It's the time of year when we're looking at wardrobe upgrades. A lot of us quickly turn our eyes to the cool-looking leather products out there. But the choices can be confusing and often a little tricky unless one understands the leather industry.
Most of us are probably aware that leather is manufactured from animal hide, specially processed and tanned. But few of us are probably aware that leather actually has a grading system, not unlike food products. We'll start with grades because it is often widely misunderstood.
For example, one of the most things seen on leather products is the term Genuine Leather. This term is actually a specific industry rating. It actually refers to secondary-grade leathers made from the skin's inner hide. Genuine Leather is typically thinner and less durable than higher grades of leather.
Full Grain and Top Grain are the two highest quality leathers. They are both made from the superior outer hide and are very durable, strong, and weather resistant. The difference in the two is texture. Thus choosing one is a matter of taste.
Full Grain is the rustic looking leather, with some texture and unique coloring that varies from garment to garment. It is an extremely tough fabric that looks good both in the city and country. Top Grain is most commonly seen in high-quality leather menswear. It's basically the same as Full Grain, except it undergoes another treatment to make a uniform color color and smooth texture.
Bonded Leather should be avoided whenever possible, although it's commonly used on leather footwear. It's made from scrap-leather fused together through a chemical process. This is the leather industry's equivalent of press-board; and just about as short-lived.
Though more commonly seen in women's fashions, some men's shoes and accessories are marketed as Patent Leather. This only refers to a protective coating added to make the leather more glossy and finished.
The price of the better leathers is one thing truly worth the investment. All leather wear is expensive to start with; but better grades tend to stay in style longer and last longer than other materials. It's more cost-effective to buy one good one than three poor-quality ones.
Materials are also to be considered. Steerhide and Buffalohide (sometimes referred to as Bison) are the most durable. They take some breaking-in but offer superior protection and warmth.
Horsehide is usually identified by 'veins' as part of the leather's texture. Horsehide is more supple and more of an all-weather material than other types. It has a fair measure of durability: it was formerly US military standard until WW2.
Deerskin and Goatskin are both good warm-weather choices. They are thinner than other hides, but fairly tough. Deerskin especially is known for not 'wearing out' as easily as other leathers. Goatskin is easily recognized by its pebbly finish. This has been the military-grade leather since the 1940s. Both of these are also superior leathers for men's gloves.
Lambskin, or less commonly, sheepskin, is strictly a leather for style. It is very soft, almost like silk---and quite fragile. It is also quite expensive. Personally, I think it's the best leather for women's clothes; but some men swear by it.
Pigskin: besides making footballs, this is an inexpensive leather which very likely will be found in the 'genuine' or 'bonded' leather grades mentioned above. A word to the wise here: if a leather garment doesn't specify the type of leather as well as the grade, it's anybody's guess as to what it is. Pigskin though is good for belts, shoes, and leather trim on products.
Buying leather is always a matter of Caveat Emptor. Given its cost, it's important to choose wisely. It's important to look good; but looking good and smart is even better.