July 13, 2012

Cutoff Jean Shorts: A Tutorial

I bet every girl in the United States has worn cutoff jean shorts at some point in her life. I have fond memories of one pair, wearing them over and over, all summer long. I was so tiny in high school that the pair I wore then hung sloppily on my hip bones, but again I wore them to death.

Let's pause a moment because remembering these jean shorts has caused me to become verclempt.

* tear *

Those jean shorts weren't bought in a store; they were MADE from my most favorite pair of jeans, a pair of men's Levi's that had finally tuckered out after about 2 years of almost constant wear. Isn't that funny with jeans? We find a pair that we love and then we wear them to death. Even though I own several pairs now, I still turn to my favorites, the most well-worn and softest denim in my closet. I could sleep in them.

And if you're like me, you don't wash your pants until they are actually dirty. I understand half of us ladies do this and the other half washes after every wear. To me, that shortens the life of my pants and I am tall. I can't afford early shrinkage in the inseam. Anyway, carrying on.

This summer I set out to create jean shorts, which is actually the back-asswards way to go about it. I didn't want to sacrifice any of my favorite pairs because they still fit well. But I wanted that lived-in feel, the soft denim, the fray along the edges. This was the perfect reason to head to my favorite thrift store.

And also, I had no husband or children with me on that day, which means I could lollygag as long as I wanted to. And lollygag I did. I tried on about 20 pairs of jeans. Most of them, men's. I wanted them to be sloppy big so that they were reminiscent of my most favorite shorts from high school, and also just in case Bryon dried them in the dryer on high. Ahem.

I took several pairs at once to take into the fitting room with me. I didn't pick up anything I didn't like the look of. In other words, nothing nasty, overly dated, or off-brands that had no character. I also made sure to check out the butt of the jeans because without the legs, that would clearly be an area that I wanted to look decent. No dumpy mom-jeans ass for moi.

I scored 2 pairs after trying on those 20. Both men's and both too big for me by at least one size. One pair was $4.99 and the other was $9.99.  Cheap, considering most ready-made jean shorts will set you back about $50. Plus, the Buckle pair was at LEAST $80 new, so I felt all bad-assed for getting them for $4.99. Ha!

When I came home that afternoon, I tucked my husband into bed for a nap and set to work.

The materials I used were:
Used (prewashed is the key here) jeans that fit my body the way I wanted (for me, loose)
A pair of very sharp commercial scissors
My eyeballs
Optional would be a pencil and ruler, if you are so inclined;  I was not

I started by laying the jeans down on the floor. While they don't show it in my picture, I buttoned and zipped them to be sure they were flat and even. I smoothed them out with my hands.

I decided to use a favorite pair of shorts as my guide for length. The yellow pair is my favorite roll-up boy shorts from the Gap. Perfect for cutting them long enough to roll. [The second pair of cutoffs I made began the same way, but I shortened each leg by about 3".]

I laid the yellow shorts beside the jeans and nipped the edge at the same spot. I cut straight across the leg. Then I moved my yellow shorts out of the way, far, far out the way just in case something tragic happened with those scissors. Not that I've ever done that. Ahem.

Now if you want to be sure that your shorts are cut evenly, you could measure from the waist down the outer seam and cut in the same place on each leg. You could use a pencil and ruler to measure twice and cut once. But on this day I wanted less 'anal-retentive mom' and more 'carefree high school student.' And so, I used a different method.

With my jeans laying flat on the floor and one leg just lopped off, I folded the lopped-off leg over on top of the still-attached leg (think of the legs as a mirror image of one another). Then I lined up the cuff at the bottom, all the way across, and again flatted the legs with my hands. Then I just used the scissors to cut the same line. Voila.

I wanted to embrace my inner carefree highschool student, so I didn't stop there. I actually nipped a spot on one leg about 1/4" shorter than the other. Then I put a gash over the opposite leg, parallel with the cut hem and about 1/2" higher than the hem. I am hoping that as they fray up, they look like I've gone fishing in them eleventy times.

To fray the shorts like they're older than they really are, I wet the cut hems. Then I roughed it up with my fingers and threw them in the hot dryer. Since the jeans themselves weren't wet, they did not shrink. But the cut hems were wet, so they did fray.

Later I will use the wire brush that Bryon cleans our golf clubs with to scratch the hems up. This should make the cross-threads give. Once I pull those free, the remaining threads will fray quite nicely. The rest can happen on its own.

Ta da!


  1. It's been years since I've had a great pair of cut offs. sigh.

    Maybe next year, when I don't have a baby bump, I'll give it a go!

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