How to spot quality in Leather

How to spot quality in Leather

Quality is everything when it comes to leather. It’s easy to take a costly misstep in a minefield of unfamiliar terms.

Today I’m going to give you a clear breakdown of exactly what to look for in good leather, and a translation of all the lingo. You can use this guide when you’re buying leather jackets, bags, and belts too.

Types Of Leather – Difference Between Full Grain And Top Grain

The layers of leather correspond to the layers of an animal’s skin. Think back to that skin cross-section in your high school biology textbook and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

  • The grain is the thin surface layer of skin – the epidermis. It’s smooth and waterproof, with a recognizable skin texture.
  • The junction between the grain and the corium is counted as its own layer.
  • The corium is the middle layer of skin – the epidermis. This is the tough, fuzzy part of the leather.

The quality of a leather garment is based chiefly on which layers it uses. Only three kinds of leather are generally considered good quality. From the top down (literally and metaphorically):

1. Full Grain Leather

  • Commands the highest price (and the most respect).
  • Uses the grain and the junction.
  • You can see the pattern of the skin, and sometimes marks and scars from the animal’s life.
  • Strong, breathable, and develops a beautiful patina with age.

2. Top Grain Leather

This one often confuses people, and with good reason.

  • It’s not top quality.
  • It doesn’t comprise the top of the grain. In fact…
  • The top of the grain is sanded off. This removes imperfections and makes it thinner and more pliable.
  • A finish coat is then added. This makes it more stain-resistant but less breathable, and instead of developing a patina, it just gets scuffed.
  • Nubuck is a version of top grain leather that’s been buffed to a velvety texture.

3. Suede

  • Made from ‘split leather’ – the corium and junction left behind after making full-grain leather.
  • Has a fuzzy texture, called the ‘nap’.
  • Softest and most pliable, but also the least durable and least resistant to water and stains.

Below these three are the leathers I don’t recommend buying:

Corrected grain leather is lower quality top-grain leather that’s been heavily buffed (so it’s lost a lot of its surface) and then embossed with a fake grain.

full grain versus genuine leatherGenuine leather translates to ‘the poorest quality leather we can get away with.’ If something is marked ‘genuine leather’, don’t buy it. It’s usually made of several layers from the very bottom of the corium (left over from making good leather), bonded together with glue. It won’t last long, and the layers are likely to come apart.

Below this is reconstituted or bonded leather. This consists of scraps of leather mashed into a pulp and spread over a fabric backing. It gets de-constituted and unbonded really fast. If your leather is flaking and peeling, that’s probably what you’ve got.


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