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Thread: Distress Your Own Shoes... and SAVE!

  1. #1

    Default Distress Your Own Shoes... and SAVE!

    The other day I found a great pair of vintage shoes at my local thrift store, a pair of "Westbury" model monkstraps from Church's for $10. Best of all, they were brand new and unworn (I have no idea who donates unworn $600 shoes to thrift stores, but I'm not complaining).

    Anyway, I've got about 20 pair of stuffy dress shoes, so I thought I'd take advantage of these to play around with "distressing" the shoes to make them more casual.

    Here's what they originally looked like:

    And then, here they are again after my distressing (I'll write below what I did to them:)

    Okay, if you want to try this yourselves, you'll need:

    1. Cheap bleach (I say "cheap" because better, more expensive bleaches have lots of guards/safeties for color in them. You'll want the cheap bleach that, if it touches your clothes, will leave bright white spots. This will bleach the leather.)

    2. Shoe polish and shoe creams (I used some regular brown polish and some Meltonian shoe creams).

    3. Sandpaper

    Basically, just stick the pair of shoes into a bucket of water with bleach in it. This will bleed out the color. Then, after that, apply bleach directly to areas where you want them to look more "worn" (on the sides, on the strap, etc.) From there, let them dry somewhat, then sandpaper the uppers and around the edges to make them look distressed. As well, bend the toe upwards to crease around the footbed.

    When the shoes are dry (more or less), then use some of the shoe polish and shoe creams for color. I wouldn't apply the color evenly, so it looks more distressed/worn. After that, sandpaper some more, bleach some more, etc. It all just depends on HOW worn you want them. The better quality of shoe originally, the better/nicer the result.Higher quality shoes can take the abuse and still look nice. Thrift stores and vintage shoes are best for this, because it keeps you from buying a really expensive pair of shoes and then messing them up. But, you'll want to make sure the shoes have FULL-GRAIN leather (as opposed to the cheaper, plasticky corrected-grain of many lower priced shoes).

    Have fun! Do this and save yourself from spending $900 on some Margiela's.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Distress Your Own Shoes... and SAVE!


    Yeah, I can't believe I found them that cheaply either... and in my size! Probably one of those once in a lifetime finds. So, with the bleaching, creams, etc. the total cost of these shoes was about $13.00.

    I like them much better now, also. They were just a little boring and stuffy before, but now they look REALLY good with jeans.

  3. #3

    Default Re: Distress Your Own Shoes... and SAVE!

    nice! and you had the balls to "mess up" $600 shoes regardless of how much you paid for them.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Distress Your Own Shoes... and SAVE!

    Yeah, if felt a little odd at first plunging those shoes into a vat of bleach!

    If I weren't a shoes horse with about 50 pairs of shoes, I'd NEVER have had the nerve to mess with these. But, since I've got tons of brown dress shoes that I don't wear that often, I figured I'd take the plunge with these. Nevertheless, I did consult with a friend of mine in town whose dad is a professional shoe repairman... he seconded that with the quality of the leather on shoes like that, bleaching, soaking, then re-polishing them would only make them look more interesting but wouldn't destroy them. This is essentially what Margiela and the other "distressed" shoe makers do; they take high-quality shoes they have produced and then just beat the hell out of them. :)

  5. #5

    Default Re: Distress Your Own Shoes... and SAVE!

    John that is amazing! They look so much better. Well done. I've read of distressing leather shoes by throwing them into a washing
    machine, then afterwards using sandpaper. But this way it sounds more controlled,
    which I like.
    Just a few questions: How long did you bleach them for, and did you immerse the entire shoe in it? I was just thinking if the bleach would have any adverse effect upon the insole or even outer sole if it was leather..

    Either way, great find, and even better job!

    let us raise a toast to ancient cotton, rotten voile, gloomy silk, slick carf, decayed goat, inflamed ram, sooty nelton, stifling silk, lazy sheep, bone-dry broad & skinny baffalo.

  6. #6

    Default Re: Distress Your Own Shoes... and SAVE!

    AWESOME JOB! I'm definitely gonna give this a go! Thanks for the tips.I'm also wondering the same thing as Avantster about the sole or what not. Also distressing would bring the shoe size down would it not?

  7. #7

    Default Re: Distress Your Own Shoes... and SAVE!

    Thanks, guys.

    I immersed the entire shoe in a vat of water and bleach. I agree if you used only pure bleach and stuck the whole shoe in there for any duration of time, it might cause a problem. Nevertheless, I only left them in the water for a few minutes. The bleach will almost immediately begin to fade the color (like I said, buy only PURE bleach WITHOUT color guards).

