How to rip jeans like a boss

How to rip jeans like a boss

This definitive guide for DIY ripped jeans gives the best tactics and tools to customize your jeans for your body shape."

Your step by step guide for making ripped jeans.

How to rip jeans like a boss

Not much for foreplay and prefer to dive in? Here's the cheat sheet for ripping your jeans.

Table of Contents

If the particulars are your jam, here's what's on deck:

LEARN THE ADVANTAGES Discover the benefits of DIY ripped jeans.

GATHER YOUR TOOLKIT We'll go over all the tools you'll need to distress your jeans like a boss, including one gadget you'd never think to use!

CHOOSE YOUR DENIM Which denim fabric you choose can make a huge difference.

KNOW YOUR TECHNIQUES Experiment with the different effects you can create with your toolkit.

PICK YOUR CUSTOMIZATION This is where I deliver your "boss" status. It's one thing to rip. It's another to rip strategically. Discover which cuts best suit your body shape.

AVOID THESE HARD FAILS When ripping your jeans, avoid these common mistakes.

Seem like too much damn work? Don't worry. I've got you covered. Check out my list of best ripped jeans online according to body type here.

Learn the Advantages

Discover the benefits of DIY ripped jeans.

  1. It’s cheaper. Want the latest style, but not the latest price tag? Pick up a pair of jeans at your local thrift store on the cheap. Then rip those jeans your damn self to save serious cash.
  2. It’s planet friendlier. Itching for a new look? Don’t toss your old pair of jeans. Make it haute again, with a ripped jeans makeover!
  3. It’s safer. Not sure how you feel about ripped jeans? No need to go Full Monty. Start conservatively with a few discreet rips. Then get more daring if you feel the call of the scissors.
  4. It’s trending. As it is pretty much every year. It's hard to come by a haute list of denim trends without seeing a couple of ripped appearances.
  5. It’s customized. This is my #1 reason for distressing my own jeans. Not all rips are considered equal. What works for an apple-shaped body, tall chick, won’t work for my petite pear-shaped frame. Distressing my own jeans ensures that I make the rips that are most complimentary for my body shape.e

Gather Your Toolkit

Know what tools you need to rip your jeans.

Before we get started, we’ll want to take inventory and make certain you’ve all the essentials for “boss” level ripping.  Check out the list of distressing tools below.

  • Chalk. Don’t even think about cutting without drawing your game plan first. Draw. Put on the jeans. Then draw again. 
  • Tape measure. As you become more experienced, you’ll be able to eyeball it. But if you’re a riptease virgin, you’ll want to measure your margin for mess ups. Cutting too close to the seams can destroy the integrity of your jeans.
  • Cutting board or cardboard. To prevent unintended rips, use an insert to ensure you're only cutting where intended.
  • Sandpaper. If you’re most excited about creating highlights and contours to compliment your body type, sandpaper is your new half-night stand.
  • Tweezers. A must to create the on trend ladder, distressed look.
  • Razor. You’re not yet ready to commit to a rip that shows full skin, but you’re willing to enter into the fray. (Come on. I’m allowed at least one pun.) Razors are perfect for creating a subtler frayed look or adding drama to existing rips and holes. 
  • Penknife. I love the precision of the penknife. When it comes to ripping jeans, I’d rather go small, then go home with do-over.
  • Scissors. But not just any scissors. The sort that can cut through thick 100% cotton denim like it’s butter. 
  • Lighter. Yep. A lighter. Read on, my friend.

If you need a recommendation or two, or just want to shortcut this entire process, here’s what’s in my toolkit.

Choose Your Denim

Understand your denim fabrics before you start ripping into ‘em. 

Just like in-store dressing rooms, not all denim fabrics are created equal. And that’s a good thing. Different compositions, weights and colors all respond differently to different tools and techniques. Before ripping your own jeans, or buying a pair at your local thrift shop, check the label against my summary below.

100% Cotton

The classic. The tried and true. And often, the toughest to rip. You’ll want to grab the hardiest tools in your toolkit to work these jeans.

Be careful when cutting cotton. Especially if you haven’t yet washed the jeans.  When cotton is in a #mood, it tends to shrink and change shape. Cut conservatively until you get a couple of washes under your belt.

Best Tools: A penknife or razor are better suited for lighter fabrics. But you’ll need your scissors for the heavier textures. The lighter is my go to with 100% cotton denim.

Cotton + Polyester

The good? With the addition of polyester, the overall composition becomes more wrinkle resistant.  The bad? It’s a cheaper material. Diluting cotton makes it more affordable. The ugly? Polyester doesn’t breathe. You may need these rips we’re making for ventilation.

But what does a cotton and polyester blend mean for ripping? It’s got a bit of spring to it. It may not breath, but it does keep its shape. The greater the percentage of polyester, the more confident you can be that your cuts and rips will hold their ground.

Best Tools: A penknife or razor are better suited for lighter fabrics. But you’ll need your scissors for the heavier fabrics. To augment the frayed look, keep the razor handy.

