How to make clothing look old : 9 methods for Distressing fabric

Techniques for intentionally distressing fabric, giving it an aged and weathered appearance to achieve a vintage or worn-out look or to make the clothing appear old.

There is a jargon used for clothes that look older than they really are –  Distressed clothes. The crisp ‘just-bought’ look is tossed for a weathered ragged look – as if those clothing has been used for a long time.

With some easy ways you can alter the feel and look of the fabric to seem like it has aged naturally. The main things that distinguish a new fabric or clothing are its colour, texture, shine, presence of stains, signs of wear and tear including chips, tears and fraying. There are more than one ways to go about bringing about these signs and distressing fabric.

edgy fashion

Multiple washing and drying

This is of course easy – wash the clothing repeatedly with strong detergent to fade its color. You can scrunch it and then let it dry in the same way for wrinkles. If that is not enough, hang the clothing in the direct sunlight (for a long long time) to fully fade and make the clothing look old. A sun-bleached effect will need many hours in the sun.

washing clothes

Rubbing with things

You can rub the clothing with rough things – sandpaper is usually used. But anything that can agitate the fibers of the fabric is useful here. A foot file, rasp, seam ripper, vegetable grater, wire brush are all used to produce natural-looking distressed marks and even holes on the fabric.


Frayed edges are made by using a wire brush or the seam ripped. A haggard-looking hem is one of the most significant signs of old clothing.

You can rub on areas where there will be wear and tear – at the elbows, knees, collars, hems, backside, cuffs, under the armpits. 

Chemical treatments

Bleaching involves using chemicals to fade the color of the clothing in selective places where there will be wear and tear – you can fade color outside creases, near the neck, top of the shoulder, etc. Or use a sprayer with bleach solution for a dotted effect. 

How to bleach jeans
Bleach fully or in particular areas

A similar but lesser effective is using a solution of Hydrogen Peroxide on the clothing and then letting it stand in the sun. You can also try using lemon juice, and vinegar which are natural bleaching agents.

Applying paint

You can dip the fabric in a very (very) diluted paints/dye solution in brown or black or grey or selectively apply color on areas where there are stains like necklines, hemlines. 

You can make brownish streaks and dots to look like grass stains, dark brown color for dirt, light yellow ochre for deep sweat stain, and pale grey color for mildew spots. Test on an inconspicuous spot to see if the color is what you want.

One caution is not to use too much paint as it can cause the fabric to feel stiff.

Stretch the fabric 

You can stretch it naturally by hanging when wet, putting heavy things inside pockets. 

Remove stitches

Loosen the stitches of the top corners of pockets, tips of collars for a naturally aged look. Use a seam ripper for this.

Tea/coffee staining

t shirt dyeing with tea

Use a very diluted solution of coffee or tea to dye the clothing to look browner and older.

Snips with scissors

Make small cuts or slits with scissors or a razor to create distressed holes and frayed edges.

Singe with flame

Use heat guns or candle flames to singe or melt fabric for that really aged effect. You can also use the most common accidental-distressing thing in my home – the iron.

Do not go overboard. Remember that you want the clothes to be still useable, after you have done the distressing.

Related posts : How to create ripped effect on jeans ; 15 ways to make distressed jeans

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Author: Sarina Tariq

Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.
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