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Can you change the size of jeans? If so, how?

You probably don’t know how many different pairs of jeans you’ve owned in your life. But you do know which pairs fit and feel great and which ones are hanging in your closet because maybe they’ll fit one day. You know your go-to pair of jeans, your skinny jeans, your favorite jeans, the ones you wear when you want to feel a certain way. But what about all those other jeans that are too big, too small or just have something off about them somewhere? Can you change the size of your jeans? If so, how? Is it time to throw away all those pairs that just don’t fit…or can you get them to the size they need to be to become your next favorite pair of jeans?

Changing Your Jeans

If you’ve ever found yourself laying on the bed on your back holding your breath as you attempt to button up a pair of jeans that just don’t fit, then it probably seems a lot easier to change the size of your body than it is to change the size of your jeans.

Folded jeans on a table

But with a little work, you can change the size of your jeans to make them a bit bigger or a bit smaller as needed. Don’t expect to get great-fitting jeans if you have gone down or up several sizes. You’re going to need more than some simple tricks to get jeans to significantly change size. If you lose 50 pounds, just get yourself some new jeans. But if the fit is simply off a little here and there or even everywhere, there are some fairly simple methods you can try to get jeans that will fit your body much better.

Yes, you can change the size of your jeans but usually, only a relatively small amount in one direction or the other. But if all you need are small changes, it may be possible to alter the size of your jeans all over or specifically to problem areas that just aren’t fitting the right way. It’s time to get a little creative with denim.

Making Them Smaller

If you’re handy with a needle, or you’re at least willing to try to learn how to be, you can make alterations to make your jeans fit a little better. You will need a needle and thread in a gold or deep yellow shade, a seam ripper, pins, an iron, chalk, scissors to cut the thread and a surface to work on. It helps if you also have a sewing machine. Otherwise, even simple alterations could take you an hour or more. Denim is thick material and it takes a lot of small, precise stitching to make the flat-felled seams that are used in jeans.

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Make the Waist Smaller

To make alterations to the waistband, work on the back side of the jeans. Use the seam ripper to tear open the back seam. Go down about 5 to 6 inches, or all the way to the horizontal seam in the crotch area. Remove all of the thread from this opened seam. Iron out the seam and the entire backside area of the jeans as best you can.

Jeans close up

Use chalk and pins to mark out the fabric you’re going to cut off the jeans to resize the waistband to make it smaller. Add an extra inch of fabric, a half-inch on each side, to account for the new seam. Always follow the rule: measure twice and cut once. When you’re sure, cut the excess fabric.

Fold the raw seam right along the edge and press it down with the iron to make a crease. Bring the two halves of fabric together and pin them so they are straight. Now, sew your seams. Remember that they should be flat-felled, which means sewn to lay as flat as possible. Fold one half of the fabric over the other, overlapping slightly, to get the seam directly in the middle after it’s been sewn. Flat felled seams have a double row of stitches.

Use thick, heavy thread for this and again, it will go much easier if you use a sewing machine. However, this can all be done by hand if that’s the only option. A shade of gold or deep yellow is often used to make the seams on jeans. Use a similar color to make your alterations blend right in.

Make Them Shorter

If the big problem with your jeans is that they’re just too long, it’s a pretty simple fix. Essentially, all you have to do is cut off the excess fabric on each leg, fold the denim and stitch a new hem. You want to work carefully to get each hem perfectly even all the way around and you want them to be even with each other, of course. But even for novice sewers, this is a pretty easy alteration to make. This can be done with hand-sewing but it will go more quickly if you use a sewing machine.

Make Them Longer

You can make jeans longer but only if you get a little creative. Measure the cuffs of the jeans all the way around and cut a piece of fabric to this length. Sew this to the hem of the jeans and sew it closed to make an extended cuff. You can play around with fabric and add bright color and texture. The cuff will stand out from the rest of the jeans, so don’t try to get it blend in. Play with contrast and color to make some unique custom jeans.

