How To Distress Leather Hats (And Win One!)

When it comes to certain accessories, like hats and shoes, we can’t help but love them more when they’ve got a little wear and tear.  It gives the appearance that they’ve been lived in and loved, have seen many places, and have many stories to tell. A good beaten up pair of boots or a leather hat is the perfect finishing touch for any outfit. But the problem is, when you buy them new, they take forever to reach that perfect level of distressed. I took two of our favorites, the Fold Up Leather Hat and Aussie Leather Hat, and had some fun giving them a nice lived-in look. Learn how to do it below – and enter for a chance to win one of these very hats, hand-distressed by moi! Simply tweet this story and make sure to use the hashtag #FPDIY. We’ll pick two winners at the end of the week!

how to distress leather

The hats before being distressed! Left: Fold Up Leather Hat; Right: Aussie Leather Hat.

how to distress leather

What you need: Sandpaper in varying levels of coarseness, rocks.

There are a number of methods in which to destroy leather, but these were my tools of preference! I mostly used the less coarse sandpaper block, and the rocks were perfect. We had three different color rocks outside our office and I took one of each – they each actually worked in somewhat different ways, which was great.

how to distress leather

On the black leather hat, the black and white rocks were great for really getting at the leather and breaking it up.  They left a residue that I then rubbed into the hat even more using the sandpaper – a really effective method!

how to distress leather

I focused the distressing on certain parts of the hat – around the brim, the braided band, and the top rim of the hat. These were the areas that I thought would get the most natural wear and tear.

how to distress leather

The result was a brownish tint that I really love!

how to distress leather

I tested out the reddish rock and found that it left a really cool rust color on the leather, so I added some highlights with that throughout.

how to distress leather

I’m so happy with how this one came out!

how to distress leather

how to distress leather

how to distress leather

The lighter hat ended up being a bit trickier.  I think it’s because since the hat is already light in color, fading and distressing doesn’t show up as well. The black rock worked the best because it left a darker residue almost like dirt. I used a similar method, following the rock with sandpaper to rub in the color a bit more and smooth it out.

how to distress leather

And then I put it in a bag and stomped on it a little bit! This hat is more stiff so I felt like it needed to be broken in a bit more.

how to distress leather

how to distress leather

This hat has actually really grown on me now!

how to distress leather

how to distress leather

Which one do you guys like best? Let us know in the comments!

Shop all hats from Free People.

More DIY Projects from the BLDG 25 Blog.

Photos by Julia and Brigette.



  1. great tips, especially advising to use rocks, that really seemed to give them some unique character. love that leather one and the range of hues on it now, totally transformed that hat for me

  2. great tips ! thanks! hey when does the march catalog drop?? where did you guys shoot?
    cant wait ! cant believe its almost march:) spring is coming:)

  3. awesome post! love the diy’s you girls do! also loved the part about stoping on the hat in the FP bag! :P thank you for posting!!!

  4. The Fold Up hat turned out amazing! So amazing, in fact, that I sent the link for this DIY to my husband. He had a leather jacket custom-made, and it was supposed to be distressed leather–but it was shiny when he got it. (yuck;p).

  5. Love, love, love this DIY! The black one is so chic and could polish off any outfit perfectly. I’ve definitely done similar things with new boots and converse! Nothing better than a scuffed up pair of high tops. Thanks for the suggestions ladies xx

  6. At first I didn’t even care for the lighter hat but now its one of my favorites! I will have to try this, thank you!!

  7. Love this “trajectory look” on leather things, mainly on suede ones.
    I do prefer the black one please! It will contrast better with my hair colour

  8. Perhaps you should just wear the actual, tortured cow on your head. The traumatic, cruel life he/she suffered so you can have a hat is made only more ridiculous by this fake distressing/craft project.

    It’s great that you sell “vegan leather,” Free People, but it’s definitely time for you to ditch the cruelty entirely and stop selling animals as textiles.

  9. These look really awesome!! I love the way distressing gives it that extra bit of personality! I tweeted the link and I hope that I can win :D

  10. I’d pick the darker one for my hair color & style – it reminds me a wee bit of a good ol’ spaghetti film (Clint Eastwood be still me heart). The caramel one is nice as well though, If I had nice blonde locks, I’d wear that one on an African safari :D

  11. love them both but would prefer the black one…but I cannot take part in this contest because I do not have a cell phone…lol :) Good Luck Ladies <3

  12. Thank you so much for this awesome DIY. I’ve collected tons of different types of rocks from climbing and caving expeditions that can make this quite an exploration of self. I love both of the hats tones, but as of a recent exploration in radical self love via Gala Darling I would say the tone of the darker one, and with added distressed tones would be best. I’m going to have to stay on the lookout for some leather hats thanks to you.

  13. Sorry! i cant stop thinking its stupid to do this, why don´t you use the hat as it is? and may be with the years it will become antique! everything its so fake, what are you trying to prove. Its even sad to think that people likes to look like someone “Free” instead of being actually free…

  14. I’m a hat freak, i loved what you’ve done and can’t wait to try this out myself, I like the effect on the darker color I think it was Blabk, but for my hat I’d love to do it on a Dark Brown leather, as I’m blond it would look better . Beautiful job. Love it, Love it, Love it !!! :)

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