It wasn’t long ago that men fetishised inky, artisan Japanese denim, spun on old shuttle looms in a fabric so heavy it could stand up unassisted.
Now, the street style elite wear jeans with built-in air conditioning, their knees shredded and that indigo bleached almost white. Ideally, the former would have become the latter. Distressing is age. Time makes dye fade, cottons rupture. But that takes two years of daily wear, by which point the trend will have moved on.
Rather than fork out for someone else to destroy your jeans, use these techniques to give time a helping hand.
Step 1: Pick The Right Pair
The result you get depends on your raw materials. If you’re after a quick dip in the ripped jeans water, go for cheap, pre-washed high street jeans.
If you fancy a pair you can get more than a season’s wear out of, start with raw denim – Uniqlo’s selvedge (£39.90, uniqlo.com), created with Japanese fabric dons Kaihara, has a price tag that permits shredding. Raw denim will keep fading as you wear it, so you get patterns bespoke to you – rather than a brand’s wash pattern that anyone can buy.
Step 2: Plan Your Patterns
The best distressing echoes real-life wear. Your jeans take their biggest battering above the knee, so be wary of adding nicks too low, lest you end up looking like Axl Rose.
Slip your denim on then take a chalk and mark where you want slits: between the knee and a couple of inches below where your pocket fabric sits. You don’t want to flash people.
Remember that less is often more, especially if you’re working with new denim – it’s odd if the fabric looks fresh but there’s more hole than cloth.
Step 3: Sand In Some Years
Denim is crafted from white cotton that’s coloured with indigo. But the dye only coats the fabric, instead of penetrating. That means that friction, or folds and creases, rubs the dye away, to give worn-in denim its characteristic fades.
You can speed the process up with sandpaper: slip them on, then rub away at the front thighs, both sides of the knee, and the back pocket. Slip a deck of cards in your back and front pockets to get wallet and phone outlines.
Be more gentle at the seams – if you distress too much, the stitching can blow out.
Step 4: Make Some Holes
If you cut through the rear fabric, or the seams, your jeans are done, so start by sliding a chopping board or piece cardboard up the leg. Take a Stanley knife and slice through the fabric – start small, you can always build up. Repeat a half-inch above.
You’ll see white horizontal threads (the weft) and blue vertical threads (the warp) – take a pair of tweezers and tease out the blue threads only, so you’re left with white threads running across the hole.
Repeat with more cuts if you want to show more skin then finish the edges with sandpaper to make them look lived in.
Step 5: Wash Them
Sure, washing your jeans is a no-no for denim heads. But then, so is slashing holes in their legs. A tumble in the machine will age the newly exposed cotton, which makes your rips look more authentic.
Dry them in the sun to add a touch of bleaching. On which note, you can add drops of actual bleach for that 1980s acid wash vibe. But you definitely should not.