How To Distress Clothing For Cosplay

How To Distress Clothing For Cosplay

Do you need a cosplay outfit that looks old and worn-out? You don’t need to rummage through your old clothes or your grandparents’ old stuff. You can easily make clothes look run down or distressed without having to go through all the dust in the attic.

Whether you are working on a zombie costume or an Indiana Jones costume, you can make your outfit look worn-out or vintage by simply distressing it. Learn how you can distress your costume properly to attain the look that you want.

What Does Distressing Mean?

What Does Distressing Mean

Distressing a costume or a piece of clothing refers to a surface treatment of fabric to make it appear wrinkled, faded, or worn out. There are different types of cloth that can be distressed and techniques for each may differ. Denim is the most popular distressed fabric in contemporary times. Distressed clothing is often used in costumes for movies, theater, cosplay, or TV shows.

Different Types Of Fabric

Different Types Of Fabric

Before we discuss the ways of distressing clothes, let’s learn about the different types of fabric first. It is important to know the kind of cloth you will distress to make sure you are using the correct method.


This type of textile is made of twisted yarn to give it a rough feel. It’s sheer, plain-woven, and lightweight. The yarn used to make chiffon is usually rayon, polyester, nylon, and silk. It is used in dresses, blouses, and scarves.


This is a very common type of fabric that is very versatile, comfortable, and soft. This type of textile is made from the cotton plant’s seeds. Due to its versatility, it can be used on shirts, dresses, and even underwear. One downside of cotton is it can shrink and wrinkle easily.


Denim is another type of fabric that is very common. It is made from white cotton stuffing yarn and cotton wrap yarn. Denim is popular due to its durability, sturdiness, comfort, and vivid appearance. To create blue jeans, denim is dyed with indigo.


Silk is considered a luxurious fabric. It has a shimmering look that is soft and smooth to touch. It is made from the cocoon of silkworm that is commonly found in Europe, South Asia, and China. Among other types of fabric, it is the most durable and hypoallergenic. However, silk is challenging to clean and should be handled delicately. Ideally, it is best to dry clean or hand wash this type of fabric.

Silk is also expensive because of the delicate process involved in making it. You can see silk mostly on evening and wedding gowns, lingerie, scarves, shirts, skirts, suits, and ties. Kashmir and Shantung silk are the two most popular types.


Linen is considered one of the oldest fabrics. It is made from the fax plant that are spun into yarn. Linen is known to be durable, cool, and absorbent. It can be machine washed but needs to be ironed regularly. Linen is commonly used for trousers, jackets, suits, blouses, and dresses. However, apart from clothing, it can also be used for towels, napkins, bedsheets, and drapes.

Tools And Things To Consider For Distressing Costumes

Tools And Things To Consider For Distressing Costumes

There are several tools you can use to make your clothes or costumes look distressed or weathered. Some of them are rocks, tea bags or coffee, sandpaper or cheese graters, blowtorches, scissors or a knife, acrylic paints, fabric paint or leather paint, etc.

Now that you already know the different tools that you can use in distressing your clothes, it is critical to know about the things to consider before you do it to your actual costume. Otherwise, you might end up ruining your whole costume if you use a tool not appropriate for it.

  • Test different techniques on a piece of fabric before doing it to the real thing. This way, you will know what techniques will work best for the look that you want to achieve.
  • Do not use organic materials such as corn starch and flour if you want to use a permanent weathering technique because it might attract insects or develop molds. Instead, use inorganic materials such as fuller’s earth, gravel dust, plaster, etc.
  •  Do not get carried away when distressing clothes because you might damage the whole costume.
  • Think of what your character went through to know what weathering technique best fits the situation. Ask yourself, what transpired to make the clothes look weathered? This can help you in choosing the right technique.
  • The method that you will use will depend on the materials you are using and how permanent you want the distressing to be.