Cotton + Polyester + Spandex

If polyester brings the durability, spandex brings the elasticity. Spandex is the ingredient that gives our jeans a touch softness and a touch of body molding. The higher the percentage of spandex, the greater the molding.

More so than polyester, spandex has the tendency to snap back. But be careful. Your rips can be deceiving. What looks modest when your cutting your jeans on the floor, can put your entire ass on blast when you put those suckers on. Cut carefully until you test the rips on your actual curves.

Best Tools: I always start with the penknife to be on the safe side. But once confident, I tackle bigger rips with my scissors. Skip the lighter on these as the smell can be funky.

Tencel

What the hell is it? Tencel is a fiber made from wood pulp. It’s more airy than cotton, but also more wrinkle resistant. I appreciate a good solid 100% cotton denim, but I love how Tencel handles my curves. Buy for the drape, not for the stretch.

Tencel is malleable and easily sliced. A little bit of ripping goes a long way. To achieve the frayed effect takes longer as the wood pulp weave is less stringy.

Best Tools: Penknife all day, every day. Be careful with the lighter. These suckers burn quickly. 

Know Your Techniques

You know your tools. You know your denims. Here are the different ways you can rip ‘em.

Rub

This is a fab technique for contouring and highlighting. Use this effect to lighten the color of denim in strategic places.  The final effect varies from brushed than worn.

How? Rub sandpaper with a firm amount of pressure back and forth over the desired patch of fabric.

Best tool: Sandpaper

Best fabric: 100% Cotton, Cotton + Polyester, Tencel

Tweeze

Want the ladder rip look? You'll want the tweeze play. Tweezing can be used to remove the vertical blue threads from a denim weave, leaving behind a "ladder effect" of the remaining horizontal white threads. (Also try removing the white threads, leaving the blue behind for a unique look!) BUt tweezers can also be used as a finishing technique to add a bit of wear and tear to cuts. The final effect varies from worn to stringy.

How? Rub sandpaper with a firm amount of pressure back and forth over the desired patch of fabric.

Best tool: Tweezers

Best fabric: 100% Cotton, Cotton + Polyester, Tencel

Fray

More dramatic than the rub. But less dramatic than the shred. Skin may peek from beneath the distressed fabric. But subtly. The final effect varies from worn to tattered.

How? Rub sandpaper vigorously or tease gently with a razor back and forth over the desired patch of fabric. 

Best tools: Sandpaper (requires lots more effort), Razor

Best fabric: 100% Cotton, Cotton + Polyester

Shred

Not yet Full Monty. But almost. Skin is definitely peeking. The rip is held together by a few (or many) frayed threads. Done right, this is the edgiest of all the techniques. The final effect varies from tattered to holey.

How? Rub a razor vigorously over the desired patch of denim fabric.

Best tool: Razor, Pen Knife (used to get the party started)

Best fabric: 100% Cotton, Cotton + Polyester

Cut

Full Monty. Skin is bared. Different cuts - slits, squares, rectangles, circles  - can all be used strategically to enhance or balance body shapes. The final effect varies from holey to open skin.

Best tool: Pen Knife (best for detailed work or danger zones), Scissors (best for removing large swathes of fabric)

Best fabric:  All of ‘em

Burn

My favorite under-the-radar effect. But don’t be a dumb ass when using this technique. Take all the precautions that playing with fire demands. Have a water source handy and keep flammables out of your path of destruction.

I use this technique to create a burnout effect for slits and holes, giving the right fabrics an imperfect edge with a vintage vibe.

Best tool: Lighter, Pen Knife (used to get the party started)

Best fabric: 100% Cotton, Tencel

Pick Your Customization

Discover how to strategically rip your jeans according to your body shape.

The Basics

For a moment, think of each rip as a stripe. And in fashion, stripes yield the power of balance in one hand and the power of amplification in the other. Vertical rips have the power to lengthen, while horizontal rips have the power to widen. Balance is achieved by playing the opposites. Amplification is achieved by emphasizing your assets. 

But don't forget that rips aren't limited to straight-lined stripes. You can cut curves to enhance, or even add, assets.

Pear Shaped Body

Rips for pear shaped body

We'll start with my fellow pear shape sisters. We're smaller on top and broader on the bottom. (Read ass and thighs for days.) If you want to bring balance to your like, go for vertical rips. Think rips that are are a half an inch to an inch wide, but 3 to 5 inches in length. This tactic has the benefit of elongating the thigh area, emphasising length over width.  Be careful to stay at least an inch away from the inner and outer seams to ensure your maintain the structural integrity of your jeans.

Want more elongation, but not a fan of vertical rips? Use the sanding technique. Less damaging to the structure of the jeans you can lighten the color of the fabric by sanding a strip of jean from top of thigh to knee (and even beyond of more lengthening). Think of it as contouring. The narrower the strip, the more thin the thigh appears.

However, if you want to further amplify our considerable assets check out your banana shaped, apple shaped and hourglass shaped sisters for techniques.

Style of Jeans: Works for any style of jean. But the customization is further amplified on jeans that flow and drape. Think wide leg and trouser.

