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How to Distress the Bottoms of Jeans

by Melissa J. Bell, studioD

Deconstruction is the name of the denim game -- but time alone isn't what elevates this tattered trend from worn-out to well-worn. This is no dingy denim -- today's shabby-chic jeans come fresh from the rack, the distressed design simply an extra step in the manufacturing process. Get the worn-in look without the wear by distressing the bottoms of your too-pristine jeans to take them to the next style level.

Launder your new jeans normally to prewash the denim. Prewashing will shrink the fibers, particularly lengthwise. Avoid laundering if you prefer the unwashed raw denim look.

Have the hems altered to the desired length, if necessary.

Examine the hems of the jeans and determine the wear pattern you want. Mark the wear spots, including holes, fuzzy spots and fringe spots, on the folded edge of each hem with a pencil. Concentrate on spots on the back, where natural wear is heaviest.

Slide a wood block inside the hem of each leg to create a hard surface.

Run a sanding block or piece of medium-grit sandpaper along the hem folds to weaken the denim at the marked spots. Rub the hem surface with horizontal strokes and then vertical strokes to damage the weave.

Dip a toothbrush into diluted bleach or squeeze the liquid from a bleach pen onto it. Rub the toothbrush along the hems to make the distressed spots stand out. Launder the jeans immediately after bleaching to remove the bleach residue and prevent it from further distressing the hems.

Examine the hem edges and select fringe areas or holes to accentuate. Coax broken threads into loosening around the edges of holes by nudging them away from the weave with a sewing needle. Loosen groups of threads to make a fringe.

Items you will need
  •  Pencil
  •  Wood block
  •  Sand block or sandpaper
  •  Bleach or bleach pen
  •  Toothbrush
  •  Sewing needle


  • For heavier sanding, use a high-speed multipurpose tool with a steel brush attachment. Scrape the attachment along the hem edges.


  • Work slowly and take a step back every now and then to survey your work. You can always add more distressing, but you cannot take it away once it's done.


About the Author

A writer with a Bachelor of Science in English and secondary education, but also an interest in all things beautiful, Melissa J. Bell has handed out beauty and fashion advice since she could talk -- and for the last six years, write for online publications like Daily Glow and SheBudgets.

Photo Credits

  • Thinkstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images