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The Vintage Look: How To Distress Leather In 5 Steps

BY Buffalo Jackson Insight
BY Amanda Uher

Revised 10/6

Of course, the traditional way to achieve the distressed, vintage look and feel of a decades-old leather bag is to, well, carry it around for a few decades. But if you’re not in the mood to wait, here’s how to distress leather in 5 steps to get you there in a hurry. 

Here's How to Distress Leather

1. Apply rubbing alcohol.

Using a spray bottle, lightly mist the leather with rubbing alcohol. You may also apply it with a cloth or even a toothbrush. Be sure to not drench your bag - you just want to dampen it with the rubbing alcohol, which will then dry out the leather and begin producing a weathered look.

2. Beat it up.

While the leather is still damp with rubbing alcohol, crease, crumple, and knead the leather. This is how to distress leather with the well-worn look of lines and folds on the surface.

3. Break out the sandpaper.

Rub fine grade sandpaper on the leather to increase the worn look. Be sure to focus on parts of your bag that would naturally experience the most distress, like the bottom and corners. This is also a good point to take a break, check your progress, and consider applying leather conditioner to give the leather some love.

4. Grab a heavy bristled brush.

To achieve a further distressed finish, take a wire brush or heavy bristled brush to your leather. Apply the brush in the same way you did the sandpaper, and continue to focus on points of natural wear. 

5. Kick up some dust.

Finally, to add a dusty, aged appearance, take your bag outside and toss it in the dirt. Dry dirt, that is. You’re not trying to get the thing muddy. But kick it around in some dust, dirt, or even a sandbox if that’s your style. When you’ve got the look and feel you want, just brush off the excess.

A word of caution: we’re talking about how to age and distress leather, not ruin it. So don’t go hog wild here - take one careful step at a time and evaluate your progress before moving to the next step. Once your bag is distressed, you can’t un-distress it! 

Another word of caution: if your bag is labeled Genuine Leather, this process likely won’t end well for you. Remember, Genuine Leather is a catch-all term that really just means “technically leather.” It is not made to age well and is not capable of developing an aged leather patina. (Check out our article on Types of Leather for more information.) Only premium grade leather will develop that vintage patina we love. While on the subject of leather, read up on the differences between faux leather and real leather, because you can't distress faux leather either. 

Looking for a leather bag that can go the distance with you? Explore our timeless collections of leather goods, from purses, duffel bags, briefcases For other DIYs like how to distress leather, check out our blog post on  how to waterproof leather in 4 steps.


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