Ombre Bleached DIY Cut-off Jean Shorts

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Summer has always been my favorite season. When I imagine the perfect summer day, I think of sitting outside in the sun, laughing with my friends, and listening to some band’s happy music (probably with a drink in hand). And of course, I’m wearing a cute outfit - summer is when I can break out my flowy dresses, crop tops, and denim cutoffs!

So, in preparation for my summer wardrobe (a couple years ago), I decided I wanted to make my own pair of denim cutoff shorts. I had been inspired by these shorts, and the several blog posts I had seen showed me the basics of bleaching and gave me enough confidence to take a stab at making a pair of ombre cutoffs myself!


Things you will need:

tulip paint
  • A pair of men’s jeans (I found a pair of black Levi’s at a thrift store) or jean shorts

  • Pencil

  • Scissors

  • Sandpaper

  • Bleach

  • Bucket

  • Hanger with clips (optional)

  • Disposable gloves

  • Fabric paint (I used Tulip Slick in black)

  • Stencil (optional)



  1. Cut your jeans into shorts (skip this step if you’re starting with shorts)

    1. Try on your jeans to see how they sit, and decide how long you want your shorts. Mark the length on both legs with a pencil.

    2. Take the jeans off so you can draw a line around the leg where you will cut the jeans.
      I wanted mine to roll up once or twice at the end, so actually drew my line an inch or two below the point I had marked. Make sure the inseam (from the crotch to where you drew your line) is the same for both legs.

    3. Cut slightly below the line you drew, especially if you plan on fraying the edges It’s always better to be safe than sorry - you can cut more off later if they end up longer than you’d like. If you want to fray or roll the edges of your shorts like I did, your cut doesn't have to be perfect!

    4. Try your shorts on again to make sure you like the length. Re-cut if you want them shorter.

  2. Distress your shorts

    1. Using your scissors, make a few small snips in the fabric. I did a couple in the front where the pockets were.

    2. Rub sandpaper on any area of your shorts you want distressed: the bottom of your shorts, the snips you made in the fabric, and any pocket edges or belt loops. Don’t go crazy here - edges will become more frayed when we wash the shorts later in a laundry machine.
      I’ve been told you can also use an automatic sander for this, but haven’t tried!

  3. Dip bleach your shorts

    1. Pour the bleach into the bucket until it comes about 2 inches high.

    2. With your gloves on, dip just the bottom 1-2 inches of your shorts into the bleach. You can use your hanger here while you wait for the bleach to work, if you can’t rest your shorts over the edge of the bucket or if you don’t want to hold the shorts with your hands.

    3. You’ll see the bleach starting to work pretty quickly. For an ombre effect: after the shorts look a light grey (not completely white), dip your shorts 1-2 inches deeper into the bleach so that about 2-4 inches of your shorts are in the bleach.

    4. Repeat this every 5-10 minutes until you reach the level on your shorts where you want the bleach to stop.

    5. Definitely use your personal judgment here - if the shorts are getting lighter than you want, dip after shorter intervals; if the shorts are still not as light as you’d like, dip at longer intervals and keep the shorts in the bleach longer.

    6. On the last dip, make sure your shorts are dipped fairly evenly in the bleach, as this line will be noticeable since it's near the black. 

    7. It should take ~20-30 minutes in total to achieve the lightness you want.

    8. Wash and dry your shorts in a laundry machine to get rid of the bleach chemicals and prepare them for painting!

  4. Add a pattern to your shorts

    1. Find a pattern inspiration.

    2. Trace your pattern on with a pencil. I did mine freehand, but you can also

      • use a pre-made stencil that you bought

      • create a stencil using cardboard, like a cereal box, so that your design is more consistent.

        I traced my pattern onto the bottom of my shorts where I had bleached them, as well as on one of my back pockets.

    3. Fill in your tracing with the fabric paint.

    4. Let dry! You’re done (if you want to be)!

  5. Add any finishing touches (optional)

    1. I added some more fraying/distressing after my paint dried, out of personal preference.

    2. You can also re-cut your shorts if you realize you want them shorter, and follow the distressing step again.

    3. I also think it’d be fun to add some hardware, maybe some studs!

Excuse the poor image quality :)

Excuse the poor image quality :)

All done! Try them on, wear them out, and get lots of compliments from your friends, and be prepared to get an “are you serious?!” exclamation when you tell them you made them. These have definitely become my "go-to" shorts - they look great with a plain tee and boots, but I also like to wear them with a more feminine top too. I would love to see any pictures if you decide to try this project!