ICYDK, fashion trends are fluid. What’s ‘in’ today could be ‘out’ tomorrow, which makes investing in fair-weather fads somewhat of a gamble. Case in point? Frayed denim. That’s right: torn bottoms are back, baby…but for how long? If history repeats itself (as it’s known to do), the timeframe could be fleeting. So rather than go out and buy a designer pair, maybe learning how to fray jeans or shorts you already own is your best move.
The heavy metal scene of the 1980s made the first argument in favor of ripped hems. They were pretty rock ‘n roll until the alternative era swept in and claimed them for its own. In the ’90s, frayed jeans, complete with dramatic tears at the knee, were certified grunge staples, but style began fading out at the start of a new millennium, save for the occasional popstar dusting off a distressed pair as a statement (cue Christina Aguilera’s Dirrty).
The trend did try to make a comeback at some point in mid-2010s, when cutoff shorts and kick-flares were all the rage, but there were too many great denim styles to choose from – boyfriend, mom, bell bottoms, etc. – that frayed jeans never got the chance to truly shine.
Flash forward to a new kind of roaring ’20s, and chaotic bottoms have returned – including frayed jeans. And, if you happen to have an old pair of denim at the bottom of your dresses, or stuffed in the corner of your closet, begging for a makeover, you can easily DIY your own version. All you need is a pencil, pair of scissors, body loofah or disposable razor, and access to a working washer and dryer.
Step 1: Trace Your Cutting Line
Fraying a pair of jeans involves literally ripping up the material. To avoid making an irreversible mistake, fashion stylist Mickey Freeman recommends marking the line you’ll be cutting with a pencil “to ensure accuracy.”
Step 2: Cut the Inseam
Once you know where you’re cutting, grab a pair of scissors. For best results, Nicola Mielke, Director of Global Design for Lee Female recommends making the cut a little longer than desired.
Step 3: Fray
“Fraying” is defined as the literal act of unraveling or wearing a fabric at its edge through constant rubbing or straining. According to Freeman and Mielke’s techniques, you can fray jeans one of two ways: Mielke pulls apart the fabric with her hands first, to get an authentic fray. “If at that point it’s still not frayed enough for my liking, I grab a pair of blunt scissors and comb in a downwards direction,” she tells InStyle.
Freeman’s approach involves using either a travel-sized loofah or disposable razor to, as he puts it, “grind against the grain.”
“I always know that I’m going in the right direction as I see the lighter colored frays start to appear,” he says. “Going across the cut with the rough edge of a pair of scissors will give a more worn look as well.”
Step 4: Wash and Dry Your Denim
Ever wonder how the frayed material on designer jeans looks so light and fluffy? You can achieve the same look just by popping your distressed denim in the wash.
“After achieving the desired level of wear, I apply non-splash bleach for 1 hour to the loose threads to brighten them before running the jeans through a wash cycle,” Freeman tells us. When it’s time to dry, choose a gentle tumble setting “to fluff up the threads,” adds Mielke.