How To Distress Leather And Suede Boots: Vintage Style

There’s something about leather boots that expresses a sense of laid-back composure and rugged adventurousness. Boots are a staple in many wardrobes, and you may have at least one lived-in-and-loved pair that’s perfectly distressed.

But what about those sleek leather or suede boots that you pull out of the box? They may be pristine, but they lack the form-fitting comfort of broken-in boots, and they just don’t have that same carefree style. You’ll eventually make memories in them, but for now, you can give them a well-worn look by distressing them yourself.

If the thought of how to distress leather and suede boots makes you a little confused, don’t worry. We’re here to give you all of our tips and tricks.


Four Natural Methods For Distressing Leather And Suede Boots

The Rock Method

Boots get their scuffs and scars by exposing themselves to the world. If you haven’t owned them long enough, however, you might have to bring the world to them. One way to do that is to rub them with a rough rock, according to Free People.

distress leather boots with rock
  • Find a sharp edge on the rock.
  • Strike the rock onto the leather, making marks that you like.
  • The marks should not be too uniform – boots naturally get scuffed by random objects, but you typically walk in a forward-and-back motion. Therefore, the distressed marks on your boots should generally go from front to back.

The Broom Method

If you don’t like the marks that the rock made or have trouble getting the right random pattern, you might try brushing the boot with a heavy bristled brush.

distressing leather boot by brushing

Natural bristles will give it a more authentic appearance. Using the alcohol method to soften the leather first will give you even quicker results.

The Hammer Method

You can soften the leather and make it more pliable by hammering it.

  • Place the boot on a wooden step or another surface that can withstand the hammering.
  • Hammer the toe and heel area of the leather.
  • Flatten the leg of the boot and hammer it relatively uniformly to make some marks and add flexibility to the leather.

Make sure that you don’t hammer too hard, or the sole of the boot could break. If you don’t like the marks that the hammer makes on the leather, attach a rag to its head with a rubber band, and bang away.

The Tire Method

If you still want to add some slouchiness to the boot’s leg, you can run it over with your car. We’re not kidding.

  • Lay the boot flat on a road or driveway.
  • The more textured the surface, the more indentations you’ll get on your boots.
  • A gravel road is ideal if you want a lot of distressed texture.
  • Drive back and forth a few times over the flat part of the boot.
  • Flip the boot over, and do the same thing on the other side.

You might want to have a helper guide you so that you don’t drive over the part of the boot in which your shoe fits. You should only be driving over the flat leg of the boot.

The Sandpaper Method

Sandpaper will wear away the finish on some areas of the leather. This can make the textured appearance of suede look smoother and more worn. It may lighten the color of regular leather and make that area thinner and rougher. We recommend using 220-grit sandpaper for this purpose.

  • Gently rub the sandpaper on your boots. (You can also use steel wool).
  • Press harder on areas that would naturally become more worn over time, such as the toes, seams and sides of the heel.

This video shows the exact method for sandpapering your leather boots.


The Adventure Method

The best way to distress leather boots is with time and experience. Take your boots on adventures, and they’ll be sure to get worn down fairly quickly. If you stash them in your closet and only take them out for special occasions, you’ll have to resort to some of the other distressing methods.

making your leather boots look old
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Chemical Distressing Methods

You don’t have to attack your boots to make them look worn in. You can use certain chemicals to add an irregular finish to the surface or change the feel of the leather.

Using Alcohol To Distress Leather Boots

Leather Milk says that alcohol can be used to remove creases from leather. It can also be used to add wrinkles, which are a sign of use and age. You can use an alcohol-based leather cleaner in place of rubbing alcohol too.

  • Place equal parts water and rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle.
  • Spray the exterior of the leather until it’s damp but not drenched. This will soften the boot so that you can manipulate it.
  • Knead, fold and crumple the leather as much as you want. You can use any of the products that we suggested in the natural ways to distress leather to further wear it down. The alcohol will help the process go faster.
  • As the alcohol dries, it will leave creases and areas that appear worn.
  • You can also blast the leather with heat from a blow dryer to speed up the drying time. The heat may alter the appearance of the leather.


Use Shoe Polish For A More Pronounced Effect

Part of the appeal of distressing leather and suede boots is that the finish will be somewhat mottled. You can enhance this effect by adding shoe polish strategically.

  • Choose a color that is a few shades darker than the boot.
  • Apply the polish strategically only to certain areas, concentrating on the areas that you have not buffed with sandpaper.
  • This will make the non-distressed areas look newer and the weathered areas appear older by contrast.


Should You Treat Leather Differently Than Suede?

You can use the methods that we’ve described on leather or suede. However, there is another way to give suede a weathered look that we have not yet discussed.

Fabric wax can deliver a “dirty” finish to suede, making certain areas a little shiny, which happens naturally when suede boots rub against things that are in their way. You can heat the wax with a blow dryer to make it more effective.

Watch this video by Dr. Scholl’s shoe designer Claude Leco that shows exactly how to do this.

A 2015 clip from the Meredith Vieira Show demonstrates that you can even transform new, shiny leather into a suede-like finish using the methods listed above.


What To Do Once You’re Finished

Alcohol can dry out leather, making it brittle. Most people don’t want to let their leather reach this extreme no matter how distressed their style is.

Work a leather conditioner into the surface to hydrate your boots. This will also help the garment retain all of the distressing that you’ve worked so hard to achieve.

Remember, weathering happens with time. Therefore, one shot at DIY distressing leather boots might not be enough to give you the look that you want. It’s a process. You might have to repeat some of the steps more than once to make your boots look perfect.

If you’ve tried any of these methods for how to distress leather and suede boots, we would love to hear about it! Comment below, and share this article with your fellow fashion mavens.

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