Different Methods To Make Clothes Look Distressed

Different Methods To Make Clothes Look Distressed

The main characteristic that differentiates new clothes or fabric from the old ones are its texture, signs of wear and tear, color, etc. Here are different methods on how you can make the new fabric look like you bought it many years ago.


Place a piece of cardboard underneath the garment first to protect the other side from getting scratched or torn up. Sand or grate the areas with sandpaper until you get the look that you want. Emphasize sanding on areas such as the cuffs, hems, and knees. Sand the spots until they look blurry, or you can sand them until you make some holes. You can use coarse-grit sandpaper for tougher or heavier fabrics and fine-grit sandpaper for delicate ones.

To distress more rigid cloths, you can use a Dremel or a rotary tool. Remember to put a piece of cardboard when using these tools because they might damage the other surface of the fabric. You can also use other abrasive tools such as leather rougher, wire brush, cheese grater, etc. They are best used in heavier materials and can create a natural-looking distressed mark on areas such as on the knees, elbows, collars, or cuffs.


For this method, you will need gloves, garbage bags, a spray bottle, bleach or dye remover, water, peroxide, a bucket, and of course, the piece of cosplay clothing you want to distress.

Put equal parts of water and bleach into a spray bottle. Use your gloves while you are making this bleach solution. When the solution is ready, take a dry-colored piece of clothing that you want to distress. You can spray the solution on the parts you want to bleach or scrunch or twist the clothing with a rubber band. It really depends on where you want to spray your solution. You can fade color near the neck, collar or outside the creases. Leave the clothing under the sun to bleach. Check it every now and then until it reaches the look you want to achieve.

Next is to make the peroxide mixture. Combine a gallon of water with one cup of peroxide into a bucket. Mix it well and then soak for about 20 minutes to counterbalance the bleach.

Wash and dry the clothing in a washing machine. If you do not like the result, you can repeat the steps above and put additional bleach. Remember to always wear gloves when doing this method to keep your skin safe.

Cutting And Tearing

Do you want to create a jagged or uneven look on your outfit? Then rip the hems of your clothes. Hold the fabric or cloth to the side of the cut and tear it apart. This technique is best used in jeans or a t-shirt. You can also use a razor blade to scratch the hems if you want a more detailed design. Cut small nicks into the collar of the t-shirt, the hems of the collar, or cuffs to make it look vintage and worn.

If you want to put holes in your clothes, it will be better to first tear out the fabric by sanding instead of cutting it. Cutting will look somewhat clean and fake and you do not want that effect on your costume.

If you want to create more realistic bullet holes into your costume, you can use fire to burn holes into it. But only use this method with organic materials and don’t use it on synthetic fabrics because it may burn your whole costume if not done correctly.

Dirt Your Clothes

 Dirting your clothes is another way to make your cosplay costume look weathered. One way is by using coffee or tea. Soak your clothes in tea or coffee. This method can wash off very easily but you can repeat the process until you get the look that you want. Remember that this technique is best used on lighter fabrics and won’t be a good idea on thicker textiles like denim. If you want more controlled staining of clothes, you can put a mix of instant coffee and tea in a spray bottle. Spray it on the part that you want to look darker. You can manage the strength of the stain by putting more or less instant coffee or tea powder.

How do you get brownish stains? Use oak bark, birch bark, or walnut hulls. Put the hulls in boiling water and let them simmer for a bit. Strain out the residue, then soak the fabric. Again, this can easily get washed out so just reapply if needed.

You can also use food or spices if you just need them for a temporary stains effect. Some of the things in your kitchen that you can use are cinnamon, corn meal, seed powders, or paprika which is good for rusty stains. Apply them dry so that they will only sit on the surface. Remember: this method is only good for a photoshoot or a film scene because it can wash away easily.

If you want a much stronger effect, you can use real dirt. This may sound strange or a little disgusting, but it can actually get the look that you want. Scrub the fabric on the floor or just let your clothes get in contact with real dirt.

