Greetings, everyone! I’m writing this post just minutes after Gay Jeans was successfully crowdfunded on the Betabrand Think Tank, so first, let me thank you for helping us make this product a reality! Seriously, this is a very personal project for me, so I am very grateful to all your support.
Now, with that out of the way, I thought I’d answer a few questions about how people who want to see the rainbow effect in their Gay Jeans come through a little faster.
The Basics of Indigo-Dyed Denim Jeans
First, a bit of science regarding indigo dye and how it is used to give denim its distinctive blue hue.
Indigo is unlike almost every other chemical compound used in the garment industry to apply color. Because of this, fibers dyed with indigo have a coating of microscopic blue crystals, versus traditional reactive dyes that actually change the color of the fiber itself by bonding to the fibers from the inside out on a molecular level.
When we see denim that has begun to fade, we’re seeing evidence of those blue indigo crystals breaking and separating from the yarns they were attached to. In traditional denim, this appears as areas that see friction and repetitive wear that become lighter, and extreme cases, nearly white.
There is an entire industry that exists to wash denim and age it to the point where it looks like they’ve been worn for ages. Blending art & science, these wash factories use machines that tumble jeans with pumice stones, chemical abrasives, sandblast areas of wear into creases or along the tops of the thighs, and in some cases, apply these effects by hand.
How to Achieve the Look of Distressed Denim at Home and Get Your Gay Jeans to Come Out Faster
If you are like most people, you don’t have access to gigantic spinning cylinders or pumice gravel, nor a way to safely dispose of some fairly unpleasant chemicals. You also don’t want to be a hardcore denim nerd that spends six-months-to-a-year wearing (but not washing) your Gay Jeans to get an authentic broken-in look. I have some tips that you can do to get the rainbow effect a bit faster. First, let me just say the key point is try and use a light touch. It’ll be a lot easier to make additional small adjustments to the jeans by adding more wear than it will be to fix a mistake.
My favorite method to get the rainbow in Gay Jeans to show up in a natural way is to use a fairly fine grit sandpaper, around 300-400 grit or so. This can be used for everything from the natural fade across the tops of the thighs or back pockets, the creases behind the knees and below the waist, to seam edges like on pocket openings, the fly, or the hem.
Start by putting the jeans on. I’ve found the most authentic way to distress jeans in a way that looks like they came from you is by wearing them while sanding, at least at first. Take a piece of sandpaper and softly sand down the following areas (protip: wear a dust mask to avoid indigo boogers):
Tops of the thighs (put your phone in your pocket if you want to highlight the outline of it).
The high points of the folds of fabric that form in your lap when seated.
Across the pocket openings.
Knees & back of knees (again, when seated).
Once you’ve roughed up the surface of the jeans in these areas, stand up and sand your backside. If you use a wallet, put that in your back pocket before sanding to make it look more authentic.
Take the jeans off and lay them out flat, and go over any other areas you’d like to highlight with wear, like the flat felled seams on the back and inseam. Don’t forget to also hit the hem. That’s one area that tends to show some of the most wear.
After sanding, run them through the wash with some detergent and cold water. I don’t recommend using a dryer, but if you think they can stand the resulting shrinkage, go ahead. Otherwise just hang to dry near a warm air vent or outdoors.
If they’re not quite where you’d like them to be in terms of wear, use the sandpaper method again, or try one or more of the methods below.
The trick with bleach is to really take it easy. Bleach will not only strip indigo dye pretty quickly, but it also has a tendency to chew up organic fibers like cotton and weaken them considerably if left in contact for too long.
I suggest using a gel bleach (the kind sold as the splash-less variety) if you’re doing a splatter effect. The thickened bleach doesn’t soak into the fabric as much and gives clearer dots than the regular liquid bleach.
Also try putting a few tablespoons of bleach into your washing machine and filling it the rest of the way with cold water before adding your jeans. This more evenly fades the color, and if you let them soak before running the machine, you can keep an eye on the color and make sure it doesn’t go too far.
3. Lemon Juice + Sunshine
Did you ever try lightening your hair with some lemon juice and the sun? Well, indigo will fade that way, too. I’d try sanding and washing first, then after they’re dry, cutting open some fresh lemons and rubbing them into the sanded, roughed up areas (one side at a time) before letting them dry in the sun. Keep checking back every so often to keep an eye on the color, and use more lemon juice as needed. Wash them again before wearing them, or you’ll smell like a salad.
By using the above methods, you’ll have a great looking pair of Gay Jeans that look like you spent months breaking in! All this can be done in a weekend, so come Monday morning, be prepared to have a coming out party for your fabulous new jeans!
Upon graduation from high school, Steven became an apprentice tailor, where he spent three years learning custom garment creation, pattern drafting, and alterations. He was introduced to old-world techniques, and fell in love with all the unseen engineering that goes into a well-tailored garment.
Steven moved to San Francisco in 2003, simultaneously building an alterations and custom apparel business while earning his BFA in Menswear Design. Since then, Steven has designed apparel for companies both large and small before embarking on his most recent comedic misadventure as a designer at Betabrand.
He continues to maintain an optimistic outlook on life despite this last fact.