Leather Education: Let’s Talk Leather

Leather is a beautiful thing, not just as our lifestyle, but also as a material used to make our boots, chaps, pants, skirts, corsets, shirts, harnesses, gauntlets, gloves, collars, hats, whips, floggers, paddles, and more. From various types of hides to a variety of production processes, the options are endless when it comes to choosing your leather.

Hides come from all sorts of animals, with the word “hide” typically used for larger animals (i.e. cowhide) and the word “skin” typically reserved for smaller ones (i.e. kidskin).  Most leather is made from cattle hide, but other popular ones include sheep, lamb, and deer, as well as reptilian skins such as alligator, crocodile, and snake.  With all of the variety out there, how do you know which one to choose?  Well, there are several things to keep in mind when choosing your leather:

  • Hide: The hide is the skin of the animal from which the leather is made.  Each animal’s hide has unique characteristics that will influence its use and look once processed.
    • Cowhide:  Easy to care for, strong, warm, durable.
    • Sheepskin:  Soft, smooth, lightweight.  
    • Deerskin:  Soft, breathable, flexible.
    • Lambskin/Calfskin:  Soft, supple, thin, warm.  
    • Goatskin:  Durable, warm, breathable, lightweight.
    • Horsehide: Durable, abrasion resistant, natural markings.
    • Kangaroo skin:  Thin, strong, abrasion resistant, soft.
  • Grade:  Based upon the layers of the hide included in the leather, the grain is closest to the hair, followed by the grain & corium junction, the corium, and the flesh.
    • Full Grain:  The top layer of the hide including all of the grain and the grain & corium junction, it develops a patina with use and becomes more beautiful over time.
    • Top Grain:  The grain, grain & corium junction and a portion of the corium, this has been refinished to get rid of scars or scrapes, it is durable, breathable, and could develop a natural looking patina over time, though will show its age over extensive use. 
    • Corrected Grain/Genuine:  a fusion of many layers of leather, bound together with glue, and painted.  Typically used for belts, shoes, and bags with a lower price point.
    • Bonded:  The Chicken McNugget of the leather world – scraps are ground down and bonded together with polyurethane or latex and treated to look like a real hide.  Poor durability.
  • Finish: Leather can be finished in a variety of ways that greatly impact their appearance, durability, cost, and purpose.  Characteristics impacted can include texture, flexibility, color, and finish.
    • Aniline:  Most natural leather type, it maintains its natural characteristics, including marks and wrinkles and is only colored with dye.  It can be damaged by exposure to water and sunlight.  This includes oily pull-up leather (aka waxy leather).
    • Semi-aniline:  Maintains its natural characteristics, a slight pigment removes light marks and blemishes.  It is durable and can withstand exposure to water and sunlight.
    • Pigmented:  Full grain pigmented leather has the solution applied to the surface with the grain intact, while corrected grain pigmented leather has the surface scrubbed to minimize imperfections before the solution is applied to the surface.  Durable and ultra-resistant to water and sunlight damage.
    • Finished Split:  Created from the corium after the grain has been removed from the hide, it is sprayed with a polymer and embossed to make it look natural.  
    • Antique Grain:  Uses layers of coatings to simulate the appearance of worn leather.  
    • Nubuck:  A top grain leather that has been lightly buffed or sanded to give it a suede-like appearance with the strength of top grain leather.  It is susceptible to sunlight and water damage.
    • Suede:  Made from the underside of the animal skin, it has a unique, easily-identifiable nap.  It is a lightweight, delicate material, susceptible to stains.

Patina is the term used to describe the variations in wear and discoloration via oxidation that comes naturally to a high-quality leather over the course of time. Highly dependent on the environment of its owner and type of use (including contact with sweat, body oils, lotions, and sunlight, etc.), each leather piece’s patina is unique and personalized. Just as we all follow our own paths and forge our own journeys, so, too, does our leather, alongside us.

Of course, not everyone – including leather folk – is comfortable with wearing animal hide.  Today, there are a multitude of options for vegan or faux leather.  Often made from polyurethane, it can also be made from innovative and sustainable materials limited only by the ingenuity and creativity of the manufacturers.

One’s leather choice is as personal as one’s leather journey.  Options exist that can fit your pocketbook or your desire or your fashion sense or whatever may be your motivating factor at that moment.  In the end, though, Leather is who you are, not what you wear; it’s in your heart.

Article written by Miss Velvet Steele

When selecting leather, it’s important to consider hide, grade and finish.