Distressing a leather jacket: 5 ways to get vintage quick

A vintage leather jacket can tell a thousand stories…

It’s a jacket that’s been places and seen things the rest of us can only dream of… so maybe the bloke wearing it has too?

We assume that’s the idea behind vintage clothing anyway, because in the last few decades, donning second-hand or severely aged gear has somehow become the most fashionable look on the planet.

It’s a particularly desired trait of leather jackets – clothing shorthand for the cool, aloof aesthetic, giving the wearer a roguish maturity and wisdom well beyond their years.

But unless your grandad was in the Hell’s Angels, getting your hands on one can be mighty tough.

Of course, you could just buy a leather jacket and wear it for five decades… yet there’s something about a zimmer frame that really offsets that rebel biker look.

So if patience isn’t your game, check out this handy guide we’ve put together on how to distress and age a brand spanking new piece of hide, ensuring you can get the vintage look 25 years too early!

Word Of Warning: Leather Types to Avoid Distressing

Before we reveal all the juicy distressing deets, we need to have a little chat about leather.

Only proper, certified leather will take on an ageing process without becoming damaged, so you need to be really careful before you begin any steps and make sure you know what material you’re dealing with.

Two things to specifically watch out for are the words ‘faux’ and ‘genuine’.

Faux Leather

Faux, of course, is just a prettier, more french way to say fake, helping those of us who buy fake leather feel a little less cheap and knock-off.

Faux leather is most commonly made from a thermoplastic polymer – they look like leather, but don’t really feel or have the same textual properties.

This means they are often less durable and will never develop the same patina that real leather would.

Attempting to age or distress this plastic is likely going to have some seriously dodgy results, if not just completely damage the material and ruin your jacket.


While faux products are easier to avoid, it’s genuine leather that can be a more confusing tag to spot.

Leather actually comes in three distinct qualities: Genuine, Top-Grain & Full-Grain.

Full-Grain is your Rolls Royce, Top-Grain is your Mini Cooper and Genuine is your Fiat Panda.

There’s nothing wrong with a Fiat Panda, they’re a brilliant car…

They’re just not a Rolls Royce.

So while most people read genuine to simply mean ‘real’, you should also be aware that the term is actually a distinction, usually meaning the leather has been made with cheaper cuts bonded together.

It won’t last as long as higher-grain leather and won’t have the same textural quality either.

They therefore don’t age well and are not of the correct quality to develop a rich patina, so attempting to distress them is only speeding up their trip to the rubbish bin.

Distressing Leather: How To Do It

Once you’re clued up on your leather’s grain type and quality, you can begin the beautiful process of premature leather ageing.

Here’s what you’re going to need:

  • Leather Distressing Kit
  • Rubbing Alcohol
  • Empty Spray bottle
  • Cloth
  • Toothbrush
  • Fine Grade Sandpaper
  • Wire Brush
  • Leather Conditioner

Once you’ve got your leather distressing arsenal at the ready, it’s then important to exercise the following steps with a good degree of caution.

Distressing is an irreversible act, so if you accidentally go further than desired – there’s no going back.

Take it slow and steady and evaluate your jacket after each step, if you’ve more or less achieved the look you want by Step 2 – just stop! Otherwise, you may end up regretting it.

Anyway, with all our precautions and warnings out the way, let’s finally get to the method.

Step By Step Leather Distressing Method

1. Weather with Rubbing Alcohol

Pour some rubbing alcohol into your empty spray bottle and then begin spraying your jacket from a 15-20 cm distance, working up a fine mist onto the leather.

If there are certain areas of the jacket you want distressing, you can alternatively apply the rubbing alcohol with a toothbrush or cloth.

The real art of this is ensuring you don’t soak the jacket, as you just want it to affect the top layer of the leather.

You can then leave it to dry naturally, where an aged appearance should begin to form.

2. I Knead More Distress!
If a simple weathered appearance is a bit meek for your tastes, you can enhance this distress by manipulating your jacket after applying the rubbing alcohol.

Crease and fold the jacket every which way to disturb it’s unmarked aesthetic, creating deep wrinkles and lines before leaving it to dry.

3. Roughing It Up
If after your leather jacket is dry you’re still not happy with the results, it’s time to bring out the big guns – that big gun namely being sandpaper.

Be careful with this step and be sure to use really fine grade sandpaper.

The intention here is to create a much more worn out, rough and tumble look – implying not only has this jacket been around for a really long time, but it’s also probably seen combat.

Lightly rub the sandpaper on areas where you’d naturally expect to see wear and tear, then finish the step by applying some leather conditioner to soothe the nasty torture you’re jacket has endured so far.

4. Applying Serious Edge

While the last steps might make your jacket look like it’s done battle, this next step will ensure it’s fought multiple wars, with a seriously distressed and beaten look.

Pick up your wire brush or a heavy bristled one and begin repeating the sandpapering process, adding further distress to your previously created points of wear.

5. Ashes To Ashes, Dust to Dust
If you’re still not happy with the look of your leather after those last four steps, you’re obviously one sick puppy and we’re getting to the stage where you might need some kind of acid to achieve the look you’re going for.

Instead though, we suggest getting down and dirty with your jacket… by literally chucking it in the muck.

By this we don’t mean throwing it into some kind of peat bogs, but rather finding an area with dry dirt or dust to give it a light smattering of age.

The aim is not to get it drenched in dirt and instead aim to give it a light coating, where you can then brush off the excess, leaving only the microscopic grub trapped in the grain.

Why you’d want to look like a dusty old cowboy is beyond us, but the options there if you’re still not happy!