Distressed & Ripped Denim for Men: What You Need To Know

Scrape it, shred it, fade it. In 2018, your casual denim better be ripped, or at least distressed. No matter which celeb you’re looking at – whether it’s Kanye, the newly married Justin Bieber, or even any EDM DJ – that ripped-across-the-knee look has turned into a standard, preferably with a shirttail tee, moto jacket, and high-end sneakers. And, while not everyone can afford a pair from Balmain or Yves Saint Laurent, you can still look like you forked over that cash.

Understanding Distressed Denim

First things first, “distressed” denim covers a wide spectrum in the present, from sanded or faded to full-on rips and embellishments.


On the low end, a “distressed” pair of jeans usually doesn’t feature full-on rips – although it gets pretty close. Rather, you’ll come across lighter patches along the front and back, some whiskering for a broken-in look, and, at most, some wearing away at the surface, so that the white threads are exposed.

Generally, the appearance is of a pair that’s been lived in for a number of years – perhaps the cuffs are threadbare, a small hole has started to form, or you accidentally spilled bleach on them while doing your wash. Anyone who’s had such a pair for a decade knows that, once the comfort level goes up, so does the denim’s general ratty-ness. That’s what you’re aiming for here, albeit on a more tasteful level.


As the next step up, there’s “ripped” and “destructed.” Although labels treat them as one in the same, “ripped” jeans are essentially that: A few slashes, maybe blown-out knees, but nothing more. At its core, it’s taking your typical slim or skinny jeans and cutting them up in a few places.


“Destructed,” rather, blends rips and distressing, covering nearly the full spectrum. You’ll notice some fading, raw edges, and exposed threads, see spots worn nearly all the way through, and a few rips near the knees or along the upper thighs.


As a third level, there’s shredded denim, occasionally called “Eurotrash” denim. DSquared2 exemplifies the aesthetic, but in a nutshell, you’ll see more rips, they cover more of the surface, and embellishments like paint splattering, bleach, studs, and embroidery give it an over-the-top character. It kind of gets into Jersey Shore/Ed Hardy territory, so tread carefully.

Styling Distressed Denim

Big picture, any denim ripped or distressed falls strictly within the casual category. And, unlike dark denim, it’s not ambiguous for the office – unless you’re in the most informal environment, you’ll save these for the weekends or for clubbing on a Friday night.

However, as with wide-legged silhouettes, distressed jeans walk the line between an edgy statement piece and sloppy. What’s the difference between them? Simply put, it all comes down to fit, color, and add-ons.

With the fit, slim to skinny is always the way to go. That way, it doesn’t look like you took a pair of jeans and attempted to scale a barbed-wire fence (but seriously failed to do so). With the denim sitting closer to your skin, the rips and distressing seem almost intentionally placed, as if to break up the monotony.

Speaking of monotony, or at least a monochrome colorway, you can always have too much of a good thing. So, to let those rips stand out and make more of an impact, keep the denim’s shade neutral. Anything light to dark indigo seems fairly standard, while black, gray, and even white let the distressing and rips emerge. However, colors – even sky blue or royal – go over the top, and divert the eye in multiple directions. In short, you’re not sure what you’re supposed to be looking at.

And, finally, embellishments shouldn’t entirely feel random; these aren’t the high school jeans you drew all over and cut up. Instead, rips are ideally placed at the knees or front upper thigh, and embroidery, studs, or fading around the top and sides and near the hem. Or, with fully blown-out knees, keep everything else to a minimum; otherwise, your jeans turn into the very definition of “extra.”

What to Wear with Distressed Denim

So, with these points in mind, what options do you have for wearing distressed denim?

As a good starting spot, think of it from a retro angle: Not such much ‘80s hairband music, but more ‘90s Grunge. Anything with a bit of space in them pairs well with a graphic tee, flannel or simply a plaid shirt, lace-up boots or high-tops, and a leather jacket if it’s cold out. Essentially, it’s casual rock star chic, without having to put in a ton of effort.

As a modern-day baseline, distressed denim’s a cornerstone of streetwear. While nearly anything goes, still be mindful of colors and graphics – you don’t want to push the envelope too much. Think about contrasts – for instance, ripped skinny denim with an oversized hoodie – or layering with a longer-length tee and a cropped moto jacket that hits at the hips.

Especially pay attention to these rules when you’re trying out a pair of shredded jeans or even distressed moto denim. In both of these instances, everything else you wear should play a secondary role.

Also on the casual end, but with a more Americana vibe, consider double denim. Yet, to avoid a matchy-matchy cowboy look, you’ve got two choices. One, go for an assortment of washes and colors: For instance, a lighter chambray shirt with ripped black denim, or even dark-wash jeans with a white denim jacket. Or, match the jacket and the jeans, but break it up with a contrasting tee or button-down in between.

As a final option, if you’re heading out, consider up-styling distressed denim. What seems contradictory adds variety to your typical tee-and-jeans-based ensembles. In this case, swipe out the tee for a button-down – shirttails out – and layer it with a blazer or solid-color bomber jacket. Footwear wise, aim for that casual-dressy spot typically occupied by Chelsea boots, lace-ups, and even oxfords.