When I think of classic summer style, I think of denim cutoffs and tees. I think of beaches and swimming holes, ice cream and mini golf, Jeeping with the summer ballads blaring, camping and drinking beers in the woods. I literally can’t remember a time when a great pair of homemade cutoffs wasn’t a major part of my wardrobe and my personal style. Simple, versatile, unassuming, timeless, staple.
Somewhere still in moving boxes, there’s a Polaroid of me and my childhood best friend Joey standing in the street between our houses on the last day of 5th grade, me wearing a pair of acid wash denim cutoffs (that my mom helped me make, salvaged from a favorite pair of jeans with one too many skinned knees) that were signed by all my best friends from elementary school, like a yearbook as we parted ways not only for summer but for junior high, some to public, some to private, some to boarding schools. I think I may still have them.
From Daisy Duke to Farrah Fawcett, the iconic summer sex symbols of my late 70s/early 80s upbringing were all Southern smoke shows sporting cutoff denim shorts in style. Every generation has their own DIY denim trend — whether super short, high-waisted & cuffed for the 80s, slit down the side with fabric panels for the 90s, or embellished with stitching/embroidery and ombre dye/bleach now. Every pair is as unique as the man or woman wearing them, threadbare in all the right spots, and a reflection of their personal outlook on the definition of what summer is meant to be.
A few weeks ago, as I scouted for and envisioned the Summer Style Guide for Austin Goodwill, I obviously had to make a fantastic pair of DIY denim cutoffs to star front and center. One of my favorite 2015 summer trends is layering a breezy vintage kimono over a great pair of shredded cutoffs and a slouchy grey cotton tank top, and thankfully my (dear friend and) fearless beach babe of a model, Catelyn, also happens to be the owner of a drool-worthy vintage shop that currently has a duo of vintage Japanese kimonos in stock.
So I grabbed a pair of 90s-era Banana Republic jeans in Cate’s size from the Goodwill Outlet for about a buck — ideal because they’re 100% cotton with no stretch, a must for chopping jeans into shorts — and set to work making her the perfect pair of custom shredded cutoffs. (This is honestly the BEST way to make use of all those designer flared jeans and pre-jeggings denim, easily found at the back of your closet or generally passed over at Goodwill, which a short decade ago cost us all way, way too much money.) If time allowed, I would’ve washed them a few more times to get them really good and frayed, and may have also added some texture to the pockets/seams with embroidery thread, but for just about an hour’s worth of work, I think they really did the job! Paired with the kimono and vintage gold Monet jewelry from Catelyn’s shop, The Distillery, a fringed cotton tank I also picked up for under a buck at the Goodwill Outlet, and NWT Kate Spade sandals I scored at the Lake Austin Boulevard “Gucci Goodwill” for about $10, I think it’s absolutely spot-on Texas summer style.
To make your own thrifty and totally personalized DIY denim cutoffs, here’s what you’ll need:
- 1 pair of 100% or 99% cotton jeans (non stretch, less than 1% Lycra)
- Another favorite pair of shorts (for length/pattern)
- Box cutter, X-acto knife, or straight razor (the sharper the better)
- Washer & dryer
- Bleach (optional)
- Iron-on fabric tape/fuse (optional, for creating cuffs)
- White chalk or pencil (optional, for marking)
First, take a pair of shorts whose length you love and lay them on top of your jeans, marking the jeans underneath with chalk or pencil so you know where to cut, using the existing shorts as a pattern. (If you don’t have a favorite pair of shorts to use as a pattern, put the jeans on and then mark the leg on one side exactly where you want them to hang, then take them off and use the rest of these steps.) You always want to cut shorts from pants on an angle, longer on the inseam and slightly shorter on the outer seam, for comfort. That way you account for movement when you’re in motion and the way your 3-dimensional legs are going to fill out the 2-dimensional flat garment. Cut one leg first, then fold the jeans in half and use the cut-short leg as the pattern for the second leg to make sure that they’re even.
For the fun part — customizing your cutoffs — I could reinvent the wheel for you, or just point you in the direction of this awesome distressed & shredded denim tutorial Punky wrote for Shoestring way back when, or over to this awesome blog post my friend Julie wrote on 3 ways to customize denim cutoffs for summer, or just send you to watch this awesome video from Free People:
I also put together this “Put Your Jeans to Work” Pinterest board full of hundreds of ideas for turning old denim from your closet or Goodwill into new favorite pieces this summer, including tips for texturizing denim with embroidery and another guide to making DIY denim cutoffs fit your personal style. It may be a little less trendy than it was last summer, but I still really love this idea from A Merry Mishap for getting that “copycat Anthropologie” polka dot denim DIY look by taking some math and some paint to your favorite jeans.
Last, but absolutely not least, these very same tips (and logic) work for turning chinos and khakis into a new favorite pair of shorts, too! My friend Matt wrote this great piece on Chubstr for guys — and Man Made DIY has a ridiculously simple fix for seamlessly patching holes in jeans so you can save a favorite pair (as is or as cutoffs) from embarrassingly placed wear and tear…the options are literally endless!