Acid Wash / Stonewash / Distressed Denim


Denim jeans have always been a classic American staple. But in the anything-goes ‘80’s, denim’s popularity got, er, ripped to shreds. Acid-washed denim had arrived, and the deep blue indigos were now streaked with messy white bleach marks and spots. For the next few years, it seemed, if your jeans weren’t splotched with bleach stains, they were an unacceptable fashion choice. Let’s take a look back at this memorable trend.

Clothing manufacturer, Guess?, introduced the first stonewashed jeans to the United States in 1982, using a kind of chemical distressing that physically changed the state of the material. In 1986, a new chemical process called “acid wash” was patented by Italian Candida Laundry Company and commercialized by Rifle of Italy. Also known as marble, frosted or ice wash, this process was a form of chemical bleaching that broke down the fibers in the material and caused fading and bleaching. Then the jeans were washed with porous stones soaked in chlorine bleach, and the repetitive beating action would bleach of the fabric and create an uneven, mottled effect.

The biggest distributor for acid wash jeans in the US was Z. Cavaricci. Once this style hit the shelves, denim skirts and jackets followed, along with acid wash slouch socks, canvas sneakers, and cotton hair scrunchies. Parents weren’t too pleased that their kids were running around in clothing that looked like it had gotten run over by a truck, combined with the fact that the acid wash process made this material more expensive than traditional denim.

When acid wash wasn’t extreme enough, people took matters into their own hands. Jeans became sliced and diced. First, a simple horizontal rip at the knees. Then tears up and down the legs, gradually resulting in a good deal of bare skin. Finally, rips across the butt, fashioned with either a sewn-in handkerchief or exposed boxers short – or nothing at all – completed the cycle. The ripped look was popular with hard rockers and hair bands (Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me” video is a perfect example). Eventually, when there was nothing left to bleach, pound, or rip up, the fad itself faded, and denim became whole once again.

Help us recall the days of decimated denim by sharing your own memories of these unforgettable jeans in our comments section as we fondly remember these faded fashions from yesteryear, here at Retroland.

3 Responses to “Acid Wash / Stonewash / Distressed Denim”

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  1. Leann says:

    I just remember my dad and the stone washed ripped jeans. He was so funny. When he first saw a pair he just couldn’t believe his eyes that someone would actually pay for jeans that looked “old and worn”. I remember him saying that when he was a kid he had to wear hand me downs from his older brothers that look like that and that he hated it. And here we were buying them! HAHA too funny!


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