Jeans close up on hip

Making jeans longer is, obviously, quite a bit trickier than shortening jeans. It is always an option to turn jeans into cutoff shorts or cutoff capris instead.

Shrink Them

If your jeans feel too big all over, you can attempt to shrink them down using a fairly simple method. However, this might not work at all or it might work only partially. Some parts of the jeans may shrink and others, not. The results are varied, in other words.

But if you’re brave enough to give a try, start boiling some water. A lot of water. You need a pot big enough to hold the jeans and enough water to cover them entirely. Also, choose one that can do all of this with a little room to spare so that it doesn’t boil over on you. You will also want a long-handled wooden spoon you can use to poke at the jeans and make sure they are inside the water and fully covered by it.

Jeans sitting down close up on legs

Let the pot get to a rolling boil, then place the jeans inside. Turn the heat down to a simmer and allow the jeans to soak for 20 minutes. Remove it from the heat and allow the water to cool before you drain it. You can now hang your jeans to dry if they have shrunk enough or you can attempt to shrink them a little more by placing them in the dryer on high heat. Let them dry here.

Note that this method will only work if your jeans are made of cotton, in whole or in part. Cotton by nature shrinks in the presence of heat, which is wh clothing experts often advise you not to use hot water or high heat when washing your clothes.

Shrink a Single Area

Though you have a chance at failure, you can attempt to shrink jeans in one section only. For this, fill a large spray bottle with three parts hot water to one part liquid fabric softener. Mix well and then spray the formula directly on the part of your jeans you want to shrink. Next, dry the jeans in the dryer on a high heat setting. Alternately, you can use a hairdryer on the hottest setting and apply the heat right to the area you want to shrink.

The results here could be mixed. You may get too much shrinkage or not enough. You may not be able to alter jeans at all. But if you have jeans you already can’t wear due to an ill fit, it may be worth trying a shrink technique.

Making Them Bigger

What if you don’t need jeans to be smaller but a little bigger? Sometimes, you grow into your jeans and they don’t grow with you. If you’re wearing denim jeans that are made with cotton, you actually can make this fabric stretch and make your jeans a little bit bigger. You can add up to an inch to the waist, the hips, the thighs, basically anywhere. However, it is going to take some effort. Denim is notoriously tough stuff and that’s why people love jeans. You’ll have to be a little tougher than the denim.

Jeans sitting on stairs

Heat

Heat is applied to jeans to get them to shrink so this might seem counter-productive, but you can heat jeans up to get them to stretch as well. It’s just that you have to get a little…handsy. First, heat jeans up with a hairdryer. Use medium to high heat and hold the dryer about 6 inches from the material. Once the jeans are hot to the touch, use your hands to gently pull and tug them in the areas you want them to stretch. If the waist is too small, for instance, take hold of it on either side and pull with some vigor. Rotate your hands a half-turn and stretch again. Don’t forget to unbutton them first or you’ll pull the button right off. Unzip them fully as well. There’s no need to put a lot of pressure on the zipper when it’s the fabric you want to stretch.

Next, put the jeans on and do some squats and some lunges. This will help to loosen the fabric and stretch it out. Lift your knees, bend down, sit. Move around and stretch out that denim. Ths could be uncomfortable but the more you move, the more the denim should stretch.

Water

Spread jeans out in an area where it’s okay if you get things a little…damp. Lay out a plastic garbage bag, cutting it open if needed so it will cover a larger area. Place the jeans flat on the plastic. Thoroughly wet your jeans with a spray bottle full of plain water. The water should be lukewarm, just slightly warmer than room temperature. You can add about one teaspoon of liquid fabric softener to make the jeans more likely to stretch.

Once the jeans are good and wet where you want to stretch them, stand on them. Take the jeans in your hand where you aren’t standing and pull. You want to pull at the areas where you want the jeans to stretch. Take off your shoes before you do this. Bare feet will work best, as shoes can get dirt on the jeans.

