DIY Guide: Distressed Denim Shorts


A DIY shorts party with friends.

photo credit: Nolan Patterson

‘Tis the season of Spring trends and as with all trends you run into the possibility that you may be busted wearing the same style as someone else. Two girls, crossing each other’s paths, doing a double take after realizing they’re wearing the same article of clothing. Unless it’s intentional, it spurs an unnecessary “Who Wore It Better” competition.

Do-it-yourself projects are an excellent way to tackle that unwanted coincidence from happening. In making an article of clothing unique with your personal flair you step out looking fresh and new. Our Do-It-Yourself Guide will lead you on the path to creative exploration and get you the department store look you’re craving.

There will be lots of opportunities this Spring for us to visit our local stores and purchase the latest trend in shorts. From the high-waisted to the diagonal-cut to the bleach out and the studded, the options are only as bottomless as your wallet is. Why not take up an old pair of jeans and see what you can create? Follow the steps below to get the desired look you’ve been on the hunt for.

Step 1: Gather Materials.

Old Denim Jeans: You will need an old pair of jeans, preferably not too tight so that you have room around the thigh. Note: Actual denim fringes better than denim with spandex in it.
Scissors or exacto knife: These will come in handy when you’re cutting those suckers up and giving them slashes.
Sandpaper: A high-graded sandpaper is needed for distressing.
A Brick: Used to sand the jean on.
Bleach: If you like the bleached-out look or even want to try an ombre, bleach is perfect for originality.
Studs or fabric paint: Studs are good for adding a little detailing, or get adventurous with fabric paint and make yourself some polka dot shorts.
A Washer and Dryer: If available, a washer and dryer is a great way to get that fringe extra fringy.


The diagonal cut.

Step 2: Cut the Jean.

The traditional way to cut denim shorts is straight across. If you have a piece of chalk draw a line on the denim where you want to cut, making sure to give yourself extra fabric so you can even it out or make it shorter if needed.

The more modern way, pictured here, is to cut at an angle. This gives the illusion that your legs are longer and provides more coverage around the important parts. Start about 2 inches from the inseam and cut upwards at a 30 or 45 degree angle. Try the shorts on to see where it best fits for you, remembering there will be some fringing at the end.


High-grade sand paper.

Step 3: Distressing the Denim.
Use a high-graded sandpaper to distress the denim. You can get this type of sandpaper at any hardware store. Cut the sandpaper into squares if they come in large sheets and place a brick under your shorts where you want to distress it. Start sanding away at the spot until it gets really thin.


Brick and sand paper.


Sand the jean until it gets thin.


You can use an exacto knife to make striations.

Trick of the trade! An added technique is to use an exacto knife and make very small slices into the jean in a repetitive manner. It will give the jeans that shredded look. Then sand over the slices to make the denim extra distressed.

Don’t be shy with the sand paper! Once the denim is thin and you can see that the color has started to fade, you can poke your fingers through it gently to add the striations to the fabric.


Pulling at the striations.


Pushing our fingers through where we cut the denim.


The fringe after the sanding and striations.

Get that Fringe Look: If you are impatient and want to work the fringe at the end a little quicker or don’t have a washer and dryer readily available, take a needle or the exacto knife and pick away at the seams at the edge until it starts to fringe. You can use your fingers to pull at the thread once it comes loose. This can be tedious but it gives the denim a fringe that may otherwise take a few washes.


Post fringing shorts.

Step 4: Add Personal Flair!

There are all types of styles you can add to your denim shorts to make them unique. Fabric paint can be applied for patterns or if you are good at sewing you can add fabric pieces. We at Kingstonstyle went with studs and bleach to give our denim shorts some style. We got these black studs online but they are available at most fabric stores. The studs have sharp teeth at the bottom for sticking through fabric so be careful not to poke yourself when applying them. A pair of pliers helps to keep your fingers from getting cut and to push those little teeth down smoothly.


Adding studs.


Studding the pocket.

If you are interested in bleaching or dyeing your denim, get a wide bucket and add one part bleach for two parts water. Dip the denim in the bleach where you want to lighten the color. Be aware you may have to leave the shorts outside for 24 hours to get the desired effect so make sure the bleach is not easily accessible to curious little ones. We covered ours with a plastic trash bag to keep it from attracting birds, people, bugs, ect. Once you get the color you like, wash the denim with a detergent to stop the bleaching process.

We posted the final results below. We’re pretty happy with how they turned out and in the process we had a little fun too. Have fun with your own projects by making it a DIY party and if you make your own shorts be sure to share with us at


After twenty four hours of bleaching the shorts.


Studs and bleach up close.


Front view of bleaching, studs and distressed denim.

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