“I don’t understand ripped jeans. Why would you pay for something to look like someone already wore it?” We’ve all heard that refrain at one point or another. And to those who aren’t particularly style-savvy, it may seem like a valid argument. Ripped jeans, however, aren’t just a fad that’s going to fade away and eventually be looked back on with shame and horror — they’ve actually got a storied history that goes back over half a century.
Pre-ripped jeans first rose to prominence in the 1970s with the start of the punk movement in Great Britain. At the time, they were just as much a symbol as they were a style — of breaking with traditions, of ripping apart the established fabric (see the metaphor?) of society in favor of a future centered on individuality and freedom. That got diluted over the years, of course, and after rising and falling in favor over the decades, ripped jeans became the mainstay of the on-trend style that they are today.
Not all cut-up jeans are created equal, and there are certain styling rules you’ll want to follow if you’re hoping to pull off a quality ripped jeans look. So before you buy the first pair of pre-ripped jeans you find, go ahead and consult this guide we’ve put together for you. No need to thank us, it’s what we’re here for.
The big concern with ripped jeans is that they’ll end up looking like an old pair of jeans that just wore away at the knees over time. Our recommendation to avoid that: stick to the straight to slim varieties of denim. By keeping things on the tailored side, you guarantee that the rips on your jeans look intentional, rather than like you had an unfortunate accident with a pair of scissors.
When choosing ripped jeans, pay attention to the size of the rips on the legs. What you’re looking for is a pair with slits that are no wider than the width of the leg underneath. The last thing you want is to show everyone you’ve been skipping leg day. Aside from style, though, this is for practical purposes too — if your legs can fit through the holes, they’re going to pop out any time you bend.
Once that’s decided, you also have to consider how much of the leg you want to be ripped, which is largely a matter of style. Some pairs feature shredded rips trailing all the way down the legs, while others may just have a few small distressed spots. Both are equally valid options. Once you’ve made your choice, it all comes down to styling.
Let’s be clear: pre-ripped jeans are a casual style, there’s no question about that. So don’t think about wearing these to the office or anywhere even remotely “business casual.” These are for strictly weekend and after-hours looks.
Now, as for what exactly to sport. The general rule of thumb is the bigger the rips, the more streamlined the rest of your look needs to be to offset them. Think of the rips in your jeans like a pattern — you wouldn’t want too many clashing patterns in the same outfit. So keep things simple with your shirt and your shoes when pairing with ripped jeans.
Dressed up correctly, a great pair of ripped jeans can serve you well on a night out at the bar or grabbing dinner and drinks on a date. The key is leaning into premium fabrics and leathers to offset the distressing on the denim. Here are some great picks.
AllSaints Niles Leather Biker Jacket
A premium leather jacket nods to the punk rock history of ripped jeans while at the same time lending a modern edge to the look. And AllSaints makes some of the best leather jackets around, like this suede style.
Everlane Organic Cotton Crew
Everlane prides itself on making the perfect uniform for modern life, right down to these organic cotton t-shirts.
Saint Laurent Wyatt Suede Chelsea Boots
The clean lines and the supple suede of these Saint Laurent boots give a nice contrast to the distressing in the jeans.
Make relaxed days in the sun all the more laid-back with an outfit that features a pair of ripped jeans. Casual kicks and a short-sleeved camp shirt should do the trick. Here are some options.
Buck Mason Palm Cotton Camp Shirt
From the clean, minimal styling to the peached cotton herringbone fabric — giving it the drape of a heavier fabric without all the weight — this Buck Mason camp shirt will do just the trick.
Greats Royale Sneaker
Nothing like a clean white sneaker to keep things clean and casual below the ankle. Greats uses premium leather to make theirs.
What, you thought we’d just tell you how to wear a pair of ripped jeans and not give you options to choose from? No way — here are a few of our favorites available right now.
RRL Slim Narrow Fit Hand-Repaired Jean
Ralph Lauren’s line, named after his beloved ranch, RRL, crafts some of the best denim around. This is why you can bet that their ripped and repaired jeans will fit like a glove and look great for years to come.
Asos Design Tapered Jeans in Washed Black
When you want a look with a little more edge, black jeans are where it’s at. This pair combines that edge with the affordability of Asos.
DSquared2 1964 Cool Guy Jeans
Fading and distressing go hand in hand. Just look at this DSquared2 pair — their bold fading and ripped details go hand in hand to make some killer jeans.
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