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How to Upcycle an Old Jean Jacket?

Old denim jacket hanging on a wall ready to be upcycled into something cool again.

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The fashion industry is one of the heaviest polluters on the planet. Instead of tossing your old jean jacket in the bin, give it a second life. Get inspired and learn how you can revamp your old denim.

There are a myriad of ways to upcycle an old denim jacket. Depending on your skill level and tastes you can add new accents, dye or bleach it, and even reconstruct your garment to give it new energy. Explore all the ways to amp up your denim jacket style. And if you rather purchase an upcycled item, check out these talented reworked clothing designers.   

Why should you upcycle denim?

Upcycling is an important method to increase the lifespan of a garment. Extending your clothing’s life aids in alleviating the toll of high closet turnover. Most clothes that we donate do not end up in the closet of someone else. Instead, they often end up in warehouses, landfills in foreign countries, or rag houses where they are repurposed into industrial rags or insulation materials. This results in a costly burden on the environment and developing nations. By upcycling your denim, you can contribute to reducing this impact.

Why is denim a great material for upcycling?

Denim is a highly sought-after material in the second-hand fashion world. A name-brand denim pair of pants or jacket is highly valued, due to the fabric. Denim is constructed of a woven warp-weft structure. This weave is remarkably strong and durable, allowing denim to maintain integrity for decades. Upcycling is a way to continue wearing your denim, as the fabric material will last longer than most fashion trends and styles. Moreover, denim is a versatile and seasonless fashion staple, making it suitable for various climates and occasions, further supporting its potential for upcycling and extended use.

Denim Jacket Upcycling Ideas

Don’t be intimidated by the process of upcycling your denim jacket. Take into account your skill level and tools at hand, then let your imagination run.

Stencil Artwork and Painting

  Trendy reworked denim idea similar to what fashion designers are doing these days 

Using your denim jacket as a canvas is an impressive way to add some character and detail to your style. Add painted accents to the collar, or use the large square back panel as a space for a motif. It is important to map out your design beforehand for the best results.

If you don’t think you can freehand paint on your denim jacket, no worries – use a stencil. You can cut out shapes or lettering very easily, with either parchment paper or cardboard. Then tape them down and allow them to guide your design.

Embroidery Detailing


Embroidery is an elegant way to add small to medium detailing to your jacket. If you are new to embroidery, attempt floral accents to the collar, or sleeve hems. If you are more ambitious try a more ornate design in the upper-portion of the back panel or sleeves.

Patching and Mixed Media


Adding patches or fabric accents can give your garments a pop of color. Patches do not require a high sewing skill level as they are small and do not take long to execute. Add patches to the elbows or shoulders for an updated look.

Dying and Bleaching


Is the color of your denim jacket looking tired? Pick up a natural fiber dye or bleach and give your jacket a new shade. This is a fun summer activity to do with friends, as you will need to allow your garment to dry in a safe space or under the sun. This method can get a little messy but offers vibrant results.

Cropping and Reconstructing


Modifying the overall structure of your denim jacket will require a higher level of skill and specific tools, like a sewing machine or serger. Reconstruction allows you to fully update and transform the design of the garment. This method allows you to completely rebuild the silhouette to one that may be more current.

Cropping is a simple way to update the look of your jacket. You have the option of leaving your hem raw, which does not require significant sewing skills or material. If you do want to finish the hem or add more material after, you may need to consider getting the right equipment to execute the final look. Either way, it will offer a fashionable and much-desired change.

How to Care for your Upcycled Jean Jacket?

Denim lovers will tell you to never wash your denim, and if you must, do so as infrequently as possible. Once you have altered your denim jacket, do not machine wash it by any means, exclusively handwash. Machine washing can cause paint to flake off, and embroidery, sewn on accents or reconstruction to weaken at their attachment points. So, always hand-treat with care.

Your imagination is the only limit when it comes to upcycling your old jean jacket. Get inspired and help save your denim from an early demise in a landfill, and look great while doing so.

FAQs About Upcycling Denim

Yes, denim is a great fabric to upcycle due to its longevity, durability and timeless nature.
The best place to find cheap denim to upcycle are garage sales and rummage sales. Many people are happy to let their old jeans or jackets go for a dollar or $2. Unfortunately, at thrift stores, denim can command a high price tag.
It can be! It totally depends on the technique that you are using. Some may find the stencil / free form artwork style the easiest to start with, but if you are an experienced sewer you can opt for some different techniques.

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