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Distressed Leather – Unique Strength, Style, and Durability

Leather items are beautiful and strong, but nothing says style like distressed leather. This is often developed over time and with wear but can also be created. I will discuss the strength and style of distressed leather and why it should be in your life.

Distressed leather is leather that is made to look aged and worn. Mechanical or chemical methods rather than wear over time are used by tanneries to distress leather and create a rustic look. It is highly flexible, soft, and durable and often used to make shoes, bags, furniture, and more. 

Are you looking for a new leather jacket but don’t want the new leather look? Want to learn more about distressed leather and what it can be used for? Let’s explore the unique style of distressed leather.

What Is Distressed Leather?

Distressed leather is a type of leather that is purposely made to look worn and rustic. Real leather takes on a natural patina with imperfections and marks with age.

However, distressed leather is made by using mechanical or superficial means to age it and make it look worn or vintage. Leather can be distressed using several methods to wear it out and damage it to achieve an aged look that is considered fashionable.

What We’ll Explore

  • Clearing up Myths & Misconceptions
  • History of Distressed Leather
  • Distressed Leather Characteristics Quick Reference Table
  • In-depth Characteristics of Distressed Leather
  • Pros of Distressed Leather
  • Cons of Distressed Leather
  • How Distressed Leather is Made
  • Production Stats for Distressed Leather
  • Cost of Distressed Leather
  • When You Might Leathercraft with Distressed Leather
  • Tips for Leathercrafting With Distressed Leather
  • Examples of Goods Made from Distressed Leather
  • My Personal Research on Distressed Leather
  • Distressed Leather Care & Maintenance
  • Helpful Insights on Distressed Leather
  • Key Takeaways
A Distressed Leather Wallet - Distressed Leather - Liberty Leather Goods
A Distressed Leather Wallet

Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions

Some believe leather can only develop a distressed look with wear and time. However, several quick and easy methods can be used to age leather and give it that patina that normally takes years to develop. It has been thought that distressing leather damages its durability; however, it actually makes the leather softer, more flexible, and much more durable.

History of Distressed Leather

Leather has been around for centuries, and for a long time, the only way to achieve the distressed look was with time and wear. Mechanical methods like crinkling, hitting it with rocks, and brushing leather to distress it started in the 1960s. The results weren’t consistent and sometimes caused more damage to the leather than the cool aged look. 

The 1970s brought chemical methods like dyes, acetone, coffee, and others to distress leather, which did less damage but didn’t always provide a consistent or desired look. In the 1990s, manufacturers created systemic ways to distress leather using mechanical and chemical means that gave a uniform look and could be replicated repeatedly. 

Sometime in the 2000s, lasers were integrated, making distressing leather much faster. Most recently, robots have been added to automate the application of patina for the distressed leather look.

Distressed Leather Characteristics Quick Reference Table

Natural or SyntheticNatural material, synthetic process
Surface TextureSoft, smooth
Available Thickness (oz/mm)3–4 oz/1.2–1.6 mm
Largest Workable Size4’ by 6’
Flexibility (1–10)9
Softness (1–10)9
Sewability (1–10)7
Durability (1–10)10
Ease of Maintenance (1–10)3
How Long it Lasts (Daily Use)20+ years
Available ColorsBrowns, reds, blues, greens, grays, whites, metallics, multicolors, etc.
Waterproofness (1–10)4
Cost per Square Foot ($)$9–$13
Ease of Crafting (1–10)8
Rarity (Common or Exotic)Common
Annual Production Volume2.5 billion square feet
Biggest Exporting CountryItaly
Biggest Importing CountryItaly
Distressed Leather Characteristics

In-depth Characteristics of Distressed Leather

Natural or Synthetic

While distressed leather can be natural or synthetic, it is often a natural material that has undergone a synthetic process to give it an aged look.

Surface Texture

Although the surface texture of distressed leather can vary based on the treatment process, buttery soft and smooth are terms often used to describe the surface texture of distressed leather.  

Available Thickness

Distressed leather is available in a thickness of 3–4 oz or 1.2–1.6 mm, although the thickness can vary depending on the manufacturer. 

