Wearing ripped jeans is a fine art, really. Done right, they look fashioned forward and cool—but one wrong tear and you’re on your way to looking like Donnie Wahlberg during the New Kids on the Block Hangin’ Tough Tour of ’89. So, knowing the exact right way how to cut holes in jeans is obviously clutch.
It’s clear ripped jeans aren’t a new trend—not even close. The distressed style has fallen in and out of fashion favor since the 1980s, but it seems that lately, they’re more popular than ever. Between street style stars pairing ripped up styles with It-bags to celebs like Gigi Hadid, Kim Kardashian, Rihanna, Kendall Jenner, and Selena Gomez wearing torn denim non-stop, holes are pretty much everywhere. That’s why, rather than ponying up $200 for a designer pair, we suggest a little DIY action.
The problem with buying already-distressed denim is that you don’t have much control over the rips themselves. That might sound a little bit like a Champagne problem, but we all have our preferences when it comes to placement, size, and scope of the tears. Do we like two gaping holes at the knees, a few tiny nicks, or a series of serious slashes down the leg?
Plus, shelling out cash for jeans that look as if they’re one step away from the giveaway pile can be a hard pill to swallow. That said, we’ve highlighted 5 simple steps that outline how to rip jeans yourself.
1. Choose your denim
The first step, obviously, is picking out which pair of jeans you want to rip. Tight and skinny, or boyfriend style? Black, white, or blue? High-waisted or mid-rise? We find it’s best to do a few trial runs with either a pair of jeans you don’t really wear anymore, or denim you’ve picked up for cheap at spots like Goodwill or the Salvation Army. You definitely don’t want to take to your new pair of $200 J Brands with a scissor just yet.
If you want your jeans to look extra-worn, wash them a few times in hot water and a little bleach before you get started. If not, read on!
2. Gather your supplies to distress and rip
To really make jeans look authentically ripped, it pays to distress them a bit before you start cutting the holes. To do this, you’ll want to grab some sandpaper or a paint-removing block, steel wool, and a pumice stone. For the holes, use a pair of super-sharp small scissors, an X-Acto knife, or a box cutter. We like to use a piece of cardboard or a small wooden block inside the pant legs so you don’t alter the back of the jeans—unless you want to.
3. Put your jeans on to mark
Use a pen, chalk or a safety-pin to denote exactly where you want your rips and/or distressed areas. You might want to grab a ruler, too. It’s key do this while you’re standing.
4. Start distressing
Lay the jeans flat and start rubbing your marked areas with your sandpaper, steel wool, and the pumice stone until the denim starts to really thin out and look worn. Obviously, the time it takes to do this step depends on the thickness of your jeans. If you really want to go for it in the knee or butt area, tape some sandpaper to the floor, put the jeans back on, and slide around on the paper.
5. Start making your holes
After your jeans are sufficiently distressed, take your scissors or knife and use the edge (not the tip) to start horizontally scraping the area where you want your rips to be. If you don’t want holes all the way through, scrape enough that you start to see the white horizontal threads beneath the denim’s surface. Once you’re there, you can start using a tweezer to fray the threads. If skin is what you’re after, start cutting the distressed areas with your knife or scissors.
Survey your work and start over if you want more rips!
Originally published May 2016. Updated June 2017.