Finding the perfect vintage tee is like finding a needle in a haystack: it requires months of painstakingly pouring through rack after rack of not-so-cool tops and online vintage shops. Alternatively, you can get the perfectly lived-in look by splurging on a designer tee like this or this, but I just can’t bring myself to spend a few hundred dollars on a ripped shirt. I mean… seriously?? After I started seeing cool, distressed tops on some of my favorite bloggers and style icons, I started thinking about how I could create a DIY distressed t-shirt myself and get the exact look on a budget.
The Distressed T-Shirt Look
After perusing a few of my favorite distressed shirts online, I made a list of the effects I wanted to see on my ideal t-shirt. I loved the look of bleached splatters and lots of different types of shredding, but I wasn’t exactly sure how to achieve those effects. I did some online sleuthing and, to be honest, I had some serious doubts about some of the methods that were suggested. But I gave it a go and was thrilled to have found a few great distressing techniques. Keep scrolling to the the full tutorial and see the surprising tools I ended up using to get the look I wanted.
How to Distress a Shirt
- spray bottle with bleach
- cheese grater
- pair of scissors (optional)
- sandpaper (optional)
Step by Step Instructions
Start by laying out your t-shirt on a flat surface. First we’ll create small holes with the cheese grater. Honestly, I wasn’t sure how this method would turn out, but I ending up loving this effect. Gather a small section of the shirt in your hand and run it along the smallest side of your box grater. Repeat at random on different parts of the shirt.
Next, we’ll move on to the razor. Scrape it over any graphics or lettering on your tee to give it a weathered, vintage look to match the rest of the shirt. Don’t be afraid to put a good amount of pressure on your razor — if you rip the shirt itself, even better!
Now, take a step back to get a look at the composition of your tee. You want the distressing to cluster at places where t-shirts would naturally wear away, like at the neckline and hem. If you’d like to add some more distressing to your piece, you can use other household materials like scissors and sandpaper to rough up patches of fabric. Just make sure to keep the pattern random and irregular so it looks like it was naturally worn in rather than made in an hour.
Once you’re happy with the rips in your shirt, it’s time to add a little more lived-in depth. Fill a spray bottle with bleach, and make sure you’re in a well-ventilated area. You’ll also want to put down some newspapers and put on an apron if you’re worried about staining your work space or your clothes.
Then, spritz different areas of the tee with bleach. You can stand further away and give the bottle a good squeeze to create a fine mist that will make more of a cloud-like bleached effect, or you can get really close and just barely squeeze the bottle to create a few larger drips for more of a paint splatter effect. Experiment with different methods — an unexpected result is part of the fun!
Once you’re happy with the effect, let the bleach dry. You’ll see the color change takes a bit of time to complete.
Finally, wash and dry the shirt. This will rinse out the bleach and also help loosen up the holes you’ve made for a more frayed finish. Feel free to wash and dry several times to encourage fraying — since we’re trying to recreate a vintage, lived-in look, washing and drying over and over again will only help!
And that’s all there is to it. I love how freeform this process is, because it means that you can personalize your t-shirt to get exactly the look you’re going for. I’d love to know: how do y’all want to customize your tees? Shredding? Holes? Bleach? Paint? Happy distressing!
process photography by Jojotastic, final photography & DIY by Hannah Cross.
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