So What Are All These Frayed Jeans About?
Photograph by Mr George Elder
Why shredded hems have made a comeback, and how you can distress them yourself.
In 2016, apparently, if your jeans aren’t almost completely destroyed – as in hanging off your knees by a thread or two – you need to rethink your wardrobe. If the jeans trend of the early 2000s was to have them hang well below the butt, the mid 2010s sees them reduced to tatters. From catwalks to club circuits, on the high streets and in the heady world of high fashion, everyone looks as though they’ve ploughed over their Levi’s with a combine harvester. In the US, Off-White designer Mr Virgil Abloh and Mr Kanye West introduced the world to the sliced-up jeans, where cuts and slashes run from the shin to the upper thigh. Soon enough, everyone from Mr Zayn Malik to Mr Jaden Smith was crazy for a shred effect.
But this micro-era’s defining fray, the one that has dominated the year in style, occurs at the very base of the leg. You know, where the hem of your trouser used to be. Before a night out, a date, or even a job interview, the style world’s most discerning are sawing slavishly at their 501s. Tips on how to transform your hems into hem-nots are daily content fillers on style blogs, and even Mr Jason Statham’s in on it: he stepped out with girlfriend Ms Rosie Huntington-Whiteley recently with frays dangling every which way.
But when exactly did the trend spawn? Is it just another Insta-endorsed 1990s throwback; a niche derivative of the distressed-jeans grunge look? Is everyone still so obsessed with Mr River Phoenix? Well… yes and no. Mr Nicco Torelli, the fashion director of London independent style magazine Wonderland thinks it’s all a little bit chicken-and-egg: the likes of Vetements – the brand that arguably started the frayed-hem trend with its coveted composite jeans – are certainly paying homage to 1990s heroin chic, but Maison Margiela got there first. And without the legendary fashion house, of course, there’d be no Mr Demna Gvasalia — the Margiela runaway who founded Vetements. “Without a doubt, Maison Margiela was first,” Mr Torelli says. “They focused on the deconstruction of the garment, that was their point of study.”
Mr Hugh Westland, a designer at Balenciaga, agrees. But he’s more interested in the labels pushing the idea a little further: “It can be traced to brands driving trends in menswear at the moment, such as Off-White and [Mr Kanye West’s fashion line] Yeezy, and Vetements in Paris, but you could also mention brands like [Paris-based, layers-fixated design studio] Faith Connexion, [British fetishwear-inspired brand] Martine Rose and [Portuguese denim-obsessed duo] Marques’ Almeida.” When they formed the brand back in 2011, Ms Marta Marques and Mr Paulo Almeida took frayed denim and made it their raison d’être, slashing at the ends of thick-sleeved tees and necklines as well as jean hems. Recently, even Mr Justin Bieber took to an arena show wearing one of the LVMH prize-winning duo’s fray-denim dresses. Take from that what you will.
In case you’ve been a little fray-wary up until now and are keen to test out the trope on your own denim collection, here are some basic dos and don’ts.
Bother to DIY:Walk into your nearest high-street chain today, and expect to see rows of neatly pre-frayed jeans. A good frayed hem is a little bit scraggly, a little messy, a little bit punk. Do it properly yourself, for goodness’ sake.
Get your lengths right:Frays might be back, but three-quarter-length trousers are not. In the rare chance you actually want to look like you’ve borrowed your nephew’s jeans, stop reading now. For the rest of you: make sure your shoe-to-frayed-hem distance is no more than two inches.
Use the right tools:Tool-up, or your foray into the fray is going to sting. Find yourself a sharp pair of scissors, a ruler and a stick of chalk. Measure the distance you want from heel to hem, and mark your new hemline. Cut with precision – there’s nothing more distracting or embarrassing than someone who has noticeably self-frayed. Avoid this by sticking to long continuous cuts along a straight line. If you want to get the frays going, pick some out with tweezers – but don't get too excited (see below).
Go over the top with fray lengths:You want people to be able to see your frays, but you don’t want people to be scared by them. Avoid turning your hems into wispy spider legs by pulling gently at three or four freshly frayed threads until they dangle down an inch or so.
Fray everything you own:Don’t harvest your entire jeans collection; save a few pairs for stand-up meetings and wakes. Also, avoid fraying off-piste: frayed denim jacket collars, yes; frayed ties, hats, waistcoats etc, no.
Bother fraying super-skinny jeans:Afford your frays a flappable amount of room around the leg: after all, you want people to be able to notice them. Don’t mix old and new trends by hacking off the ankle-clamping hems of your super-skinnys.