This Is The Best "How-To" You'll Ever Read: Chop Up And Age All Your T-shirts Like A PUNK ROCK BOSS

Here's how to age and chop up all your T-shirts, making them look "vintage" in a snap!
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Publish date:
September 25, 2013
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shoppables, scissors, cut up t-shirts, punk rock

I very clearly remember the first time I thought to take a pair of scissors to my clothes. My mom actually gave me the idea in the 5th grade when she caught me wearing a denim miniskirt she'd warned me not to wear to school approximately 5 million times.

When she caught me in the skirt that 5 millionth time, she instantly took a pair of scissors to it and cut it into ribbons like that thing at the car wash that soaps up your vehicle, rendering it "unwearable!" Or so she thought.

I was sad about it for 10 seconds until I realized it actually looked kind of cool and started wearing it like that -- albeit with bike shorts underneath. She had thoughtfully left the waistband attached to the skirt, so the ribbons she cut into it flounced around like super cute fringe.

That was the day my mom finally realized who she was dealing with. She stopped commenting on my wardrobe, conceded defeat and decided to buy me my very own pair of proper fabric shears so I could go to town on my clothes to my heart's content. I still use those shears at work to this very day.

I don't cut my skirts up anymore, but I am a bona-fide T-shirt chopping master. I cut up shirts for actors on TV shows, for my closest pals, and in my very own closet. It's amazing what taking a pair of scissors to a boring old Hanes Beefy-T can do. People are always surprised -- so I thrifted a bunch of cheap novelty T-shirts on xoJane's dime to share my favorite T-shirt chops with you.

I go for really simple rocker flavored styles when I cut up tees -- no fancy weaving, braiding or clever cutouts. I'm talking straight chop jobs -- no real skill necessary. Five minutes and a stunningly sharp pair of scissors is all you need. (I'm talking scissors that can kill. The sharper the scissor, the better the chop!)

Fish Gills

I usually cut fish gills in a shirt when it's a little too small. This trick can buy you a half inch or so all over the shirt. I love little kid's T-shirts and weird, tight 90s style babydoll cut band tees, so fish gills are a must. Take this Prince and the Revolution shirt I SCORED at a Goodwill here in LA:

Awesome, but just a bit too tight. I sliced some fish gills into the sides and VOILA! Extra room. Sometimes an extra half inch makes all the difference in life.

Lay the shirt flat on a table and cut small slits on each side of the shirt, starting about 2" below the armpit and stopping around the bottom of your ribcage. Once I cut one side, I usually find some sort of straight edge device to make sure it's remotely even on both sides. If your shirt is really tight, you can add fish gills down the back to relax the fit even further.

Party Vents

I have a few T-shirts that fit really well everywhere -- except for where they grab my guts and hips right at the bottom. Luckily there's an easy solution. Just slit straight up the side seams to create what I like to call "party vents"!

They are so named because they allow you to eat to your hearts content at a party and not worry about your dumb T-shirt getting too tight around the middle. (This is also a good trick for preggo ladies to be able to wear T-shirts they may already own. Add a tank top underneath and you're set!)

Halter Tee

This is my very favorite chop of all. It works best with a T-shirt that fits super close to the body. I often use little kid's tees for this very reason.

Start out by putting on the shirt and marking (with pins, chalk, or tape) where you'd like the shirt to hit your side boob. I always like to leave the ability to wear a bra with mine. After marking, lay the shirt flat and chop just inside the pins at an angle straight up to the edge of the collar. Don't cut into the collar, as you need it for the shirt to stay up!

After you cut off one sleeve, I find it useful to flip that sleeve over and use it as a cutting guide for the opposite sleeve. A word of pro shirt-chopping advice: Cut a little less than you think is right the first time -- you can always cut more, but you can't go back in time and cut less.

Classic Sleeveless Tank Tee

My other go-to T-shirt chop is the classic sleeveless tank version. I find it works best with any men's style tee that hangs a little loosely on your body.

Start by cutting the neck out right below the seam. It opens the neck up more than you realize, so don't cut too low. Next, start right at the armpit and cut up towards the shoulder, almost in a smiley face shape.

The goal is to not aim your cut too close to the neck -- you are trying to leave a sort of wide tank style strap to balance out the rest of the shirt's proportions (and also so you can wear a bra with it!)

Open-Side Muscle Tee

Slouchy, open-side T-shirts are a trend that doesn't appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.

But why overpay for someone else's scissor work? Convert any old T-shirt you may have laying around into this super trendy style in two simple snips. The best part is you almost CANNOT mess this one up.

Start about 6" up from the bottom hem of the shirt. Cut upwards at a very slight angle, making sure to leave a wide 'muscle tee' width of shirt at the shoulder. (It's so bare on the sides, you need this width to even out the proportions.) Pop on your favorite bra that's meant for show (or a cute camisole!) and hit the road.

Flashdance 2013 Tee

Jennifer Beals' off the shoulder sweatshirt in Flashdancemade a huge impression on me as a child. I've loved off-the-shoulder and shoulder-baring styles ever since. So I came up with a 2013 version of it that you can wear a bra with!

First, cut the neck out right below the collar. Then, cut a rounded triangle or half moon shape out of each shoulder, with the sleeve seam squarely in the middle. I find it useful to find some household object, such as the safety pin you see above, as a measuring device when I go to chop the other side. Again -- using the piece you already cut as a guide ensures both sides are perfectly even.

You can make the neck and shoulder cutouts as large as you want, but I like to be able to wear all my chopped tees to work, so I keep them on the smaller side.

Of course chopping up your T-shirts is only half the story. Everyone on earth wants their T-shirts to look a million years old -- that soft, broken in, washed down vintage feeling is worth cash money these days. It's the bane of our existence on shows, as we want the actor's T-shirts to look and feel like they are real vintage pieces -- but real vintage doesn't work when you have stunt doubles and scenes involving tons of mud and slime!

So, do what we do on set to make your new shirts look old in a jiffy: buy a box of REAL trisodium phosphate powder (NOT a TSP substitute!) and add 2-3 cups (eyeballing it, just pouring from the box) to a small washer load using the hottest water setting. Let the washer agitate a bit to dissolve the powder, add your garments, lift the lid, and let the shirts soak for an hour or so. (No longer though, or it could start to damage your washer.)

After an hour, close the lid and let the entire cycle run. Sadly, this doesn't work with those fancy new HE front-loading washers, as they don't fill all the way and don't allow you to stop the load to soak. (If you own a fancy washer, I see a bucket and teakettle shirt-soaking method in your future. Be sure to rinse like hell with your garden hose!)

Repeat more than once if needed. Trisodium phosphate is a phosphate-based cleaning compound that also acts as a degreaser. It breaks down fibers and removes the "sizing" manufacturers use in new garments. It makes everything look like it's been washed a million times instantly.

Keep in mind, trisodium phosphate is a real chemical, and meant to be kept out of the reach of children. Unless you huff it, drink it or pour it all over your body, you'll be fine using it. Just try not to get it on your hands. (It also has the added benefit of leaving your washer sparkling clean.)

If you're feeling really crafty, you could take a sandpaper block to your T-shirts. A slightly fraying hem is the fastest way to fake a vintage garment. Fake it till ya make it!

I'm on Twitter: @IveyAlison.