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Yes, You Can Distress Your Own Jeans. Here's How

Pre-distressed jeans are never as cool as ones with earned fades and fraying, but you can rough up your raw denim with a few simple tools.

jeans
Evan Malachosky

"Why do you want to distress a perfectly good pair of jeans?" a sensible person might ask. Although you're no longer an early teen eager to express yourself, there's no better way to showcase who you are, at least sartorially, than through a pair of blue jeans. They are a portal into your personal life and line of work — plus, how you handle yourself in the kitchen or during a DIY project.

They earn rips and tears from constant friction on table edges or hardwood floors; paint from your next masterpiece accumulates at your hip, where you wipe your brush; the hems, which went a little long at first, fray from rubbing the floor when you wear low shoes; and so on and so forth. When you really wear your jeans, the imperfections and the fade are badges of honor.

But there are shortcuts. Brands like Levi's and Wrangler use lightning fast machines, which can laser etch a pattern of holes or fray pockets in seconds. For folks who want to do something similar with their deadstock jeans, there are a number of tools you can order online to distress yours.

What to Know First

Generally, you should avoid carving giant holes into your jeans. Holes are the least natural addition, especially because they're hard to earn IRL. Below, you'll find the tools necessary for customizing your jeans.

Fraying

jeans
Evan Malachosky

Fraying happens when an area gets rubbed over and over again. The constant friction peels the top layer, revealing loose threads underneath. You can fast-track your frays with a rotary tool and a round sandpaper attachment. Focus on a specific area and lightly brush back and forth. If it's a pocket edge, like above, follow its curve. Tip: you should probably wear a mask while doing it. Fine jean dust gets everywhere.

WEN Variable Speed Rotary Tool Kit
amazon.com
$16.85

Rips

jeans
Evan Malachosky

First, cut your jeans. Instead of cuffing them, find where you want them to hit and cut both legs to an even length. Then, take your rotary tool and fray the edge so it looks a little more natural. Next, toss them in the dryer. The constant toss will help loosen the threads.

Paint Splatters

jeans
Evan Malachosky

Instead of using acrylic or even exteriors paint, try nail polish. Rather than sitting atop the fabric, it soaks in, which makes it look less fresh. I used tones that blended in: baby blue, black and white. Pastels work, too.

Eternal Nail Polish Set
amazon.com
$21.99
$19.79 (10% off)

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