Distressing Fashion News

Let’s define some fashion terms: A pair of jeans you’ve worn so long that the hems are frayed and the knees are threadbare is called “worn out.” A brand-new pair of jeans with frayed hems and threadbare knees is called“distressed,” probably because distressed is how you feel spending good money on a pair of jeans you wouldn’t, in good conscience, donate to a charity thrift shop.

I’m not judging. I actually own two pairs of distressed jeans myself—sort of. One pair was fine when I bought them, but they became distressed shortly thereafter when someone spilled bleach on them. I’m not saying who, but it was someone I’m married to.

When I tried to even out the bleach spots with more bleach, the jeans went from being mildly distressed to being downright distraught. So did I.

But that’s nothing compared to the pair I tore, along with the leg in them, while I was climbing over a barbed wire fence. It’s hard to say who was more distressed, the jeans or me.

I didn’t see their fashion potential after the accidents, so both pairs were quickly relegated to housework/yardwork duty, not that I need two pairs for that. I find both housework and yardwork distressful, so I stuck the jeans in the back of the closet to spare us both further distress.

Maybe it’s time I dig them out. Distressed jeans have been coming and going on the fashion scene since 1970 and they’re definitely back. Everywhere I look, I see ragged jeans—gaping holes, frayed hems and legs that look like they had a run-in with a cheese grater.

Denim is tough stuff. Trashing jeans the old-fashioned way—by wearing them—can take years. Distressed jeans could be out of fashion again by the time a pair is shabby enough to be fashionable.

But it’s painful to spend your hard-earned cash on clothing that’s already worn out. And distressed jeans can be expensive. I saw one pair for $1,145 on a website for a company called Farfetch. I know nothing about them, but Farfetch does sound like the perfect name for a company that sells $1000 jeans. 

Of course you can get them cheaper, but even $25 seems like a lot to spend for new pants that look old. There is another option though. Do it yourself! Maybe you have a pair of jeans that are just too nice to be stylish. Take them out and run them over with a lawnmower. Tie them to the back of your car and drive down a long gravel road. Pour a little bleach on them then put them through a meat grinder.

I’m joking! But you can do it yourself. I Googled “DIY distressed jeans” and found plenty of tips, step-by-step instructions and even videos of people destroying their perfectly good jeans. Do-it-yourselfers use everything from sandpaper, steel wool and pumice, to craft knives and box cutters. A poor pair of jeans doesn’t stand a chance.

Whether you buy them new or destroy your jeans yourself, keep in mind they will require special care once they’re distressed. Don’t we all? The authors of one website advised readers to wash distressed jeans infrequently and only in cold water to prevent tearing. And they didn’t even see the irony in that.

(Dorothy Rosby is the author of the humor book, I Didn’t Know You Could Make Birthday Cake from Scratch: Parenting Blunders from Cradle to Empty Nest. Contact drosby@rushmore.com.)