The only issue with stretching jeans this way is that they are likely to get smaller when you wash them. The denim will want to get back to its original shape, so you may need to re-stretch them or wear them for a little while before they begin to get comfortable again.

Why Does This Work?

Many of these methods for changing the size of your jeans might seem more than a little bizarre. Just imagine how you’d explain yourself if someone walked into the room while you have your jeans on a plastic garbage bag with you standing on top of them and pulling at them with all your might. Whatever you try to say, you’re going to be getting a really weird look from that person.

But these methods, even the weirder ones, actually can and do work. They don’t always produce the exact results you want but these methods are effective. That’s because of the natural properties of denim and how it reacts to heat, pressure and water.

Making Denim

Denim, like so many other great inventions in the history of humankind, was an accident. No one was attempting to make denim. It happened when textile makers were attempting to re-create another type of fabric. It was a blue fabric that came from Genoa, Italy that consumers in France were just wild about. French textile makers were giving money to Italy to import the fabric and wondered if they could just save themselves some trouble and make their own version of the fabric. They wove some fabric fibers together in a diagonal weave technique, dyed it with indigo dye and were shocked to learn they had created a new blue material that was possibly even better than that Italian fabric.

Levi's Men's 501 Original Fit Jeans, Medium Stonewash (Waterless), 34W x 32L

Accident or not, those textile makers were on to something. They had created the first denim, a fabric that was destined to spread around the world. In the 1870s, denim was selected as the material to make a new type of work pants that were being designed by tailor Jacob Davis and retail store owner Levi Strauss. The men used the denim for the work pants design and added some extra features, such as those distinct copper rivets, and blue jeans were born. Denim has always been the fabric of choice for blue jeans and today, jeans are one of the most popular and most-worn pieces of modern fashion. Everyone, from royals to regular working people, has worn a pair of jeans at some point…and usually, dozens or hundreds.

What Makes Denim Special?

Two different factors make denim stand apart from other materials: the fabric used to make them and the technique used to make them. Modern denim is made with natural cotton fibers, though sometimes small amounts of other fabrics are added as well. Polyester may be added to keep jeans from shrinking and make them more wrinkle-resistant. Spandex might be added to give the jeans more stretch and flexibility. But cotton is the most common and largest component of denim fabric.

Wrangler Authentics Men's Comfort Flex Waist Relaxed Fit Jean, Carbon, 36W x 30L

Because cotton naturally shrinks when exposed to high heat, denim is also prone to shrinkage in the same conditions. This is why boiling and drying jeans can work to make them smaller. The more you wear your jeans, the more the fibers will loosen. Drying the jeans in high heat can help jeans return to a smaller shape because those fibers tighten back up.

Lee Women's Relaxed Fit Straight Leg Jean, Inspired Blue, 12

Denim is a woven material that is made in a specific way using two sets of cotton fibers. These two sets are woven together in a diagonal pattern. This method makes denim incredibly strong. This is why denim can be stretched and pulled without breaking or weakening significantly. Denim is resistant to tears and rips because it is strong enough to stretch. However, denim will rip if enough force is applied.

Changing Your Jeans

If you have jeans that just don’t fit the right way, it’s worth it to try to save them so they can be worn and enjoyed. However, you don’t want to get into the habit of buying jeans in the wrong size. Take the time to measure your waist and your inseam before you purchase new jeans, so you can get an accurate size. Save the jeans you can, buy new jeans in the right size and use these little sizing tricks as needed to keep everything fitting well. The first rule of clothing is to wear only what fits. So when your jeans don’t, they’re just taking up space in your closet.

Sources:

Byrdie – 6 Tips for Tailoring Your Jeans

Instructables – How to Resize Your Jeans

Lands’ End – Do Jeans Shrink in the Wash? A Guide to Changing Sizes & Fits

Silver Bobbin – How To Make Pants or Jeans Waist Smaller

WikiHow – How to Stretch Out Jeans