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Hat How: Distressing Hats

Welcome to a new recurring column for! 'Hat How' will reveal how to articles in various aspects of hats. This edition, we'll investigate techniques from the internet on how to distress hats. Love the distressed look but want a particular hat that only comes shiny and new? Do it yourself! In our examples, we have a cotton twill army cap (which will warrant results applicable to baseball caps and other cotton hats), a light felt wool fedora and a stiff straw fedora. This will give you a broader idea of what you can do to give yourself that well-worn look.

PLEASE NOTE: If you decide to distress your hat, we are not responsible for the outcome.Distressing is not reversible and technically destroys the object. It may be good to try techniques on an old hat you have laying around that you don't wear (or going to a thrift store and grabbing one for dirt cheap) before breaking into that fancy hat you just bought.

To start, use chalk or fabric pencils to mark where you want to distress. This will help to limit the final product so you don't go overboard. Distressing is like everything in life: too much is just TOO MUCH! One last tip: Don't forget the details! Under the brim? Where does the hat get handled the most? Make it look real by focusing on where the distressing should be.


1. Sandpaper

Sandpaper is used to create wear marks. This technique is often seen on the edges of ball cap brims and around the bottom edge of other hats where typical wear is found.

Use high-grit sandpaper (100+) and lightly hit the edges you want 'worn'. Continue until you're happy.

If you want harsher wear or large holes, use a craft knife and scrap against the fabric.

2. Dirt / Grime

Dirt? Really? YES. Whether you roll it around in dust, kick it through a field, slap it against the ground or gently rub a few streaks here and there, dirt adds that old/worn look to any object. Apply the dirt, brush or smack off and repeat until you are satisfied.

For a really gritty look, try things like motor grease, shoe polish, ashes/soot, or rust.

3. Gravel

Find a driveway, street edge or parking lot with a large amount of loose gravel. Roll your hat around in the stones, softening the structure, getting it dirty and adding dents and character.

4. Drive Over

This technique is really more for stiff and/or structured hats. The weight of the vehicle and the motion of the tires will break that structure down and soften the hat. It will also create the effect of a hat that was misformed and then reformed and then messed up again.

5. Smush

Take your hat. Roll it up, crumble into the smallest bundle possible, and wring it a few times. Then stuff it in your pocket, stand on it, rubber band it, or shove into a tight space. Allow it to sit anywhere from a minute to a day. Unroll it, shape it back to the way you want and enjoy!

6. Cut

Want holes, slices, etc? With something like cotton, you will need to remember it will fray so your little hole will grow. If you want a big hole, don't cut it the size you want it to end up because it will turn gigantic! Use a craft knife or sharp scissors to puncture, snip and/or cut into your hat. If the hat is machine washable, a trip through the washing machine will help to jumpstart the fraying process.

7. Sun Bleach / Chemically Bleach

Set your hand in the window or outside for a few weeks, turning every few days to adjust the angle of the sun, to change the color of the hat to a faded tone.

A riskier, yet faster technique would be to use bleach. If you decide to use the chemical method over the natural, please remember to wear gloves and do so in a well-ventilated area. Chemical bleach will have a much stronger effect on the color, however, the splattered bleach look is one of many popular styles available in pre-distressed fashion. To splatter, it is best to lay a tarp down outside, wear old clothes you don't like/wear, and wear eye protection. If you get bleach on your skin, WASH IMMEDIATELY. Using a small plastic cup, pour a small amount of bleach into it. Using a paintbrush, dip into the bleach and then use a jolting arc motion with your wrist and elbow to shoot the bleach everywhere. Your result will be random splashes of bleach. Be sure to clean up thoroughly after you are done, disposing of the bleach properly.

8. Remove the Hatband or Other Finishings

Often old hats have lost their hatband along the way. One great way to make your hat look vintage, distress over the hatband and then remove it. This works great if you use techniques that alter the color of the hat like sun bleaching because you can see where the band used to be! Leave strings and stitching in hat for a rough look.

You can also remove finished edges to create a rougher look (especially with felt hats). Carefully cut or remove stitching from finished edges to create an unfinished look.

9. Steaming (for wool hats)

Wool hats are steamed into shape. If you want to change the shape, steam it into the new one! Most home irons have a steam setting. If yours doesnt, set the tea kettle on high and use the steam that pours out to steam your hat!


Kangol Cotton Twill Army Cap: Sandpaper to brim and cap edges and all seaming. Curled up and twisted. Rubbed dirt into whole hat.

Light Felt Fedora: Popped out crown shaping, rolled and twisted (held in place with rubberbands and let sit 15 minutes). Binder clip to create peak and steamed. Cut seaming along brim to release to unfinished edge. Light sandpaper to edge of brim to create worn effect. With wool, the sandpaper just makes it look mashed and fuzzy. Small holes cut and sanded in high wear spots. Small sections of brim trimmed and sanded. Rubbed dirt into whole hat body.\n

While the hat distressed is not available for sale, try the Pantropic LiteFelt Charlie Fedora!
\ Colton Straw Fedora: Ran over with a Jeep Cherokee. Jumped on in a dirt pile. Rubbed on hot tar in parking lot. Ground into gravel. Smacked against a brick wall. Sanded in high wear areas. Cut holes and frayed, then sanded. Cut and removed sections of woven fabric to create looser areas.

You can use any or all of these techniques to get your hat exactly the way you want it! Think Indiana Jones, Rooster Cogburn from True Grit, those expensive pre-distressed baseball hats at the mall, or your grandfather's old fedora he's had since he was in his 20's. Now, have at it (and good luck!)