When thinking about a leather outfit, I am reminded of sweet Sandy from the film Grease. In the film, she transformed herself into a leather-clad hot babe.
Or Dennis Hopper, cruising down the highway on his motorcycle wearing his leather biker jacket in the movie “Easy Rider.”
The fundamental difference between real leather and faux leather is in their source. Real leather is crafted from animal hides, including buffalo, cattle, oxen, sheep, etc. Faux leather is a synthetic material produced from a plastic substance treated with wax, dye, or polyurethane to add color and imprinted to mimic the texture of real leather.
Wearing the right fabric makes a world of difference in both feelings of comfort and the clothing aesthetic. Leather is no exception. Whether it’s a jacket, pants, shoes, etc., the texture and feel plus the timeless allure of this classic is hard to ignore.
When choosing a good quality garment, one usually gets confused between Faux and Real Leather to the untrained eye. Those who are well-practiced and aware of leather products can easily discern between the two, but those who are not can make an expensive fake purchase. So, what are the differences between real leather and its artificial cousins, and are they all created equally?
The Real Leather Deal
Certified genuine leather jackets are used by motorcyclists, racing car drivers, and military personnel such as combat pilots for a reason. They are durable and thus protective for the wearer, reducing the risk of injury, which is less so with faux leather.
Genuine leather jackets are made of animal hides like lamb, sheep, pigs, and horses. The most common hide used to produce top-quality jackets is lambskin. It is soft, luxurious on the skin, and offers an eternally high-quality experience that is meant to last.
Equally so, the benefit of making shoes from genuine leather is that they are durable. Genuine leather shoes will generally outlast other shoes made from other materials, including synthetic materials.
A demonstrable example is the iconic 1980’s UK punk music era Dr. Marten’s Boots, more commonly worn these days by the hip and trendy as a fashion statement, were initially intended as work boots for the blue-collar factory workers.
Made primarily from bovine leather, they are oil and chemical resistant and help protect the wearer from accidental loads such as falling scaffolding.
Naturally, real leather garments are usually far more expensive than faux leather ones. But on the upside, they also hold their value, more so than clothes made of other fabrics. You should therefore reap a higher selling price when eventually selling your leather jacket, for example.
A used genuine leather jacket in relatively good condition may sell for several hundred dollars, whereas one made from faux leather or any other fabric will usually fetch a fraction of the amount.
Therefore, a leather garment can be considered an investment rather than a disposable item that could invariably end up in a landfill site that is ecologically more harmful and unsustainable.
A Wide Variety of Style Choices
Apart from all the distinct physical advantages that real leather clothing offers, it also espouses the unmatched “cool” factor. Every leather item is unique, as it is made from animal hide, and no two are identical.
Worn often over time, it develops an attractive worn-in look. The softness and adaptability of real leather are one of its best qualities.
A limited choice of basic garments was manufactured in the past, for example, the traditional brown leather bomber jacket synonymous with WWII aviators. But in more recent times, fashion designers have since used leather in a much wider range of attire applications.
You can find leather jackets, shoes, belts, or handbags available in even more traditional colors and styles of the past and newer and more modern colors and styles to complement more contemporary fashions.
Faux Leather Garments
Faux leather is a general term referring to any artificial leather. These names are mostly used to denote specific applications of synthetic leather products such as faux leather (sofas, chairs, and headboard coverings), leatherette (auto upholstery, clothing, and apparel), and koskin (consumer goods).
The most common type of faux leather is made from a PU (Polyurethane) material.
PU fabric is made by applying a 100% polyurethane laminate finish to a base material. These base materials can typically include polyester, cotton, nylon, or rayon. A textured roller applies an artificial grain pattern to the surface to emulate the look of a genuine leather product. The artificial grain pattern is usually very uniform.
Polyurethane foams are used as artificial leather for some applications such as furniture upholstery, iPad or cellphone covers, and belts.
PVC leather fabric is like PU leather fabric. Instead of polyurethane, PVC leather fabric comprises polyvinyl chloride with a protective stabilizer, plasticizers that help soften it, and lubricants for flexibility. This mixture is applied to a base material. Similarly, as with PU, the base materials are polyester, cotton, nylon, or rayon.
