The 4 Types Of Leather You Need To Know About


Here's a simple infographic summary of this blog post. Click to download

Four types of leather infographic simple summary

If you’ve been involved with men’s wear, you’ve probably wondered why leather is incorporated in so many pieces of clothing. Leather is literally used in everything. Mainly shoes, jackets, belts, watches and even pants.

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I skipped on showing an image of leather pants for common courtesy. Never wear leather pants unless your either a cowboy or a dominatrix

 

But why is leather used so often?

Why has it been used for countless centuries as a material for clothing? Why haven’t we gotten over the beautiful aroma that fresh leather secretes from it’s pores? The same question ran through my mind.

So I’ve dedicated this article to explain the basics of different leathers and how to be un-scam-able by telling the difference between low and high quality leather.

To start everything off, let’s take a look at what leather actually looks like in it’s simplest form. Here’s a diagram of a cross-section of a piece of leather.

leather cross section
Leather Cross Section
 

Leather is essentially a piece of skin that’s been cut from an animal, processed and crafted into the item that you have in your wardrobe. The thickness of the leather ranges from 0.4mm – 6.4mm and depends on which animal it comes from and the area of the body in which it has been taken from.

You won’t necessarily NEED to know each step of the leather manufacturing processes (such as; desalting, rehydrating, chroming etc.) but what’s extremely important to know is how to distinguish between good and bad quality leathers and where it comes from to ensure that you make the most bang for your buck.

Since leather is quite thick once it’s been taken from the animal (let’s use cows for today’s example as they’re the most common animal used for leather), it needs to be split in half. Manufacturers sell both the top half and bottom half of the leather.

 

Full Grain Leather

The very top of the leather where the hair follicles are (vertical lines) is called “Full Grain Leather” and is used to make high quality products such as rugs, furniture and bags. It’s more expensive than the bottom half as more processes need to be taken before using it.

With reference to the above diagram, the vertical lines above the box are hair follicles and the thick black boxes above are scars that the cow had developed while it was alive. You’ll be able to differentiate full grain leather by looking closely and seeing the pores from the hair follicles and any possible scars from the skin of the animal. No full grain leather item will look identical as all cows are different. This is a uniqueness no other type of leather can provide and which is something leather enthusiasts enjoy.

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Source

Top Grain Leather

Due to only “some” leather enthusiasts loving the scarred and off-looking look of full grain items, many companies choose to shave the scarred top off the full grain to make the leather look cleaner. This type of leather is what we call “Top Grain Leather”.

The top of the leather is shaved removing scars and lumps to create a smoother looking leather. You see this type of leather in high quality shoes, purses, sofas and watch straps. This kind of leather is of lower grade compared to full grain but still works just as well and will also develop a nice patina.

Genuine Leather

When we speak of the bottom half of the leather after it’s been split in two, we are left with what’s called “Genuine Leather”. The difference between the two is that due to the more horizontal and flat grain pattern (as seen in the above diagrams), the leather is weaker and of lower quality. The skin of the cow is made to protect the animal from outside harm. Thus, the outer side of the leather is made to take a beating rather than the under side.

Although “genuine leather” sounds like a high quality product, all it means is that the leather that's been used to make the piece is at it’s “almost” lowest quality. The leather is susceptible to more damage and will not last as long as the Top Grain or Full Grain leathers.

Bonded Leather

Genuine leather isn’t all that bad when compared to bonded leather. This quality of leather is the worst of the worst and please do your best to avoid it at all times. Remember when we mentioned smoothing the top leather by sanding and shaving the scars off?

Bonded leather is manufactured from the residue leather grain shavings heavily compressed together and designed to look like real leather.

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Source

You will often see bonded leather discolour and peel after only a few uses. They’re often used in items that you can buy in $2 dollar stores and cheap side shops.

Real quality leather such as your top grains and full grains are longer lasting as skin is made to last a lifetime. If you’d like to learn how to take care of your leather you can read this article.

In summary you have 4 types of leathers:

  1. Full Grain - Very high quality that leather enthusiasts love due to the animal scarring. 
  2. Top Grain - Also high quality but the scars have been shaved off. Has an awesome patina. These are the kind of leather products you're looking for.
  3. Genuine - Bottom half of the leather when it's first initially split. Sounds like it's high quality but really isn't.
  4. Bonded - the type of leather used to recreate knockoffs. Stay away from bonded leather if you're intending to buy something quality. 

Be weary of labels and make sure to ask question before purchasing a leather item.

Raising the collar standard,

Norvin

1 comment

  • Michael Batson

    This has been reposted a hundred times, and I’ve debunked it almost as much:

    The “grading system” (full grain/top grain/genuine) you’ve made reference to is a myth that needs to die, leather is not “graded” by this system.

    #This grading system simply does not exist in the actual leather industry.

    There is no tannery, no trade association, nor any government entity anywhere (USA or otherwise) that recognizes or uses anything remotely resembling this breakdown to grade the quality of leather.

    This is something repeated by a few companies that sell leather products as marketing to “pump up” the perceived value of the material they use even though the price and quality of leather is based much more on the tannery than the type of leather used. The biggest falsehood in the myth is what’s said about genuine, but even top grain and full grain can vary tremendously in quality. A non-full grain leather from a top tier tannery like Horween will be loads better than the thousands of “full grain” products you’ll find on Aliexpress.

    Back to genuine:

    Why Genuine is not a grade of leather!

    Yes it gets misused to mislead by unethical companies using “bad leather”, but it’s not specifically the “second worst grade”…it just means real. Can be good can be bad (examples further down) I’ve never once been offered a chance to buy anything called simply “genuine leather” from any tannery, ever, and our company has been buying leather since 1969. They leather the describe in this article has a name: it is junk but it’s called a “finished split”

    Saying that “genuine leather” is something specific (a grade of leather) is like saying “100% beef” refers to a specific cut of steak.

    The genuine=bad is a spin put out by a specific company, in an article some years ago that got copied and pasted and repeated everywhere .

    Here are just a few quality products stamped Genuine:

    [Heritage Redwings](https://www.google.com/search?q=red+wing+beckman+sole&client=safari&hl=en-us&prmd=simvn&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiMrtP_9-fVAhWCQiYKHVaYAX4Q_AUIEigC&biw=375&bih=559)

    A designer from Vivian Westwood stamped “genuine leather”:

    https://m.coggles.com/bags-wallets-clothing/men/acc/vivienne-westwood-men-s-leather-wallet-w/cc-holder-black/10850494.html

    Another good example is Article.com furniture, full grain aniline described in the short descriptions as “genuine wallet

    Dior Homme ($$$) also has “genuine leather” on the tag of their $3000 jackets.

    Now I don’t just use those 3 examples just because they’re high quality or expensive but also to show how “genuine leather” isn’t one specific thing:

    The Red Wings are American-made and the “genuine” refers to the veg-tan sole.

    The wallet is Italian stiff embossed calfskin by a British designer.

    Dior Homme is a Luxury French company using “garment weight leather” in a jacket.

    So you have 5 different countries represented , using 5 very different types of leather, all calling the material “genuine leather”.

    In most cases “genuine” is really just a descriptive term that just means real. Personally when I see it, I take it as a signal to look further into the brand and if they have more information about the specific materials they use. Then, if I don’t find anything positive or the item/company looks like an Alibaba drop-shipping outfit, I avoid.

    Also bad “full grain” is getting incredibly common, so you can’t go by “buzzwords” to know if something is quality.

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