Use Fabric Paint, Acrylic Paint, Or Clear Matte Spray Paint

You can create splatter effects by using a paintbrush or toothbrush into fabric or acrylic paint. Wet the bristles of the brush into the paint and scruff your finger to create tiny droplets on your clothes. This splattered-paint effect provides a distressed look for your costumes.

You can also use paints when you want to age other pieces of your costumes such as the armor, horns, buttons, etc. For armors and helmets, you can make them look worn out and old by coating each piece with paint to add surface texture. Coat each item with paint and sprinkle it with fuller’s earth, dirt, or whatever you want to use while wet. Allow it to dry before sealing with clear matte spray paint.

You can also make metal pieces such as buttons, parts with a lot of surface texture, or buckles look old and tarnished by applying shoe polish or acrylic paint. After putting the shoe polish or paint, rub it with a piece of cloth to remove the excess. This technique is really good if you want the tiny details in your costume to look very vintage.

Other Tips And Tricks On Fabric Weathering

Other Tips And Tricks On Fabric Weathering
  • Use tea dye for lighter non-synthetic colors.
  • Use impermeable dyes or paints if you want the distressed look to stay on longer, even if you wash it frequently.
  • Apply dry dust or dirt, then seal it with clear spray paint if you want a more permanent grit. For best results, put a light layer of dust, spray, let dry, then add more layers. 
  • You can use lemon juice for the bleaching process by wiping the lemon juice on the fabric and then leaving it out in direct sunlight. This will help to fade slightly the spot that you have sprayed on.
  • If you want a white shirt to get stained and dirty, you can easily do this by using it as a rag to wipe off dirt on the floors, your car, or windows. You can wipe the fabric on just about anything to get a nice dirt look.
  • You can make frayed edges on jeans and shirts by using a wire brush or by ripping the seams to make them look worn and used.
  • If your costume is floor-length, you can make the bottom look dirtier by putting mud or grass stains at the edges to look like your character ran through the woods.
  • Leave the structural seams undamaged when you are sanding or tearing your material to prevent real damage.
  • For leather garments, you can achieve a weathered look by washing them in the washing machine using the gentle cycle, then putting them in a dryer without heat. You also have the option of adding fabric softener. This will give your leather an instant aged look.
  • Acetone can also be used in dyeing out leather but don’t use it with leathers that are black all the way because it won’t do much.

Related Questions

Related Questions

How do you make the fabric look distressed?

There are many ways to distress fabric but one of the most common ways to do it is by using water and bleach. To make the fabric look distressed, all you need is to fill up a spray bottle with equal amounts of water and bleach. Then, spray the mixture on the section of the fabric that you want to look faded. Dry it out in the sun and wait for about 30 minutes to allow the bleach to seep into the fabric before you wash it.

How do you fade fabric?

You can fade fabric by washing it multiple times. Wash the clothes repeatedly to relax the fibers inside the fabric. You can use other methods such as exposing the fabric to the sun for a long period of time. You can also use bleach or natural products such as vinegar, lemon juice, baking soda, or vinegar.

How do you distress cotton blended fabric?

Cotton-blended fabrics are one of the easiest types of fabric to distress or to make it look like it was used years ago because they are durable and flexible compared to fabrics that are 100% cotton. To distress this type of fabric, you need to soften it by washing it several times in cold water. Using fine-grain sandpaper, rub on the seams and edges a couple of times.

Using a sandstone, rub the edges and corners to create a rougher texture. Fill spray bottles with bleach and water (1:3) and wet fabric by spritzing the solution on any part to achieve a faded look. Let the bleach solution sit for about half an hour before washing it in the machine. You can also use brewed coffee or tea for a natural dye effect. Just soak the fabric or your sponge the tea or coffee over the fabric.

Are you ready to make your shirt or dress look like it was from years ago? Distressing costumes for cosplay is a fun activity. Just make sure you are using the right method for each type of cloth you plan to distress to get the right effect.

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Lisa Hayden-Matthews

Lisa Hayden-Matthews

An avid Skier, bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.

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