What we have here, Shoppists, is proof that denim can be utterly, painfully cool. We also have proof that denim—especially when it’s ultra cool—can also be utterly, painfully expensive. For those brave enough to venture beyond the skinnies (you are! I know it!), I’ve found seven incredible pairs that take denim to another level. But if you don’t have deep pockets—a few of these pairs break the bank—I’ve also given you some helpful tips for turning your old jeans into modern works of art, along with a handy ranking of where they each fall on the DIY scale. So read on, friends, and if you attempt any of these at home, please let me know! I’ll certainly be taking a paintbrush to my oldest pair. Happy shopping/creating.
THE '90s // DIY SKILL LEVEL: 1
DKNY's collaboration with Opening Ceremony resulted in these: haute-grunge jeans with a faux wrapped waistband. BUY 'EM: $265 at Forward by Elyse Walker. DIY 'EM: Buy a pair of boyfriend jeans a size larger than you'd normally wear and tie a jean jacket or thin henley around your waist. Instant My So-Called Life style, minus all the angst.
THE DIP-DYED // DIY SKILL LEVEL: 2
I've been obsessed with dip-dyed denim since this Dries van Noten pair went down the runway in 2011. This Tibi pair is a subtler take on the ombre effect. BUY 'EM: $250 at Tibi. DIY 'EM: Mix two parts water with one part bleach, dip your pair into the solution and let it soak for 30 minutes (make sure to wear gloves!). Once you've bleached them to your liking, remove and let them soak in a mixture of two parts water and one part vinegar for about 10 minutes (this stops the bleaching process).
THE FRINGED // SKILL LEVEL: 5
Junya Watanabe's fringed patchwork jeans aren't for the faint of heart. But with a pair of black heels, I think they're Friday-night-out perfection. BUY 'EM: $755 at Net-a-Porter. DIY 'EM: These can go cheesy very quickly, so you'll want to proceed with caution. Distress your jeans first (this is a great tutorial) and then apply patches. I recommend seeking out awesome patterns at vintage or thrift stores and using these for the patch fabrics. As for fringe, you can get it on Amazon for $4.50 a yard.
THE PAINTED // DIY SKILL LEVEL: 6
I'm beyond obsessed with this painterly pair by Scotch & Soda. BUY 'EM: $179 at Scotch & Soda. DIY 'EM: Most importantly, you'll need fabric paint. Wash and dry your jeans first, making sure not to use fabric softener. White paint lets other colors pop; if you don't trust your artistic abilities, use a cool stencil. Then? Have fun!
THE PATCHED // DIY SKILL LEVEL: 7
Last fall, Phillip Lim embroidered racing-style patches all over his denim. BUY 'EM: $243 at Neiman Marcus. DIY 'EM: You'll need a lot of patience for this one, as well as a hefty supply of cool patches. Go here to pad your collection, and tack each one on with fabric tape before you start sewing to give you an idea of how the finished product will look.
THE EMBROIDERED // DIY SKILL LEVEL: 9.5
This pair by Levi's looks as if it's been splattered with paint. But look closer and you'll see that each swipe is actually embroidered. BUY 'EM: $88 at Levi's. DIY 'EM: This is tough because in order to embroider the entire leg, you'll need to rip the inseam. If you're up to the challenge, go here for details on how to embroider (note: You'll just be doing rough squares—the "splatters" are supposed to look somewhat unintentional). Want an easier way? Get fabric paint and go to town!
THE TEXTURED // DIY SKILL LEVEL: 45
These textured, quasi-distressed skinnies are fantastic—and prove that distressing doesn't have to mean holes. BUY 'EM: $762.12 at Farfetch. DIY 'EM: Don't try this at home. Just ... trust me.