Leather has been around since the dawn of man. From armor on the battlefield to lingerie in the bedroom, leather knows no boundaries. It can be found in athletics with baseball gloves and footballs, in business wear with briefcases and dress shoes, in blue collar trade with tool belts and work boots, and in everyday life with wallets, jackets, belts, backpacks, and more.
We as men know what a quality suit feels like, what a prime cut of steak tastes like, and what a smooth running engine sounds like. But what about leather? A few basic tips can help us buy better, dress better, work better, and play better with quality products that will stand the test of time.
Grades of Leather:
- PU, Pleather, Faux Leather – This isn’t leather.
- Bonded Leather – Picture sawdust, except it’s leather scraps instead of wood, that have been ground up, mixed with glue, and then formed into a sheet of… “leather”. Have you had a belt that ends up peeling, splitting, and cracking after a few months of use?…It was probably bonded leather. A sharp suit, polished shoes, and a crisp tie won’t impress anyone if your belt looks like it went through a meat grinder.
- Genuine Leather – Sounds fancy, right? Well, leather hides can be over a quarter of an inch thick. They are split into layers, and the lowest layer is Genuine Leather. This layer has the loosest fibers making it the least durable. It can be refinished to look like a higher quality leather or left rough (for example Suede). Either way it is meant to look pretty, and that’s about it.
- Top Grain – Now we are getting somewhere. Top Grain comes from the upper layer of the hide where the fibers are tighter and the leather is more durable. Top Grain has been sanded and refinished to remove scars and blemishes from the surface of the hide. This process decreases durability, but makes for a clean pristine surface, and an overall quality leather.
- Full Grain – This is the cream of the crop, the best leather money can buy. Full grain is the very top layer of the hide, with the tightest fibers resulting in the utmost durability. Full grain leather can be identified by subtle markings and scars that tell the story about the life of the animal. There is no sanding and refinishing with Full Grain leather. This is leather in its purest form, and every product made with full grain leather is unique. This leather can last a lifetime and ages beautifully. You will be hard-fought to find products made of full grain leather. The material is expensive and difficult to work with. Fortunately there are still companies out there committed to quality and they refuse to use anything else. Find those companies, use those products, and you will not be disappointed.
A Few Notes on the Different Types of Tanning
There are two types of tanning:
- Chemical Tanning (Chrome Tanning, Aluminium Tanning, etc.) – Uses an assortment of chemicals to shorten the tanning process to a few days. An efficient method that comes at an unfortunate cost to the environment.
- Vegetable Tanning – Requires skilled craftsmen and uses natural tannins and tree bark. It takes several weeks for a hide of leather to undergo the full process. Vegetable Tanning is environmentally friendly and makes for a superior, all-natural leather that improves with age. You can see, feel, and smell the difference.
Armed with this knowledge, you can now buy with confidence. Whether you’re in the market for a sports car with a leather interior, a pair of wingtip dress shoes, a new wallet or stylish belt, rest- assured your leather purchase will stand the test of time and grow old with you.