The Abridged Story of Distressed Denim

Photo: Laurent Hamels/Getty Images

French denim enthusiast François Girbaud adds stones to his washing machine; his jeans emerge feeling softer and lighter. He later claims to have been the first to stonewash denim.

Photo: McCoy Cox/Rex USA

Ronald Reagan often sports a cowboy hat and broken-in jeans at Camp David. His technique for softening crispy new pairs: wearing them while swimming a few laps in the pool, followed by an air-dry.

Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. hits No. 1. The album’s cover zooms in on the singer’s tattered denim backside, which is simultaneously patriotic and hot.

Photo: Steve Azzara/Corbis

Before filming a video for the song “Heartbreaker,” Mariah Carey cuts the waistband off her denim so that the pants fit more comfortably. The increased midriff exposure is, of course, just a side benefit.

Photo: Lloyd Francis Jr/AP

The world’s oldest known pair of jeans—made by Levi’s in the 1880s and discovered in a Nevada mining town in 1998—are bought at auction (by Levi Strauss & Co.) for $46,530.

Photo: Steve Wood/Rex USA

Junya Watanabe devotes his spring 2002 collection to denim’s re-creation, torturing hundreds of yards of fabric and then sewing them into ragged dresses.

Photo: Nataly Levich

Jean Shop in New York offers shoppers customized distressing for the first time.

Photo: Splash News

January 3, 2004
In Las Vegas, Britney Spears marries her first husband, Jason Alexander. She wears frayed jeans, accented with a white garter.

Photo: Focus Films/Everett Collection

In Brokeback Mountain, Ennis del Mar’s repressed love has one outlet: one of his lover Jack Twist’s denim shirts, hidden inside one of his own.

Bright Eyes releases Cassadaga, in which singer Conor Oberst moans, “Now the sky is a torn-up denim,” on the song “Classic Cars.”

Photo: Courtesy of Diesel

Spring 2008
Diesel produces Viker 8RD, its most distressed look to date. The jeans are slashed and then sewn back together. They retail for $390.

The Abridged Story of Distressed Denim