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How to: Fake a Vintage T-Shirt

DIY Distressing

A reader recently asked what to do with his growing collection of awesome-but-unwearable concert tees:

“I love collecting old concert tour t-shirts from eBay and have a million great ones but they’re all really stiff. Is there anything I can do to make them look cooler and more vintage-y in my bathtub, or a bucket or something? Using relatively cheap supplies to do it? Thanks!”

First of all, what a great obsession to have! I mean, if you’re going to horde anything, it might as well be sweet vintage tees. Way better than those creepy dolls that look like Jackie O or Princess Di like my old neighbor had all over her house. Or, liiike, keeping all your fingernail clippings in jars in your basement.

There’s actually a pretty simple technique to speed the aging process on your t-shirts that doesn’t involve your bathtub OR a bucket. And I am in no way a “crafty” person, so I promise it’s easy.

Here’s how to fake a vintage t-shirt

3M, $8

One word: sandpaper!

You can sand a few decades into your t-shirts without too much effort. At the hardware store, look for paper labeled “100 grit” or heavier. Grit just refers to the size of the particles embedded in the sandpaper, but how badass does that sound? “Excuse me sir, I need more grit.” Gah, I love it. Anyways…

To start, turn the t-shirt inside out and give it a good rubdown with your sandpaper (maybe light some candles first? Put on a little mood music?). The sandpaper frays the fibers, making the shirt feel softer and more worn-in, without affecting the printed graphic on the front. So don’t worry, that sweet Van Halen logo is safe.

If your goal is just to make the shirt feel thinner, this should do the trick. If you want the front to look like it’s seen its fair share of action too, turn it right-side out and repeat the process.

Step it up

If you’ve got an electric sander at home (and really, who doesn’t?), you can use that to make the process go even faster. Just be careful to use a light touch, or you’re bound to go right through your tee.

A more extreme suggestion I’ve heard, but never tried – bury the t-shirt in the yard (or in a potted plant) for a few days or weeks for some, uhh, organic distressing? But then you’ll definitely need to wash it. Sorry not sorry.

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