How to Add Miles to Your Leather Jacket

A new leather jacket becomes a Western-inspired masterpiece

by Rachael Crawley Sigsbee

There I was, standing there listening to Darius Rucker in concert at a local resort in Las Vegas in my brand new Michael Kors leather jacket I had recently bought at Nordstrom Rack. I was so proud of my new jacket, not only because I purchased a buttery soft, real leather jacket for $200, but because I had received nearly a dozen compliments on the first night it made its debut.

Anyone who knew me in college, and my bff Rebecca can attest, knows that one of my all-time favorite songs to sing and dance to is “Wagon Wheel.” In college if we were at a bar on The Strip (Tuscaloosa, not Vegas. Roll Tide) and the local band started playing “Wagon Wheel,” I would be front and center dancing and singing “Rock me mama like a wagon wheel…” at the top of my lungs. It was my college, Southern, whisky-drinking anthem.

Usually a drinker of bourbon or beer when I’m listening to country music, as one usually is, I thought this night was a good night to switch it up and sip on a sticky, swishy green apple martini instead. (This is what happens when you feel fancier than you really are.) If there’s anything I’ve learned from years of being a responsible drinker, it’s two things: (a) martini glasses lead to spills, and (b) bright green (or any primary color for that matter) concoctions lead to sticky fingers.

So when Darius Rucker started playing the cover that helped launch him into the country music scene, nostalgia set in and I was immediately transported back to Bama. Well, a brief lapse in judgement (probably from the feeling of being 21 again) left me dancing around, martini glass in hand, like I was performing on stage with Darius. (I wasn’t. I was in the back.)

I can probably stop right here because you know how this is going to end. I only made it to the second verse before the kryptonite-colored liquid breached the rim of the glass and splashed perfectly down the right side of my discount, buttery soft, real leather jacket.

<Insert devastated emoticon here.> Ruined! The jacket was ruined, and so was my night.


Posing in the jacket the night of the concert. Look how it shines!

The next morning I woke up to a dark stain from top to bottom on the front right side of the jacket. The poor thing had not even had the opportunity to live a full life. I took it to the dry cleaners (wrong) to see if they could remove the stain. When the jacket returned home, the stain was darker and the hyde was now hard and rough in texture.

That was the end of the jacket.

Or so I thought. I left it hanging in my closet for more than a year, being reminded of my fatal mistake each time I opened the closet door. Until one day, as it happens every now and then, I had an epiphany. If I couldn’t get the stain out to match the rest of the jacket, maybe I could make the rest of the jacket match the stain. I had nothing to lose. The jacket was just one bad mood away from being thrown away anyway.

So I did a little Google search on how to distress leather. One magazine article recommended putting a leather jacket in the washing machine to make it look rustic, which I didn’t find too convincing due to a lack of a before and after pic. Another article was written by a home blogger who bravely turned a worn, thrift-store-bought leather couch into a dreamy, vintage-inspired leather couch that looked as if it belonged on Ralph Lauren’s Colorado ranch. Because I want to live on Ralph Lauren’s Colorado ranch myself, I decided to follow this blogger’s techniques.

Armed with the tools and instructions suggested by the blogger, which included scraps of sandpaper, a bottle of rubbing alcohol and a spray bottle of water, and a few ideas of my own, such as an electric sander (I thought using an electric sander versus sanding it by hand would speed up the process.), I went to work. (See full instructions below.)

I sprayed the front of the jacket with rubbing alcohol to loosen the leather, which makes it easier to distress the material. I then, holding my breath and closing my eyes partially shut like I was watching The Ring, took the electric sander to the jacket. After the entire jacket was sprayed and sanded section by section, the once soft, rich leather was now dry, rough and cracked. The stain was still noticeable though, so I repeated the process three times with the electric sander before the leathers finally matched.

I noticed there were several spots in the seams that the electric sander couldn’t reach that still needed some touch-ups, so I hand-sanded the seams with the sandpaper sheets twice. Once the jacket was left in a completely old, worn and weary state, I soaked the jacket with water to rid the alcohol smell from the leather and then let it dry overnight.

The jacket emerged the next morning as if it survived a gun fight at the O.K. Corral. It was perfectly imperfect, exactly the look I was going for.

Add Miles to a Leather Jacket

How to Distress a Leather Jacket

You’ll need:

  • 2 spray bottles, one filled with water, one filled with rubbing alcohol
  • Electric sander with 220-grit sandpaper
  • 1 pack 220-grit sandpaper sanding sheets

Step 1: Spray sections of the jacket one at a time with rubbing alcohol until the area is completely soaked.

Step 2: Using the electric sander, sand the soaked leather for several minutes until you see signs of distress.

Step 3: If you have not yet achieved the desired distressed look, repeat steps 1 and 2 until results are achieved.

Step 4 (optional): If there are spots that need more attention, use a small piece of sandpaper to sand the areas by hand.

Step 5: Spray the entire jacket with water and let dry overnight.

*Experiment with different sandpaper grits. The less fine the grit the more rough the appearance. If you don’t have an electric sander, you can sand the leather by hand using sandpaper sheets, but it may take longer on the larger projects to achieve the desired look.






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