(denim) battle jackets for dummies

If you’re gonna be dyeing the jacket, you want it bleached as light as possible– even if you’re dyeing it to a dark color. Bleaching the denim removes the current pigment in the fabric, which makes the resulting dye colors much more vivid. If you take a dark blue denim vest and try to dye it black without bleaching it, it’ll actually take more time and more dye than if you had bleached it first.

For bleach, I use your stereotypical standard bleach (not oxygen bleach). My usual mixture is roughly 60/40 bleach/water, but this can vary based on fabric and preference.

For the actual bleaching vessel, I use a large stock pot I found at a secondhand store. No heat is required, just time.

The length of time you need to keep the jacket in the bleach depends on the fabric. 100% cotton denim is pretty strong, with polyester mixes and the like getting a bit more tricky. Before submerging the entire jacket, try dripping a small amount of bleach on a hard-to-notice area and watch how quickly it lightens. If you plan on dyeing the jacket, the fabric likely won’t need to be a perfect white, and if you leave it to bleach too long you risk weakening or outright destroying the fabric (I’ve had jackets quite literally disintegrate in my hands). Gently pulling the fabric while wearing gloves and doing 5-minute checks can help with knowing when to stop. As a rule of thumb, thinner fabric = less time.

Once you’re satisfied with the shade of the fabric, pull it out and make sure to wash both the jacket and your stock pot thoroughly. You don’t want any remaining bleach to continue degrading the fabric, and you’ll probably be using the vessel to dye the jacket as well, so you don’t want residual bleach in there messing up the process. Normally I wash the jacket by hand at this stage, but throwing it in a washing machine alone is also fine. Once you're done, let it dry completely.