Dye or distress your favorite jeans to give them a trendy new look.
Color is the new big thing, so if you have a pair of jeans in fairly good condition – not ripped at the seams but just faded – dye them a great color for fall, like red.
— Kim Turner, Chicago-based image consultant
Pulling on an old pair of jeans is like hugging an old friend. They’re soft, familiar and you can’t seem to part with them. After all, they were once your favorite pair of jeans – almost a portal to some of the best times of your life. But, for whatever reason, they’re just too — you fill in the blank. But you never leave the house in them anymore. Before you cut the cord and toss those old blues, take a look at the latest trends in pricey jeans. All your old jeans may need to fit in with today’s style is a little makeover.
The Hottest Looks and How to Get Them
Melody Fuhr, VP of Merchandising for Perry Ellis’ New York denim team, said “painterly” is the emerging look in jeans. This means any creative paint flair you put on old jeans is probably going to fit the trend.
“You can buy (a pair) in the mid-$200 range from premium brands, or do it yourself,” Fuhr said.
Fuhr suggested filling eyedroppers with black and white paint. Splatter dabs of the paint in the front and back hems, the legs below the knee, the front thigh area and the waist of the jeans. If you don’t have an eyedropper, use wooden ice cream sticks to apply the paint.
If you have a bottle of Aqua Net hairspray sticking around from bigger-hair days, it can be applied to jeans for a look that’s so right now. Spray the jeans with Aqua Net, let them dry, then iron them.
“It’ll give your jeans a little shine without the heaviness of spray starch,” Fuhr said.
Color blocking is another option if the jeans are 100 percent cotton with no previous coatings. All you need is a $3 bottle of dye.
“Color is the new big thing, so if you have a pair of jeans in fairly good condition — not ripped at the seams but just faded — dye them a great color for fall, like red,” said Kim Turner, a Chicago-based certified image consultant and the blogger behind FashionCents.tv. She said this could be done with RIT dye.
“The more faded they are, the easier it will be to dye them a darker color,” Turner said. “Definitely do rich reds, purples, rust or teal green for fall. Think deep and rich.”
Yet another option is to apply color from pigment sprays. These are fabric dyes sold in pump bottles at craft stores. Fuhr said to tape off sections of your jeans and spray only in those areas to create designs, even plaids or stripes. After the spray dries, iron the jeans and tumble-dry them to set the color for the life of the jeans.
“Your jeans will look like they’ve been coated with a solid surface,” she said. “Brown or black will look like a leather jean.”
The Final Jean Split
If your old jeans are just a little too short, you may be able to get a little more life out of them.
“If it’s a slimmer cut, cut them off, roll them up and wear them as short ankle pants, like Audrey Hepburn,” said Jessica Quirk, a former fashion designer, the blogger behind What I Wore and author of the book “What I Wore: Four Seasons, One Closet, Endless Recipes for Personal Style.”
If they’re short enough to wear in a flood, convert them into a pair of jean shorts. Jean shorts with a frayed cutoff that hits just above the knee is trending says Melody Fuhr, VP of Merchandising for denim at Perry Ellis.
“Make a small cut at the inseam where you want the finished hem to be, then start to rip and tear around to the other seam,” she said. “Fabrics skew to a straight line.”
Use the scissors again at the outer seam and rip back to the inseam.
“This makes a perfect frayed bottom, and the hem will curl up, making your jean shorts look really old.”
When all else fails, it may be time to let go. Some old jeans are not going to look better no matter what you try.
“If (the jeans) have a hole where the inseam and crotch seam join, they’re done,” Quirk said. “That’s just asking for the crotch to split.”
If the jeans just don’t fit anymore, turn them loose.
“Let your sentimental jeans retire,” Quirk said. “If they don’t fit, donate or pass them on.”
Personally Distressed Jeans
Bleaching is an option if your jeans were the victim of an accidental stain or you want a really dramatic color change. However, bleaching can weaken the fibers. Fuhr, who has spent her entire career working with denim, said there is a good way to bleach all the color out of jeans. Put them in a sink or bucket, then fill the bucket with one part bleach to two parts water. Rinse the jeans in cold water, removing as much bleach as possible. Finally, put them in the washing machine with ¼ cup of hydrogen peroxide and run a rinse cycle. The dry jeans can be worn as is, or dyed any color you want.
However, some people may want to distress just parts of their old jeans. While it creates a new look, it is a risk for two reasons: it will cause a permanent change in the appearance, and not all jeans are fit for that process.
“Be careful which jeans you distress,” Turner said. “Trousers are more appropriate for the office, so you don’t want to distress those. But if you have a tighter pair of jeans or skinny jeans, those are perfect for distressing.”
Which areas should you distress? The pros agree you should concentrate on areas where jeans normally show wear: the thighs, pockets, waistband and hems.
“Remember that with distressing you’re making the fabric thinner, so the jeans are more likely to wear out in those spots,” Turner said. “If you rip the thigh, you can still wear them, but if you rip the behind, you’ll have to toss them out.”
There are tons of DIY videos that show how to distress jeans with cheese graters, sandpaper and even hand-held sanders. Unless you want to end up with a holey mess, stay within a few guidelines for DIY distressing done right. Fuhr said fashionable jeans are distressed in the factory with a grinding tool. You need rigid, unwashed jeans for the sanding action to result in any real color loss, and the jeans probably need to be new.
“If you sand an old jean, you’re just going to make a hole in it,” she said.
Fuhr suggested putting on the jeans, then massaging sandpaper at the points of distress. The knee area, the whiskers at the bend between the torso and the leg, and the seat are the most likely places. Then it’s time to use an actual drill to create what she called “little points” of abrasion in the bottom hem and the pocket openings.
“Then you wear them, wear them, wear them and take them to a dry cleaner,” she said. “They’ll be the most beautiful jeans you’ve ever seen.”