The Origin of Distressed Jeans

Distressed Jeans

Distressed blue jeans are a part of the cultural fabric today, a fashion choice so common and stylish that it's hard to believe that they weren't always staples in the average closet. In fact, they may have even looked odd at first. If you've ever marveled at unusual clothing on a fashion show runway, then it may surprise you to think that some of the clothing you enjoy most or would look best in, including distressed light blue jeans, once looked just as odd. 

Here's a brief history of distressed jeans and the techniques that make them look the way they do.

The First Jeans

Jeans were first designed by Levi Strauss in the late 1800s, who found that twilled cotton could be made into a hardy, long-lasting pant that was also comfortable for working class men. Jeans became so popular for their mix of durability and comfort that they became a form of casual clothing outside of work. Fashion often takes cues from uniforms, as with military boots or carpenter's pants, and the classic pair of light blue jeans has similar beginnings.

A Countercultural Movement

Cue the 1970s, a period of cultural angst and youthful rebellion, which was memorialized in popular music. Johnny Rotten, known as the father of British punk, helped build a counterculture that rejected the conservative and restrictive mores of Margaret Thatcher's Britain. The first punks were highly influential on fashion, tearing jackets into vests by removing their arms and pinning slogans onto their pants and T-shirts. Comfortable and purposefully non-professional denim became the punk's material of choice. Distressing their denim, especially common products like skinny light blue jeans, was a symbol of their vows to deconstruct Britain's conservative ideology.

Distressing Denim

So, what is distressed denim? Any denim product with tears, holes, frays, and other apparent signs of damage can be called distressed. In North America's late 1970s, such style was taken from the British punk and adapted to American youth's desire for rebellion. From Iggy Pop to the early 1990s' Kurt Cobain, distressed denim stayed popular as a comfortable but stylish way to state your allegiance to a worldwide punk mentality.


In the new millennium, distressed denim has all but lost its exclusively punk associations and is now simply a great fashion statement, especially now that you can find brand-new jeans designed with a distressed, worn appearance. In today's fashion world, contrast is popular, so pairing neatly tailored tops like polo shirts or blazers with distressed light blue jeans makes you look fashion savvy and versatile, able to be both refined and relaxed at once.