How to rip jeans (without ruining them)

An ingenious way to salvage old favourites

How to rip your jeans
(Image credit: Rex)

An ingenious way to salvage old favourites

From celebrities such as Olivia Palermo and Heidi Klum pairing frayed jeans with the best designer handbags, to the street style stars renowned for their designer-heavy personal style turning distressed denim into an off-duty uniform, ripped jeans are having a resurgence - but the question is: how to rip jeans successfully without actually ruining them?

Hitting the shops in search of the perfect pair is always that easy and the problem with buying pre-distressed denim is that you don’t have a say in where the rips are and can accidentally end up with knee bulge (it’s a thing). We all have our preferences when it comes to placement, size, and scope of the tears, and where some people love big, airy gaping tears others prefer neat little rips on the thigh, or subtle scuffing around the pockets so surely the best solution is to find out how to rip jeans yourself and get it done as you want it?

The style of jeans you wear will also dictate how the distressing should unfold. When it comes to boyfriend jeans, the fully all-over distressed look looks best (à la Diane Kruger). Whereas with skinny jeans, small rips over the knees, or a little distressing elsewhere is best (see Heidi Klum for inspiration).

So, the best solution is to DIY-it.

But how to rip jeans like a pro?

(Image credit: Rex Features (Shutterstock))

Take trial runs

The golden rule of learning how to rip jeans? Well, before you grab your favourite MiH jeans and attack them with a nail scissors, hold fire: You’ll need to test it out on an old, less loved pair of jeans before the real work begins. You can even hit up your local charity shop for some old denim to practise on. Believe us, this step is essential.

(Image credit: Rex Features (Shutterstock))

Wash them out

For an authentically ‘aged’ appearance, and to rough up the fibres before your get started, give your jeans a couple of washes. If you add a little bleach to the wash this can help to break down the colour (just make sure you don’t throw anything else into the machine with them!).

(Image credit: Rex Features (Shutterstock))

Slip them on and mark them up

Put on your jeans, then grab a pen, chalk, safety pins or dress pins to mark up exactly where you want your rips and distressing to be. The density of the denim and it’s proximity to your skin will denote the best marker to use, we find chalk the most accident-proof. Next, lay them flat on the floor and if you’ve used chalk or a pen, go over the lines to make them easier to see.

(Image credit: Rex Features (Shutterstock))

Gather the necessary distressing tools

To ensure your jeans look as authentically ripped as possible, a cheese grater, steel wool, sandpaper and a pumice stone or foot file work best. To create holes, use a pair of small but sharp nail scissors; precision is key here. Wedge a piece of cardboard or a small wooden block inside the legs to protect the back of the jeans - this look is meant to be uncontrived so any symmetry will look obvious. We’re aiming for nonchalance.

(Image credit: Rex Features (Shutterstock))

The final details

Now for the slightly tricky part. Take your scissors (a penknife is also ideal as they are very precise) and use the edge (not the tip) to scrape down the length of the jeans horizontally in the areas that you want the rips to form. Stop when you start to see the white threads. Grab your tweezers and sporadically fray threads. If you want holes, cut the threads with your scissors or penknife. And finally, grab your grater, pumice stone or sandpaper again to rough up some other areas where you’d expect to see would be natural wear and tear; such as the ankles, a pocket or down the side.

Gillian Brett