    After that, I then used a brush with just pure bleach on it and scrubbed some areas of the leather upper. Then, I let it dry, sandpapered, etc. The whole process took an hour or two, followed by a day or so of letting the shoe dry. For that, I stuffed tissue paper into them. I wouldn't use a cedar shoetree to dry them, however, because that will re-mold them into their original shape. Using just tissue will allow them to remain creased.

    Anyway, if you put the shoe into water with some bleach in it, it won't hurt it. You'll see the results almost immediately, so you can judge how much color and/or distressing you want.


  8. #8
    kitsch killer Faust's Avatar
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    Long hard road out of hell

    Default Re: Distress Your Own Shoes... and SAVE!

    John, this is EXCELLENT advice. I would like to see more of these DIY threads on this webstie. Thanks!
    Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months - Oscar Wilde

    StyleZeitgeist Magazine

  9. #9


    Just thought I'd bump this old one up again, given that in the two years since the original the interest in "distressed" shoes has only increased. Do it yourself... and SAVE!! (lol)

    This pretty much will work with any full-grain leather or welted shoe...

  10. #10


    this thread is good shit, thanks for bumping!

    great idea

  11. #11


    Thanks, I might give this a shot with some old lace-ups I have.
    Suede is too Gucci.

  12. #12


    when considering this, look also at Ron Ryder's post about antiquing on styleforum. The distressing + antiquing will likely be a very ncie combination. I know antiquing is a form of distressing, but they're pretty different.
    Hobo: We all dress up. We all put on our armour before we walk out the door, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re trying to be someone else.

  13. #13


    Great thread I love the end result and am kind of excited to see how bleach can affect the different kinds of dyes.

    Can we move this to the DIY section so it doesn't get buried over here?

    Now I just have to look for women's shoes with a shape that I actually like...

  14. #14


    What would the bleach do to black leather? Just fade it?

    Also, shoes look great. You did a great job with that pair.

  15. #15


    Quote Originally Posted by thejjbb View Post
    What would the bleach do to black leather? Just fade it?
    Hmmm... good question. It would probably make them look faded and brownish. Many better shoes with natural dies probably use really dark or concentrated colors to get the appearance of black, so my guess is it would probably just fade to the lighter color. I doubt you'd get "grey," but again, I'm not sure.

  16. #16


    bleach on black leather does hardly anything except dry out the leather making it stiff and prone to cracking. do not leave shoes in bleach overnight the result will be shit.

    In the initial post I suspect that the bleach did very little, if not nothing. Sandpaper is what you want to use, specifically wet dry. A light rub with this will make black an distressed grey colour and if you don't like the result polish will reverse the result.

    One thing which is cool though is bleaching black shoelaces to match distressed shoes if you just brush them lightly the plastic covered ends remain black, or whatever the original colour was. nice result.

  17. #17


    ^Actually, the bleaching did most all of that coloring in my OP. You've got to dilute the bleach in water... not just full on bleach (as I mentioned above).

    The sandpaper just gave it distressed effects... but, again, it depends a lot on the type of bleach you use and the type of leather in the shoes.

    BUT, if you dilute the bleach and leave it in the water solution, it shouldn't try them out.

    You then, at the end, have to use leather creams and/or leather polish to treat the leathers so they don't crack and such.

    BUT, the bleach still did most of the color changes on my shoes above. It may be different for black or different type of colors, too...

  18. #18

    Default Pitch the black

    Good job John, they look wonderful.
    What about to take a distressed pair of shoes in light colour and pitch them black. Have you ever tried? Do you know what kind of polish cream or natural dye could be use?

  19. #19


    ^There are actually leather dyes out there that can change it whatever color you want. If you are a member of StyleForum, do a search as there was a guy who took a pair of cheap Florsheims in black, stripped the color to white, then redyed them in Electric blue to create a really stellar color. Nothing I could ever wear myself (they're quite... LOUD!) but pretty neat for a DIY project.

    If I can find the thread in question, I'll post a link. But, you might try search terms of electric blue, shoe dying, dyes, or something like that. It was a neat read, if nothing else....

    It made me want to play around and dye a pair of shoes Hermes Orange or Asprey purple. :)

  20. #20


    Any results yet wire.artist? I'm thinking about distressing a black pair and need reassurance before I do so.

    Quote Originally Posted by wire.artist View Post
    I'm trying it with a pair of black wingtips, I'll show you the result soon hehe. I guess that the perforated leather will give some interesting effect when bleached. I hope it gets softer too.

    Nice work!

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