Largest Workable Size 

Because distressed leather usually comes from full grain or top grain leather, the largest size available is a full hide, or approximately 4 feet by 6 feet.


The flexibility of distressed leather is high because the fibers are more relaxed, making it more comfortable as well. However, some types of distressed leather, like thicker leather from cowhide, may be less flexible and require some breaking in before they become comfortable.


Distressed leather is very soft and supple, thanks to the distressing process. Some types of leather, like lambskin, are soft to begin with, so distressing them can often make them even more velvety and easy to mold. However, stiffer distressed leather like cowhide may be less soft.


Sewing distressed leather is comparable to non-distressed leather. A leather needle is best to use, and distressed leather is slightly easier to sew because of its softness and flexibility.


Distressed leather is highly durable, thanks to the distressing process. It is very resistant to scratches, tears, and water.

Leather can be distressed using several methods to wear it out and damage it to achieve an aged look that is considered fashionable.

Ease of Maintenance

Maintaining distressed leather is easy and low-key. Spot cleaning, regular conditioning, and proper storage will keep distressed leather in great shape for many years.

Lifespan with Daily Use

Most distressed leather is made from top or full grain leather, which is the most durable of all leathers. Distressed leather can last 20 years or more with proper care and maintenance, even with daily use.

Available Colors

Distressed leather comes in many different colors, from natural to dyed, including: 

  1. Brown
  2. Red
  3. Gray
  4. Blue
  5. Green 
  6. Metallic 
  7. Rainbow striped


Distressed leather is generally not waterproof, as the distressing process can cause the leather to have tiny pores or cracks that allow water to penetrate the material. However, distressed leather is water resistant, much like non-distressed leather. It can be waterproofed with: 

  1. Spray
  2. Wax
  3. Conditioner


The cost of distressed leather can vary widely based on the quality of the leather, the manufacturer, and the amount of distressing. However, distressed leather generally ranges in price from $9–$13 per square foot.

Ease of Crafting

Crafting with distressed leather is relatively easy with the right supplies. A leather needle and synthetic thread are best for crafting with distressed leather.

Rarity (Common or Exotic)

Distressed leather is considered a common material. It is a popular material for handbags, jackets, and boots.

Pros of Distressed Leather

Distressed leather has several characteristics that make it a popular choice. The pros of distressed leather include:

  1. A beautiful patina that takes no time to obtain by hand or can be purchased already distressed. 
  2. Easy to clean and maintain
  3. Highly durable
  4. Flexible
  5. Soft
  6. Supple
  7. Great value for the price
  8. Long-lasting

Cons of Distressed Leather

Distressed leather may also have some undesirable characteristics, including:

  1. Water resistant rather than waterproof, and excessive moisture can damage it
  2. UV rays will cause fading, drying, and cracking
  3. Uneven appearance

How Distressed Leather is Made

Leather starts as an animal hide that is cleaned and inspected for marks and scars. It is then tanned to make it durable and preserve the leather. The tannery will dye the leather and treat it with mechanical and chemical processes to artificially age it and give it that lovely patina. 

According to research published in The International Journal of Advanced Manufacturing Technology by Borrell, Gonzalez, Vidal, Gracia, and Solanes, robots are now being used to automate and save time creating distressed patina on leather items.

Production Statistics of Distressed Leather

  1. Volume per year: There are approximately 10 billion square feet of leather produced globally, with about a quarter of that being distressed leather.
  1. Key country or countries where it is produced: China is the largest producer of leather at 4 billion square feet annually. Brazil, Italy, Russia, and India are also key countries where all leathers are produced.
  1. Biggest exporting country: Italy
  1. Biggest importing country: Italy

Cost of Distressed Leather

  1. Square Foot: From $9–$13 per square foot
  1. ½ Hide: From $35–$325
  1. Full Hide: From $75–$350

When You Might Leathercraft With Distressed Leather

Leathercrafting with distressed leather is great and can give a wonderful look to:

  1. Keychains
  2. Belts
  3. Carrying straps
  4. Bags
  5. Jewelry

Tips for Leathercrafting With Distressed Leather

Distressed leather is a unique material with lots of flexibility and durability, so it helps to keep a few things in mind when leathercrafting with it:

  1.  Use a leather needle and synthetic thread.
  2.  Practice cuts, embossing, sewing, and other techniques on leather scraps before applying them to distressed leather.
  3. You don’t have to use a rotary cutter; sharp scissors will be fine.

