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What is Distressed Leather?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 21, 2024
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Distressed leather is any type of leather that has been treated to age the appearance of the leather while not weakening the overall integrity of the product. There are a number of different methods used to distress leather clothing and upholstery. Often, the goal is to give newly produced products a weathered and broken in quality that is sometime more appealing to consumers.

The use of distressed leather is common with many different types of items. Accessories like gloves, belts, wallets and hand bags are sometimes aged using one or more distressing methods. A jacket or coat, along with other clothing such a leather pants and vests, are often aged to make the leather more supple without causing the material to weaken. Even leather furniture may be distressed, as the look and feel of the aged leather on a couch, sofa, or chair is often considered inviting.

While treating leather products is often conducted at home, there are manufacturers who offer new clothing and other products with distressed leather. While techniques vary, the leather is usually treated with a thin coating of some type of alcohol based agent, then subjected to a series of steps aimed at creating wrinkles and creases in the grain. This pre-distressed leather may also undergo treatments that effectively scrape the material to lighten the color in random areas.

Distressed leather products are often considered more visually appealing than pristine leather products. For this reason, vendors are normally able to sell items made with distressed leather for a higher price than leather that is in a pristine condition. However, consumers can choose to get around the higher price tag by choosing to distress their leather goods at home.

One benefit to this approach is the owner can control how much or little artificial wear and tear the leather product undergoes. For example, an upholstered sofa could be sprayed with a small amount of rubbing alcohol, then lightly scrubbed by hand with sandpaper. The finished look of the distressed leather can have an almost antique look, or make the sofa appear to have been in the family for no more than a few years.

Distressing leather clothes such as jackets or pants can also be a lot of fun. As with the leather on a sofa, the garment is sprayed with a thin layer of rubbing alcohol. The garment is then crumpled into a ball, smoothed out, then crumpled repeatedly. Using an action that is similar to kneading bread dough, it is possible to work in a number of creases and lines in the body of the leather. If desired, sandpaper can also be used to age the leather further.

BeautyAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including BeautyAnswered, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By anon997538 — On Jan 23, 2017

"To each his/her own".

By anon200034 — On Jul 25, 2011

I have a friend who tells me he had seen an article claiming that 'distressed ostrich leather' is often "distressed" for larger more prominent quill 'bumps' by plucking the bird while alive and then rubbing the skin of the live bird with an irritant such as kerosene - prior to butchering and utilization of the leather skin. This sounds absurd. Can it be true?

By aplenty — On Oct 14, 2010

@ GiraffeEars- My personal tastes are different. I like the look and feel of distressed leather sofas. My parents live in a ranch style home in Colorado, and they have distressed leather furniture. The furniture looks great with their southwestern themed decor. I think distressed leather will only work with certain themes, but it can look just as nice and upscale as contemporary furniture.

By GiraffeEars — On Oct 14, 2010

I prefer contemporary furniture so I do not think I would like a distressed leather couch. I think that new leather can be just as comfortable as distressed leather, and it looks better.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
Learn more
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