Banana Shaped Body

Rips for flat bum

Here's a tasty customization for my cheek-challenged sisters. (Read flat bum.) This technique is daring, but if you have the tits, you can create an insta-ass. Using scissors, cut a narrow, slightly curved slit starting just 1 inch from the outer seam to one inch from the inner seam, following the seam of your butt cheeks. The closer the slit to your cheeks, the greater the illusion of curvy cheeks.

Start conservatively, as rips are inclined to grow. You can begin an inch or two below the cheeks. Wash the jeans, then assess. If you feel comfortable, either widen the existing slit. Or add another slit just above.

Scissors too drastic? With the sanding technique you can achieve a similar effect. Again, following the same, or slightly enhance, curve of your own cheeks, lightly rub the sandpaper back and forth, lightening the color of the jeans just underneath for contouring. 

If you want to further elongate your lines check out your pear shaped sisters for techniques.

Style of Jeans: This customization works for any style of jean, but you'll get the greatest booty for your buck with skinny jeans.

Apple Shaped Body

Rips for flat bum

My apple sisters have thick waists and skinny thighs. To bring balance to your jeaniverse, think horizontal rips along the thigh. And good news for my sisters with wider apples... you can get away with the edgier, boxy rips. But start conservatively. You can always widen or lengthen. But you can't narrow.

Stay away from inner and outer seams (at least half an inch). But the height of the horizontal slit can be as much as 6 - 8 inches!

Want more balance? Think reverse contouring. Rub sandpaper in vertical lines just inside your inner and outer seams. The wider the strip, the thinner your thigh appears. You can even get creative with the strip to add curves!

If you'd like to emphasize those skinny gams (you, lucky bitches, you), check out the tips for your pear shaped and hourglass shaped sisters.

Style of Jeans: This customization works for any style of jean, but you can make the most magic happen with mother and boyfriend jeans.

Hourglass Shaped Body 

You're in for some fun my hourglass sisters. Instead of taking the straight path, you'll take the angles. Want to enhance those curves? Start at the top of your outer thigh, just under the crease where the hip and thigh meet.  Starting at least a half inch in from the outer seam, cut a straight line, but angled downward toward your inner thigh. But not too close! 

Rips for hourglass shaped body

Repeat the pattern, each cut an inch or two below the last. The smaller the angle, the more serpentine the curve. The bigger the angle, the more elongated the curves become.

Want the opposite effect and to balance your curves? Reverse course. Start at the top of your inner seam just underneath your honey pot and rip a straight but angled cut from the inner seam to outer seam. The greater the angle the more dramatic the effect, but both will counter the hourglass curves for a more balanced perspective.

Style of Jeans: This customization works for any style of jean, but the skinny will show of your curves with all due splendor.

Tall Women & Women with Long Legs

Rips for tall woman

Because you have length, you can cut squares and elongated rectangles wherever you want without losing your long lines. Cut out the knees (check out Jeanie Vlada's take) or even along the calves. Go wide. As wide as you want. But steer clear of the seams.

Short Women & Women with Short Legs

Rips for short woman

We'll want to be careful with removing large swathes of fabric, especially around the knee and calf area which creates the illusion of chopping our already challenged legs in half! We'll want to keep rips in the thigh area and think more long rectangle than big square. For additional elongation techniques, check out your pear sisters!

But my top jean hack for us petite chicks? The raw hem. (Check out Jeanie Carolyn's take on this.) Are most of your jeans too long? And if you're like me, are you too damn lazy (or stingy) to take 'em to the tailors? No problem. Simply cut the jeans to your preferred length, fray the ends and voila. Your jeans are now the perfect length.

Avoid The Hard Fails

Common mistakes that can be sidestepped with a few simple precautions.

  • Not chalking it up to experience. Cutting before chalking? Just don't do it. It takes a second to find the chalk, draw the vision and try it on for size.
  • Not getting board. It takes just a few seconds to slide a small cutting board or cardboard into your pant leg to prevent unintended rips.
  • Crossing boundaries. I've mentioned this a 1,031,847 times, but if you want to maintain the structure of your jeans, stay at least a half inch away from the inner and outer seams.
  • Burn out. Please don't burn down your home when trying the burning effect. And if you do, clear this post from your browser history. Test a small piece of material for flammability before letting the lighter rip. And keep a big bucket of water close by.
  • Making the cut. You are playing with sharp edges. Be certain to take the proper precautions when wielding your scissors and razors. When fraying, I don't take chances. I use a razor with a handle.
  • Assuming one cut to rule them all. Check out customizations before you start snipping. You might be inspired to rip in a completely different direction based on your body shape.

You now know how to rip jeans like a boss.

Go forth. Rip. And when finished, do please circle back and share your denim candy!

Any questions about the techniques or customization? Did I cover 'em all? What's your favorite technique for ripping jeans?

Janice, founder of Jeanius

About Janice Wilson, JD: Formerly an attorney and now a software development engineer, I'm on a mission to end the battle between chicks and online shopping for jeans. Using the data-driven power of chick-sourcing™, I help women find their perfect pair of jeans. Read the origin story .