cutting. This will prevent you from slicing the back of the leg as well, unless that’s what you’re going for. (It’s probably not what you’re going for.)

Start slicing along the lines you’ve drawn until you make slits in the denim. Even with a really sharp razor, it won’t be easy and will require pulling along each line several times, but that’s OK because the resistance helps create those little strings that make the look “cool” or something.

Step 3: Do some distressing.

To create the look of more wear and less of a precise cut, we used the sanding blocking over the lines before manually pulling apart the slits.

We also used the sanding block to rough up a couple other areas where there would be natural wear, like a pocket and the front thigh of the other leg.

Step 4: Completely forget that you started this project for about a year. (OPTIONAL)

All of the photos above were taken last September when my parents and I met up in DC for my niece’s bat mitzvah. As much as I’d like to tell you that “aging” the denim is part of the process, it’s not. I just forgot.

Step 5: Before wearing, wash and dry the jeans a time or two. Or nine.

I finally remembered to throw the jeans in with some laundry. The washing and drying process helps to further rough up the fibers and make the tearing look more like authentic wear. (It doesn’t really matter what temperature you do this on, but I dried the jeans on high heat because I’ve lost 15 pounds since last fall and was also trying to shrink them a bit.)

As you can see, the tears are starting to show a nice frayed quality, but the rips are still pretty uniform—a bit more so than I’d like. The more they’re worn and washed, though, the more natural the rips will look, so I’m planning to throw these jeans on pretty often to help expedite the process. I may also go back with the sanding block a few times.

If you have tips to add for ripping jeans in a stylish way, let me know in the comments so I can tell my mom to update her technique. And if you’re a first-timer using the steps above, tell me that, too, so Mom can feel super-proud.

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