How to Purchase Leather Leather can be the ultimate fashion investment — make sure you do it right

Leather has been a quintessential part of fashion for pretty much the entirety of man’s existence. Every man needs some good leather products. Leather belts and wallets are trademarks of class. And the leather jacket? Well, a leather jacket provides instant, effortless cool. Here’s everything you need to know about why leather’s awesome, what to look for when you buy it, and how to care for it once you own it.

Reasons to Invest in Leather

1. Attitude

Leather Buying Guide: Attitude

They say that leather is associated with masculinity, strength, and a touch of rebelliousness. If any of these things sound appealing to you, then leather is the way to go. The first motorcycle jacket was designed by Irving Scott and sold in 1928 in a Harley Davidson store. In 1953, Marlon Brando wore a leather bomber jacket, coining and coming to symbolize rebellious culture and fashion. James Dean perpetuated leather’s association with rebelliousness when he adopted the trend himself. Further down the line, tastemakers and punk rockers (think Steve McQueen and Billy Idol) made the leather jacket the epitome of cool and a fashion statement synonymous with some serious attitude. Leather jackets are a symbol of style with an impressive star-studded rocker history to back it up. Owning one is symbolic of becoming a part of that lineage.

2. Protection

Leather Buying Guide: Protection

Leather was used throughout history as armor because of its protective qualities. Obviously, leather won’t stop a rifle or a machete, but back in the day leather could prevent what would otherwise be a very deep cut or even the loss a limb, instead resulting in something much more manageable like a bad bruise or a much more minor injury. That’s pretty impressive, if you ask us. Beyond that, leather is wind-resistant, breathable, and can even be treated to be completely waterproof. Leather outerwear is a staple for motorcyclists, for example, because of its protective qualities.

3. Durability

Leather Buying Guide: Durability

The best quality leather goods are expensive for a reason: they last a considerably long time. A good leather jacket will be around for the long haul (and may very well even outlive you if cared for properly). Because leather is not woven, there’s no risk of it unraveling or stretching like most clothes will eventually do. Good leather will take a beating. A tough garment for a tough guy like you.

Types of Leather

Synthetic Leather | $

Types of Leather: Synthetic

Good For: Upholstery, trendy pieces

Also Known As: Leatherette, faux leather, pleather

Synthetic leather is cheaper to produce than real leather, and makes for a decent substitute if you are buying something trendier (that you won’t need forever) or if you are vegan or have an aversion to animal products. Synthetic leather is produced from man-made materials and is often found in upholstery and in fast fashion. Synthetic leather is similar in appearance to leather and does not require special maintenance. However, it will not breathe like real leather so it’ll retain heat easily, and it is nowhere near as durable as the real thing.

Genuine Leather | $

Types of Leather: Genuine

Good For: Trendy pieces

Items labeled “genuine leather” are indeed made of leather. However, these products are usually composed of bonded leather (the lowest grade of leather on the market, consisting of a man-made product like cardboard that is then surrounded by fragments of leather and secured with glue) or split-grain leather (the weakest layer of an animal hide that consists of looser, less durable fibers). Like synthetic leather, it is cheap and is similar in appearance to the real thing, but this variety isn’t durable or reliable.

Patent Leather | $$

Types of Leather: Patent

Good For: Dress shoes

Patent leather can be either natural or synthetic. Either way, the leather is varnished or coated with linseed oil to create a glossy, smooth, glasslike exterior surface. The finished product is nearly waterproof. However, be aware that modern patent leather is nowhere near as high in quality as it once was. These days, much of the patent leather products you’ll find in stores is coated with plastic or resin, making it less durable and more prone to scuffing. Much of it is also made with lower quality leather too. It’ll take a little digging to see who still makes high quality patent leather that’ll get you the most bang for your buck.

Suede Leather | $$

Types of Leather: Suede

Good For: Casual dress shoes (like chukkas and oxfords)

Suede is made from the lower layer of a hide, which is sanded to add texture and softness. Suede is extremely soft, pliable, and lightweight. However, suede should be consistently treated and maintained in order for it to retain its smoothness and suppleness.

Nubuck Leather | $$

Types of Leather: Nubuck

Good For: Casual dress shoes

Similar in look and feel to suede, nubuck is actually top-grain leather that has been buffed to create that characteristic velvety outer surface. This particular material is more durable and typically higher quality than suede. Also like suede, nubuck needs to be consistently treated to care for its soft exterior.

Top-Grain Leather | $$$

Types of Leather: Top Grain

Good For: Wallets, belts, briefcases, shoes, jackets

This is the staple of “fine” leather goods. Top-grain leather is what is most commonly used in higher-end women’s purses and men’s wallets made by designer brands. Top-grain leather is made by splitting a piece of full-grain leather and sanding away imperfections. An artificial grain is then stamped on the hide and it is often colored or treated to result in a uniform look. Top-grain leather is generally more supple and soft than full-grain leather. However, it is not as durable and will wear over time.

Full-Grain Leather | $$$$

Types of Leather: Full-Grain

Good For: Wallets, belts, briefcases, shoes, boots, jackets

Full-grain leather is made of the finest raw materials available, and has been neither sanded or buffed to remove any imperfections, leaving the hide au natural in all its glory. The grain is left completely intact, meaning this variety offers the greatest fiber strength and durability possible. Along with being the finest leather money can buy, full-grain leather ages exceptionally well. However, the only real negative here is that full-grain leather will cost you a serious chunk of change.

Caring For Leather Garments:

Note: All leather garments are different and will come with different instructions unique to the piece. Always take the instructions that come with your particular leather product into consideration. The following are just general guidelines.

  • Store your leather in a cool, dry place
  • Always hang leather garments to best retain their shape
  • Keep your leather garments out of direct sunlight
  • Avoid spraying cologne directly on leather
  • After cleaning any leather garment, allow it to dry naturally. Do not use any form of direct heat to speed up the process.
  • Make your leather water resistant by using a leather protector. Read the directions carefully, though, as leather protectors are made of different ingredients and are often meant for different kinds of leather. A silicone or acrylic polymer spray is best to preserve appearance and shine, whereas a grease- or wax-based product may be detrimental to the longevity of your leather. Based on what the instructions say, expect to reapply every several weeks or months.
  • Apple leather conditioner often, but don’t overdo it. Leather conditioner helps restore oil to the leather which prevents cracking, but too much oil can clog the pores of the leather and may negatively affect the jacket’s coloration. Only apply leather conditioner when the product feels a little stiff. As always, check the label of your specific conditioner to make sure it is appropriate for your garment. Avoid wax- or silicone-based conditioners, never use products with mineral oil or petroleum, and don’t even think about “saddle soap.”
  • Only use leather polish on smooth leather jackets (so no suede for example) for special occasions. Too much polish will discolor and dry out the leather’s surface.
  • Remove stains or any dirt with a damp cloth or a combination of dish soap and warm water on a soft bristle brush. Let the garment air dry afterward.
  • For soft leather varieties like nubuck and suede, use a suede or Crepe brush to keep the nape supple and remove any embedded dirt.
  • Most leather cleaning products can be used on synthetic leather, so long as you use them sparingly.