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How to Distress Jean Shorts

Learn how to distress your own jean shorts by turning an old pair of jeans into a pair of seemingly vintage classic punk fashion clothing. You'll need scissors, a cheese grater, seam ripper, chlorine bleach, cardboard, a razor blade, tweezers and a few hours to devote to your creative project.

This is a close look at a stack of distressed and ripped jean shorts.

The ripped jeans look stems from the 1980s. Strolling through a mall in 2021, you will see many fashions worn in the 80s and 1990s. Fashion, like all other forms of art, is cyclical. Rather than dig out your parents’ distressed jeans from their attic or basement, you can make your own distressed jeans shorts.

What are distressed jeans and jean shorts?

Designers love complex terms for simple style. Distressed denim refers to denim jean items damaged intentionally to make them seem old or vintage. In the 80s, people just ripped them to show angst and rebel. Ripped jeans grew out of the 1970s punk rock movement and first became a street fashion trend in the UK.

Designers picked up on the music trend and parlayed it into a new look, manufacturing pants that carried the same rips across hundreds of thousands of pairs. While the punk bands and fans had razored their own jeans, designers had machines churn out whole lines.

Designers returned to this look in the 2020s, but the populace has swung back to the do-it-yourself trend of the 70s. You can distress your own jeans using at-home methods and achieve the same look that you would pay hundreds of dollars for in the stores.

How do you distress jean shorts?

This is a close look at a woman wearing a pair of distressed jean shorts.

You can use the same methods on blue jeans, jean shorts, and jean jackets. The following items create fabric distress:

  • Fabric friction abrasions,
  • Chemicals,
  • Bleach,
  • Ripping fabric,
  • Tearing fabric.

If you need to vent or get creative, you can grab a new pair of denim shorts and distress them using any or all of these methods. If you recently spilled bleach on a pair of jeans, fear not. You can just add a few slices and frays to obtain the latest fashion.

If you happen to be under the age of 18, please, ask your parent first before you do this. Kids should definitely have supervision before using the razor blade or cheese grater methods.

What You Will Need

  • Denim jeans
  • Seam ripper tool
  • Sewing scissors
  • Razorblade
  • Chlorine bleach
  • Sandpaper
  • Cheese grater
  • Tweezers
  • Cardboard

The Process Begins

Grab a pair of your old jeans to turn them into shorts. Measure how long you want them to reach from your waist to where you want them to hit. For Bermuda shorts, you cut them off just above the knee.

For short shorts, you cut them off one to two inches below the bottom line of your buttocks. Chino shorts you can cut to about mid-thigh. You can turn a pair of denim jeans into pedal pushers or culottes by cutting off about six to seven inches of fabric.

The Hem Style

You must make your first decision at this point. Do you want your frayed edge cut to show, or do you want to roll the jeans up to create a hem? You can fold them under and hem them to create a Bermuda short look, or you can create a one-inch fold on the outside then fold it a second time, so none of the frays show. Otherwise, you will have shorts with the cutoff look.

Once you have your hemline created, you move on to aging your denim. You can use any or all of these methods to achieve a ripped, aged look for your denim jean shorts. Slide a piece of cardboard between the sides of your pant legs, so you only cut through one side.

It’ll look fake if you have slashes in the same place on both sides, plus you will probably want to do different things to the front of the denim shorts than to the back of them.

This is a close look at a woman wearing a pair of distressed and ripped jean shorts.

Chlorine Bleach

You might have really dark jean shorts, but you want a light blue pair. Toss them in the washing machine and use the smallest water level available, probably a small load. Measure one-quarter of a cup to half a cup of bleach and add it to the wash.

You will only wash the shorts you want to change color. Use a cold water wash and a ten or 15-minute wash. Bleach can disintegrate fabric, so you do not want to overdo it but, just bleach the dark blue denim uniformly to a pale blue.

This can make them appear to be old jeans when they aren’t.

Seam Ripper

Use a seam ripper to make strategic holes at one or both knees. Scissors provide straight cuts but use the seam ripper to achieve a jagged rip that appears to have occurred when you slipped and fell. You can pull on a thread to fray the edges of the hole or let time do it. Fray adds authenticity to the hole.


If you chose to hem the shorts, you can use sandpaper to abrade the hem. This produces a frayed edge that makes it appear worn and old. You can use this same method on the waistband and the pocket edges. You’ll fake the look of having sat on many cement walls or tombstones.

Razor Blade

Use the razor blade to add slashes to the shorts. You do not need many. If you do this to a jacket or jeans, you will have more room to add these slashes.

Most people use horizontal slashes, but you can do vertical for a fun look. Using a pair of tweezers, separate the white and blue threads in the rip. Hold the blue thread with the tweezers and pull it away from the cut to remove it.

Only remove the blue threads to create a white patch of thread.

Cheese Grater

Now, we come to the cheese grater. If you’re under 18, your mom probably wondered why you wanted it… especially in the garage. Pick a spot on the jeans where you want to create a worn patch.

You can distress your denim with the smaller holed side of the cheese grater. If you use new jeans, you will need to rub kind of hard, but if you chose a pair of jeans from the closet you have had for a while, you can rub lightly to create the wear marks.

This is a close look at a pair of distressed jean shorts.

The Scissors

You use the scissors twice. Cut the side of one of the back pockets. Some people like to use a seam ripper to take out the stitches on the pocket and simply remove it.

Some people let it hang off. This seems messy, and it is not very comfortable to sit on either. You can cut one side with the scissors, then trim off all but about one or two inches of fabric so that one side remains seamed to the shorts.

It looks like you caught it on something, and it ripped off.

Wash the Jean Shorts Normally

Before you get too excited and change into your masterpiece, you need to wash your jeans. This will wash the excess bleach off, and it will “finish” your rips and tears for you. The fraying will take on a more natural look when washed. Dry it on low heat.

The Fashion Plate

Your masterpiece is ready to wear. You have created your own haute couture out of an old pair of Levi or Lee jeans. Just as Iggy Pop and Sid Vicious once did, you have created an original piece of art clothing.


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