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Fad or Forever? Distressed Jeans for Every Budget

Rips, tears, paint splatters, patches, exaggerated fades, fringe, and beyond.

distressed jeans

Although jeans with holes, whether earned or edited on by an AI, are a surefire way to upset those older, at least in mindset, than you, they're a fashion statement nonetheless. But they probably weren't that way at first. Someone slipped and fell, and their knee forced its way through the fabric. Boom, distressed denim. Realizing it wasn't worth the trouble, neither financial nor physical, to fix or replace them, said person wore theirs, with its own newfound badge of honor, around town.

Others likely followed suit — especially when cooler folks were doing it. When musicians representing rock'n'roll or grunge gutted their jeans on stage or while skateboarding, the kids that looked up to them took scissors to theirs, transforming a slight tear into a complete blowout. Over time, distressing turned into a tool for designers seeking to separate their styles from others — even though rips and tears were once something jeans only inherited with actual wear.

Imitating blue collar or broken-in clothing's been high fashion for a while now, though. It's why Carhartt and Dickies clothes endure; it's why vintage clothes (and especially Levi's jeans) are so sought after. Nowadays it's easy to find jeans that look like they've spent long nights in the studio or years on the legs of someone perfecting kick flips (with plenty of falls) — and at nearly every price.

But, here's a bit of priceless advice you should heed pre-purchase: don't overdo it on the holes; don't buy a pair with impossible embellishments; never let more than two square inches of skin show through. Shop a few options that abide by these guidelines below.

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Best Overall Distressed Jeans
Slim Fit Selvedge Jean
Todd Snyder

Todd Snyder's distressed jeans have tiny rips and tears that look like they came from brushing up against a work bench or putting tools in your pockets over and over again. They follow our few golden rules and then some. Think of these as a head start: you get a few tears but will earn plenty more with wear.

Best Upgrade Distressed Jeans
Distressed Selvedge Denim Jeans

Well, well, well. Jeans without holes! A-ha! Japanese brand Chimala makes some of the finest denim in the world, and it happens that this pair comes with its own pre-made marks: tiny paint spots up and down the legs and a subtle repair on the right thigh. 

Best Affordable Distressed Jeans
Varick Slim Straight Distressed Jean
Ralph Lauren

This is an option for those who feel you shouldn't overpay for already-broken-in jeans. Ralph Lauren's come with repaired tears at the knee and in the front pocket.

So High Slim Fit Jeans

Levi's new retro-tinged So High jeans have the highest rise in their current collection. Not so much high-waisted as they hiked up, they flatter folks with short and long legs alike. And these come with a singular, realistic rip.

The Asher
Joe's Jeans

Here's another solid option with a trio of believable blemishes. The Asher is an otherwise ultra-durable jean from the folks at Joe's.

Denim Pant Vintage Blue Rips

Invest in a pair of jeans that look vintage but don't force you to inherit the habits of the previous wearer: no weird stains in the crotch or butt, cigarette burns, or oil spills. These are a fresh start with tatters to boot.

The Kane 2
John Elliott

John Elliott's The Kane 2 might be the most exaggerated example of distressed jeans on this list. Feeling like walking around in bottoms that look plucked from the bottom of a thrift bin? Be my guest.

Distressed Knee Blue Jeans
Val Kristopher

Designer Val Kristopher treats clothing, and specifically denim like a jigsaw puzzle — but his pieces are anything but perfect. He prefers distressing and design elements that look etched together. Hence why these have a rip where they've already been repaired.  

Chitch Jean

Ok, I know. I've recommend a pair of jeans that break my three golden rules. Not only are there way too many holes, but these, frankly, don't look all that realistic. But let's imagine they are, and you've earned every single one of them in some way or another. If nothing else, these make for the ideal summer jean: the breeze will blow right through them.

2003 Loose Jean
Acne Studios

And the award for fewest rips goes to...Acne Studios. At this point, one might wonder they'd add them at all? Like, why bother putting two scrapes above the thigh instead of selling them standard? Well, it isn't always about the thing as a whole but rather the finer details.

Sculpture 03 Damaged-25 Jean

As the name implies, Visvim's Sculpture 03 Damaged-25 Jean will run you as much as a sculpture would. Think of these Japanese jeans as art — and, well, invest in 'em.

Lean Dean
Nudie Jeans

Nudie pays careful attention to every detail on these Lean Dean jeans. They look broken-in, but not excessively so, and then repaired — and perhaps the same steps repeated over again. 

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