Watch this helpful video from Little King Goods for some general leather crafting tips, tricks, and hacks.

Some Examples of Items Made From Distressed Leather

Distressed leather is a unique look that looks great on everyone. But what items look best made from distressed leather? Here are some examples:

  1. Shoes 
  2. Jackets
  3. Boots
  4. Furniture
  5. Bags
  6. Purses
  7. Pants
  8. Skirt
  9. Décor
  10. Accessories

My Personal Research on Distressed Leather

Most people own some type of leather item, but what about distressed leather? I asked friends and family which distressed leather items they have in their homes. Here is a table representing the percentages of their responses and what I learned from the poll about popular distressed leather items.

Distress Leather ItemTimes Selected
Wrist cuff11%
Popular Distressed Leather Items

Distressed Leather Care and Maintenance

How to Clean Distressed Leather

Distressed leather can be cleaned by removing loose dirt with a soft brush or microfiber cloth or using a leather cleaner appropriate for distressed leather and an old t-shirt or other lint-free cloth. Don’t rub the leather, and follow all manufacturer’s instructions for any commercial leather cleaner. Test any new products in an inconspicuous spot to see if any color changing occurs, and allow the distressed leather to air dry entirely before conditioning.

How to Condition Distressed Leather

Distressed leather can be conditioned with a leather cleaner, mink oil, or leather wax. Make sure the distressed leather is clean and dry before applying any conditioner. Use a microfiber towel or old t-shirt to apply the conditioner all over the distressed leather evenly.

How to Store Distressed Leather

Distressed leather should be stored in a cool and dry place when not in use. Avoid temperature extremes, sunlight, and moisture to keep it in great condition. Take distressed leather out of storage every three to six months to condition.

Helpful Insights on Distressed Leather

Is distressed leather less durable?

Distressed leather may look vintage and roughed up, but it is not less durable than brand-new leather. It is usually made from full grain or top grain leather, which are the highest in durability. The actual process of distressing it makes it even more durable than non-distressed, brand new full grain or top grain leather.

How do you make leather look distressed?

Leather can be made to look distressed with rubbing alcohol, manual manipulation, sandpaper, and even dirt. Spray leather with rubbing alcohol to dampen it. Then let it dry to give it a weathered look, or rough it up with sandpaper. One can even bunch leather up in their hands, stretch it, and beat it on rocks and in the dirt to give it a distressed look.

What is the difference between distressed leather and leather?

The difference between distressed leather and leather is mostly cosmetic. Distressed leather has had a process done to give it an aged patina, which can add to its durability. While still highly durable, non-distressed leather looks and feel brand new, without any aging or patina, but will develop these things over time.

How do you darken and distress leather?

Leather can be distressed with rubbing alcohol, by hand, with sandpaper, or with dirt. Darkening leather usually takes an oil like mink or coconut oil rubbed all over it using a clean cloth. If one wants to darken and distress leather, use the distressing methods first, then apply mink or coconut oil to darken and moisturize the leather.

What is another name for distressed leather?

Distressed leather is also known as antiqued or vintage leather. It may not actually be antique or vintage, but the distressing process ages it quicker than letting the leather age with normal use over time.

What is vintage distressed leather?

Vintage distressed leather is any leather item with a distressed look that is between 20–100 years old. The distress usually takes place over the age of the leather item rather than through manual processes, giving it a true vintage feel. Vintage distressed leather is a look that cannot be replicated through any means.

Key Takeaways

  1. Distressed leather is durable, flexible, and soft.
  2. Distressed leather has a beautiful patina achieved in little time.
  3. Distressed leather is made with mechanical and chemical processes.

In Closing

Distressed leather is a stylish look for clothing, shoes, bags, furniture, and more. It doesn’t have to take years to get that look; it can be purchased or made at home using chemical or mechanical processes. With great softness, flexibility, and durability, who wouldn’t want distressed leather?

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