Real leather is hands down the winner when it comes to materials quality, such as strength and durability. But what about cost, and are there any other advantages of faux leather over real leather?
Let’s break it down.
Advantages and disadvantages of real leather
- Very durable: Far more tough yet pliable, with good care can potentially last a lifetime
- Offers better protection: Water and fire-resistant, and provides good insulation from wind, heat, and cold while also breathable due to its porous nature
- Ages with grace: Real leather looks better with age. A well-worn garment develops a beautiful patina which is visually appealing
- Ecologically more friendly: It is made from a natural material and is biodegradable when discarded
- Eternally a style icon: A fashion staple, a leather garment reflects a timeless aura of prestige and luxury
- More expensive: A good quality leather product, dependent on the material used, can be very pricy
- Needs pampering: Needs a fair amount of cleaning and conditioning with good quality leather products to retain its look and feel
- Limited stain resistance: Due to its porous nature, it is susceptible to staining from accidental spills
Advantages and disadvantages of Faux Leather
- Cheaper: Due to the materials used, it is usually far more affordable than real leather. Mass production also contributes to its lower price due to economies of scale
- Easy care and maintenance: This can usually be wiped with a damp cloth. It does not require polishing to retain its luster. It is also more stain-resistant due to its low porosity
- UV resistant: Also, it doesn’t fade as easily
- Versatile: Lighter and therefore less restrictive than real leather, it can be easily stitched and styled into any shape or form and provide adequate comfort for the wearer. It is also easier to dye into any color
- Less durable than real leather: Dependent on the quality of materials used, faux leather is prone to punctures, tearing, and cracking with time
- Not breathable: Faux leather, especially when made from PVC, is not porous, causing the wearer to sweat
- Offers little protection: Usually thinner, thus retaining less body heat
- Loses its luster: Does not retain or enhance its look and appeal for a very long
- Not hypoallergenic: Wearers with sensitivity to the fabric used may develop allergies
- Smells chemical: Can emit a strong plastic or rubber odor
- Environmentally hazardous: Due to materials used and through the mass production processes involved, it does produce a lot of environmental waste
- Not eternally stylish: Regarded less chic and classy than their authentic counterparts, they tend to lose their appeal quickly
So how to tell the difference?
Real leather apparel and accessories are luxurious, well-crafted, and of course, expensive. Deciding on which leather garment to invest in is an important consideration if one wants to avoid the pitfalls of making the wrong decision based on inexperience or lack of knowledge, which could become a costly mistake. Here are several ways you can determine if that leather piece is “genuine.”
1. Look at the label
An authentic leather product should include a label indicating that the product is genuine leather. Manufacturers of real leather will be very keen to let you know it’s the real deal. If the label is missing or has something vague such as “man-made materials,” it’s better to err on the side of caution. However, the label alone can be misleading and should not be the sole criteria to look for.
2. Give it a sniff
You won’t hesitate to take a whiff of food items in the grocery store, so when seeking out a piece of clothing, don’t skimp on the smell test either. Unlike synthetic leather, which has a chemical smell, a genuine article has a pleasant musty odor.
3. Examine the surface detail
Genuine leather can have a coarse or smooth grain. Synthetic material will feel too smooth or like plastic. Real leather is generally less perfect. It might be pitted or wrinkled, which is a good sign that it is a natural product.
4. Check the Edges
The edges of genuine leather are usually naturally frayed or uneven, and rough. Fake leather will have smooth, even edges perfectly cut during the machined or cutting process.
5. Study the Grain
If the patterned surface is too uniform, chances are it’s a fake. Real leather has an inconsistent pattern made up of little pebbles and pores, which are usually harder to replicate in synthetic leather.
Clothing such as jackets and shoes made of genuine leather is a class apart from synthetic ones due to their natural, luxurious finishes. Today, many very convincing imitations are available in the market sold far more cheaply. It is very important to become aware of the tricks used by marketers to mislead consumers.
When investing in an expensive clothing piece, it’s important to be able to tell genuine from faux leather to flatter yourself more and provide proper protection. This can more readily be achieved with a real leather item. Faux leather may seemingly cost less initially but considering that a leather item typically lasts three times longer than a synthetic one, the investment may cost less in the longer term.
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