Get Your Gay Jeans to Come Out of the Closet: How to Distress Denim

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.

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A closeup of Gay Jeans before and after breaking in. The indigo dye gradually wears away to expose the bright rainbow of colors underneath.

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.

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Vats of indigo dye, ready to be used to color yarn and give it the classic shade of blue. (Photo credit: Flickr user weartpix. Used under CC license.)


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.

A distressing denim for gay jeans by betabrand

A wash technician at a jeans factory creasing the back of the knee area on a pair of jeans before hand sanding the tops of the each fold to make them look more broken in.

Denim Spinner for Betabrand Gay Jeans

Large tumbling cylinders that can hold dozens of pairs of jeans at a time. Loaded with pumice stones or other abrasives, the machines break down the indigo dye and help remove some of the blue color. Depending on the length of time and the type of abrasives used, this can be a subtle color shift or a dramatic one.

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.

 1. Sandpaper

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.

  • Fly area.

  • 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.

2. Bleach

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!

Show us how yours turn out on Instagram, or by sending us a Model Citizen photo!

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You can go from brand new to broken-in in less than a weekend!

Steven B. Wheeler

Steven B. Wheeler

Lead Designer at Betabrand
Steven B. Wheeler got his start in the fashion at an early age, spending countless hours hunched over his mother's Kenmore sewing machine when he quite honestly should have been doing his homework.

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.
Steven B. Wheeler

Steven B. Wheeler got his start in the fashion at an early age, spending countless hours hunched over his mother's Kenmore sewing machine when he quite honestly should have been doing his homework. 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.

2 Comments

  1. Gay Genes and Gay Jeans | · April 16, 2014 Reply

    […] If you want to speed things up, try putting them on and rubbing wear into areas like the tops of your thighs, hem, pocket openings, etc. with a fine grit sandpaper before washing. Learn more about properly distressing denim here. […]

  2. jf · July 9, 2015 Reply

    Love my gay jeans! I have to say though, I really loved them when they were brand new! That nice thicker feel of denim, that had a tiny bit of stretch. The slightly longer inseam to flip up the end of the leg.

    You guys should make some jeans that are dark like that but fit exactly like new gay jeans!

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