How to Make Your Own Distressed T-Shirt: It’s Easier Than You Think

What Is a Distressed T-shirt?

You’ve seen them on celebrities, strategically ripped shirts in wild prints, and usually expensive. All in the name of fashion.

Distressed t-shirts have a long history in fashion. They were very prevalent in punk rock circles of the seventies and eighties. Made popular by artists like Debbie Harry, ripped clothing is a sign of rebelliousness, mystery, and sex. In the same vein, the nineties grunge era emphasized the look, further romanticized with bands like Nirvana and Hole.

Distressed T-Shirt

Now, today’s more mainstream icons, i.e., Gigi Hadid, Zoe Saldana, Justin Bieber, Kanye West, etc., are reintroducing the distressed tee as high fashion. Designer labels, such as Balmain and Saint Laurent, are pricing these tees at hundreds of dollars. Moreover, vintage band tees are on-trend and sold at high prices to lovers of authenticity.

However, the average person might not willing to spend that kind of cash on a distressed tee!

Here are some fun and easy tips for creating your own distressed tees without breaking the bank.

5 Ways to Distress a Tee

Diversify your distressed t-shirts!

Designers like Robert Cary Williams, famous for shooting bullets into his distressed tees, are cool but far-fetched from an everyday person’s toolkit. Thankfully, with a piece of cardboard and several tools, you too can strut like a celebrity.

Method One: Cheese Grater

Not typically a tool for fashion, a cheese grater is a great DIY tactic to make a perfect distressed tee. Grate against whatever part of the shirt you want distressed, as long as the cardboard is underneath. The grating is one of the more complicated techniques, but it leaves effortless, random holes.

Method Two: Sandpaper

Sandpaper is fantastic for giving a distressed t-shirt that authentic, worn-in look. Perfect for collars and seams, just wrap around a finger and rub away at the cloth. You’ll find that sandpaper really gives your distressed t-shirt that unique ‘oompf’ factor.

Moreover, smooth away new scissor cuts with sandpaper the same way you would with a pumice stone. Both are useful to make new holes look like well-worn ones.

Method Three: Scissors and Pumice Stone

Just cutting holes with scissors can be tricky, most holes looking cheap and ugly without care.

No wonder so many people settle on store-bought distressed tees, paying such high prices for the coveted style.

The key to completing this look is cutting the holes with scissors in the fabric, then rubbing pumice stone against it, and a piece of cardboard. Rubbing with pumice will make the perforations seem naturally made, a product of time and worn in love rather than a desperate ploy to look chic.

These specific holes also need strategic places–best not to tear one around the chest area. The best locations for the comparatively wider scissor cuts would be the collar, shoulder, or hip/waist area.

With this tactic and expert placement, the holes and tears frame the body rather than taking away attention from the distressed tee and more on odd placement.

Method Four: Razor

A razor is the easiest to control and doesn’t leave as many awkward holes as scissors might.

Against the cloth and a piece of cardboard, drag the razor horizontally to create long slices similar to scissors for a smoother look. For smaller and a more diverse set of holes, pull the razor straight down in a vertical line.

Method Five: Bleach

After making all your cuts and tears, put a spotlight on them by putting the distressed tee in a bleach wash. The holes will look years old, circled by the rusty color of bleach on certain colors.

Lots of distressed t-shirts are designed with bleach stains in mind, so don’t be afraid to try this! If anything, it’ll make whatever print your tee has more eye-catching!

Additional Tips:

  • Death metal and classic rock band tees have colorful and fun designs. With bands like Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath, your tees will be hardcore distressed.
  • Buy basic tees with good fabric; make sure it’s not bottom-of-the-bin polyester blend! A solid cotton shirt will last longer and appear more like an authentic vintage tee.
  • Pair your distressed tee with a leather jacket and stilettoes to give the full rocker chick effect.
  • Distress your entire outfit! Jeans are already well associated with their rips, why not put it all together for a truly punk look!
  • Apply some dark-colored lipstick, maybe bleach your hair too, and boom–you’ve mastered the distressed t-shirt aesthetic.


It wasn’t so long ago that people hated ripped jeans, and now they’re a part of everyday fashion, so don’t be intimidated by critics.

You don’t have to pay hundreds of dollars or be a celebrity to stay in style. Learning how to distress a t-shirt is a lot of fun.

Bring that attitude! It’s a hardcore trend, so don’t stay shy!

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