How to make a really good pair of cut-offs

I really like cut-offs.

A whole lot.

When the temperature’s above 65, there’s a 95% chance that I am wearing cut-offs.

Lucky for me, the clothing industry finally seems to have realized how great cut-offs really are, and now every store is selling them in a million styles, with cute patches, interesting distress patterns, crazy colors, the whole shebang. This would be great, except for the fact that they are ridiculously expensive. Which bugs me quite a bit, because the whole point of cut-offs, from my way of thinking, is taking a worn-out pair of jeans that you don’t want to wear anymore and recycling them into something you’ll want to wear every day. So it’s ridiculous that Urban Outfitters can sell cut-offs for $60 and people will buy them.

Why drop $60 when you can spend between $0-$10 and get the exact same thing?

“How?” you ask, starry-eyed at the prospect of such a denim heaven.

I’m so glad that you asked!

You will need: 

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A ruler

A pair of jeans

A note on jeans: If you already have a pair you’d like to use, that’s fine. But if you are trying to find a pair to use, it’s best to get a pair that doesn’t have a lot of stretch. There are other things like a high waistband and loose legs that I think make a really good pair of cut-offs, but it’s all personal preference. Whatever you use should fit you well in the waist and hips. The best places to find jeans for this are thrift stores. My thrift store has a section that seems to be about 98% mom jeans from the 90’s (which make the best cut-offs ever,) that are sorted by waist size.

The pair I’m using here looks like this:

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Best kind. Seriously.

Step 1: Put on the jeans. Don’t skip this step, or else this could end badly. Use the chalk to mark the length you want on the outer seam of the jeans. Definitely use a mirror for this step, and don’t hesitate to rub off a mark and place a new one if you have any doubts. Err on the side of marking them too long, because you can always cut more material off, but you can’t put it back once it’s gone.

Step 2: Take the jeans off, lay them flat, and grab your chalk and ruler. On one of the legs, take the chalk and the ruler and mark a point directly opposite the point you marked on the outer edge. Now, take the ruler and plot another point one inch lower than the point you just marked. Now, take the ruler and chalk and mark a straight line from the outer edge point to the lower inner edge point.

This is what my line looked like when it was done.

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I moved the ruler so that you could see the chalk, but that’s pretty much what it should look like.

Step 3: Time for the scissors. Now things are getting real. Take the scissors and cut about 1/4 inch below your chalk line. Be sure to cut through both the front and back of the leg. Now take your half-cut pants and try them on again. Make sure the one side looks okay. It’s all right if it looks a little too long because the edges will fray and loose some length. Take the jeans off again and lay them out like this:

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Folded tightly in half, with the cut side on top. Be sure to match up the seams.

Now take the scissors, and cut the other leg, cutting right next to the first cut you made.

Breathe a sigh of relief.

Try the jeans on again.

If you are happy with the length, it’s time to finish the cut edges.

Step 4: Fray the cut edges. If you look carefully at the edges of your cuts, you should be able to see paler, thicker threads sticking out a little bit. Start at one edge,\ and pull them gently. They should unravel a bit, then stop. Go down the line, pulling on strings until they stop until you’ve frayed all of the edges.

Your shorts should now look something like this:

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If you like your shorts like this, then stop here and throw them in the washing machine. This will help fray the edges even more. When they come out, trim the strings to your liking, and rock them everywhere you go.

If you want to add a little extra sass to your shorts, you can distress them.

If you want to distress your jeans, you will need:

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Your scissors

Something small and durable that fits well in your pockets (like a rock)

Something you usually carry (absolutely optional)

A metal file, or heavy grain sand paper

It’s good to note that you can do this without the file, but I think it helps a lot.

First, decide how you want to distress your cut-offs. You can go online and find pictures to copy, or you can experiment by putting things in your pockets and seeing where they rest, looking for already existing wear patterns just free-handing it.

A few warnings: Stay away from the area under the back pockets, because if you distress this at all, your chances of accidentally ripping your new cut offs are really high. Also stay away from the area around belt loops, because they tear off easily. Be careful not to cut into the pockets. You don’t want to lose your money.

Next, take up your file. If you want to distress a spot over a pocket, take your durable object (here, the rock) and put it in the pocket. Position it where you want the distressing to go, then rub the file over the top of it. Keep rubbing until you like the way it looks.

This is what mine looked like after a while:

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I decided that I wanted an even bigger hole, so I used scissors.

To make holes using scissors, make long horizontal cuts about 1/4 inch apart over the area you want to show the hole. It won’t look like a hole at first, but after you wash it, it will.

I made the hole above bigger using the scissor technique. It looked like this:

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After that, I kept going and made a few more holes using the file before turning to the back pockets.

I put the rock in one of the back pockets and filed a hole over that. For the other, I put my wallet in the pocket and filed around the edges of that to make it look like it had worn out on its own. I used the scissors to make one of the holes a little bigger, then took the file and filed the edges of all the pockets and seams.

At this point the shorts won’t look like much. When you’re finished distressing, throw the shorts in the wash, and, if it won’t affect the fit, the dryer. When they come out, they should be frayed and look hella good.

Here’s how mine turned out:

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Feel free to experiment and go absolutely crazy with this. Enjoy your new denim-altering powers!


Abby Rankin About Abby Rankin

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