There are quite a few different types of leather. Not just black or brown, real or fake. There’s a lot of people out there trying to pull the wool (or hide) over your eyes. Where on earth do you start when you’re trying to buy your leather garments? Even if you can separate the real leather from the faux, you’re still faced with a huge range of choice that might not make much sense. Why is that jacket that looks perfectly good at first glance only a tenth of the price of that other one that looks just as good?
By way of an example, say you buy the cheaper jacket, it fits pretty well, you’re pulling it off, and you go outside to showcase it, but it’s raining, and the jacket immediately disintegrates and you’re out fifty quid.
Now, we may be exaggerating a little. But seriously, longevity is one of the main factors that is affected by different types of leather. Good quality leather will last you a lifetime, whereas a cheaper one likely will not, unless, of course, you keep it in an airtight box and only wear it once a year.
Allow us to share our experience with you and explain the different types of leather to see why paying a little bit more might be worth it in the long run. We’ll try and keep it brief though! Leather is made by tanning animal rawhides. But there’s more than one type of leather, and not just because of the breed or species of animal it comes from.
Where the Hide Comes From
With regard to where the hides come from, you may have come across cow, pig, sheep, deer, even snake. Each of these has a certain quality because of the physical characteristics of the animal it comes from.
Cow leather is the most common for clothing and bags, and because of their robust makeup, the hide of a fully-grown cow from the best part of the animal (somewhere around the lower back) creates the very best quality leather.
Pig skin is most commonly associated with American football, but is actually commonly used in clothing like jackets, because it is strong and durable, though a little less flexible than cowhide.
Sheep skin is soft, smooth and light, like the wool that sits on it, making it a good choice for rugs or decorative coats. Not quite so good if you’re after durability.
Deer skin can be very soft and smooth but like sheep skin, it isn’t very hard wearing or resistant to constant use so it is best reserved for luxury or decorative products that won’t be exposed to a lot of wear and tear.
Snakeskin is very eye-catching and flexible, but not particularly strong or durable. Therefore, it is best-suited to trim or decoration.
There are also different types of leather, based on the cut of the hide: Full grain leather, top grain leather, corrected grain leather, and bonded leather. Let’s start at the bottom and work our way through.
Bonded leather is the lowest quality and cheapest leather, made up of the leftover scraps of the hide, bonded together with something like polyurethane. You won’t even know how much of it is leather unless they choose to disclose it on the label.
Suede is a kind of leather that has been buffed and brushed in order to produce a smoother, almost velvety look and feel. Sounds pretty nice, right? It isn’t as strong or hardwearing as something like top or full grain leather, but that’s why it’s commonly used as a backing. It means you get the best of both worlds: durable, high-quality leather with the softness of suede.
Corrected grain leather comes next. You may also see this referred to as bottom cut, split or, (here’s where it gets confusing) genuine leather. Corrected grain is produced using the skin layers that remain after the top is split off. It is also sanded to remove imperfections. Usually, the top is spray painted and embossed to give a more natural look that affects the breathability of the leather. Doesn’t sound very genuine anymore, does it?
Top grain leather is the runner-up. The top layer of blemished hides is split and the surface is sanded to remove imperfections. This is a good-quality leather and is smoother, more flexible and has a little more give than full grain leather. It is strong but can stretch over time, which is irreversible.
Finally, we have full grain leather. This comes from the top layer of the hide and includes all the grain. It has not been sanded, buffed or altered to remove ‘imperfections’. It is the most durable, and keeps its toughness, as well as any marks and scars the animal might have had. This is the highest quality leather and requires an incredible amount of skill to work with – not meaning to blow our own trumpet, but this is the stuff we work with. If you’re willing to pay for it, this is the best choice for any leather product that you want to last you a lifetime.
So, to summarise, the next time you’re in the market for leather, think about the type of hide the animal has, and then about the type of cut, and whether those two factors match your needs. Hopefully, our crash course on the different types of leather will help you when you’re out shopping for your next wallet, guitar strap or belt and that your newfound knowledge will scare off any grifters trying to sell you “real leather” jackets out of the back of their van.