Types of Leather in Menswear : a Quick Guide

Sonya Glyn NICHOLSON

Types of Leather in Menswear : a Quick Guide

From J.M. Weston’s Tannery

Shoes, gloves, coats, bags, briefcases and luggage are often labeled “genuine leather”, but what does this term really mean?

The label “genuine leather” is often purposely ambiguous and is used to mislead customers. Not only are there different types of leather but there are also different grades of leather (see Four Things to Look for in a Good Pair of Men’s Shoes for an example of a grading chart).

Take a look at the following and see if you are familiar with these 14 types of leather.

CALFSKIN

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Gaziano & Girling, St. James II, vintage cherry calfskin

Calfskin leather is a fantastic choice for quality products. Durable and pleasing to the eye, calfskin is especially handsome when used for shoes and jackets and wallets and bags. As a high quality leather, most all leather craftsmen try to source great calfskin. Not only does the leather hold color and buff out beautifully, but it can also be  roughed up to create different textures.

LAMBSKIN

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Boglioli Shearling Lamb Leather Coat

Lambskin leather is lighter and more supple than the stronger textured calfskin. The ultra soft texture is desirable to use for crafting gloves, soft shoes and even winter jackets—as lambskin has superb insulation properties. The excellence of pliability in lambskin allows the leather to be “worked or stretched” down to a thin texture, while maintaining its integrity and strength properties. As a luxury leather, there are many creative uses for lambskin, including using the leather for special trimming on high-end furniture and fine cars. However, lambskin is prone to stretching and may or may not “snapback” to its original shape, and so should be used for items that don’t see a lot of wear and tear.

SHEEPSKIN

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Brody sheepskin bomber jacket

Sheepskin Leather is smooth and lightweight, and often remains attached to the wool, as a decorative feature and to serve as insulation against the cold. The exposed wool makes stylish and warm gloves, coats and hats to guard against brutal winters.

GOATSKIN

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Hermes men’s espadrille in suede goatskin

Goatskin leather is probably most famous for being used to make traditional wine “bota bags”. Most appealing with this leather, is its water-resistant properties. The material is particularly soft, as it is coated with lanolin, also referred to as wool wax, which is secreted from the glands of the animal to protect and condition the skin. Goatskin is not only used in garments, but also in accessories such as in leather notebooks and business planners.

BUFFALO

1441100529_mcquennAlexander McQueen Heroic Buffalo Briefcase

Buffalo leather is soft but also heavy and quite thick. It is usually not stretched at all during the tanning process in order to preserve the outstanding visual effect the grain of the leather. The thermal properties of buffalo are impressive, as it is not only insulating but also has great breathability—with enough porosity to preventing sweating from occurring underneath your clothing. The great durability of the material makes it ideal for clothing or accessories you intend to use often. Expect buffalo leather to take a beating and still hold up for many years. The durability of the leather is one reason it is often used for rugged jackets, shoes and furniture.

YOUNG BOVINE

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Crockett & Jones Coniston

Bovine leather is less expensive than calf leather. The term young bovine simply indicates that the leather is from an adult cow or bull. The material is more rigid than calf’s leather and more prone to imperfections such as insect bites, scars, wrinkles and veining (which is sometimes corrected with sanding and buffing). Young bovine can be a high quality and soft-to-the-touch material if throughly inspected for quality.

CORDOVAN

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1962 Florsheim shell cordovan plain toe blucher

Shell cordovan (cordovan) is a leather which gets its name from the city of Cordoba, Spain. Cordovan leather is typically used for shoemaking. It is equine leather made from the fibrous flat muscle, or shell, which is located beneath the rump / hide of a horse. The material is dense with tight pores and has a strong sheen. It may be finished in burgundy or black, but burgundy is usually the color of choice for its beauty alone. Some men swear by their cordovan shoes while others feel the shine can be too much or that the shoes can be too warm for summer wear.

CAMEL

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Corthay “Arca” in camel hide

Camel hide is naturally soft and when tanned, softens even more. The material can withstand high temperatures and is among the strongest of leathers available. Camel has more than 10 times the fiber per the same area as cow hide and is rugged yet supple.

CHAMOIS

Used more in the past than the present, Chamois (SHAM-wa) leather is known for its supreme softness, absorbency and lovely tan color. Also called “shammy”, this is one of the most popular materials used for polishing cloths. However, the difficulty in working with the leather has caused it to fall off the map of leather making. Chamois should be made from the Alpine chamois, a goat-like animal; but nowadays, it’s culled from sheepskin and labelled as chamois.

BUCKSKIN

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Men’s black elk slippers, Canadian design by UGG

A very pliable, rugged leather made from wild stag like deer, elk and antelope. The material is soft, strong, durable and breathable and has been used for centuries for leather crafting. Buckhide skins tend to be expensive due to the difficulty of the tanning process.

OSTRICH

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Ostrich wallet by Santiago Gonzalez

Ostrich leather is one of the easiest leathers to identify—as it is known for a dotted, raised quill pattern. The material is usually expensive because the leather is not easy to work with and often requires a skilled craftsmen to craft bags, belts and wallets with sought-after ostrich leather.

ALLIGATOR

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Berluti Alligator Loafer

Alligator skin has smooth scales and is soft (smoother and softer than crocodile skin) with exotic visual details—making this leather one of the most luxurious on the market. Alligator is known to be dyed in as many as 50 different colors with a wide range of finishes. The leather is used for footwear, garments,watch straps, bags, belts and wallets. It’s not a material for everyone, but those who love the leather are usually loyal to the look.

SNAKESKIN

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leather python bracelet

Snakeskin is a very select leather typically made from anaconda, cobra or the more expensive python. The same applications for snakeskin leather are found to be in common with alligator and crocodile leather.

FISH SKIN

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9 ct. gold Cartier notebook with fish skin cover

Although it may seem to be an unlikely material for menswear, fish skin leather can be strong and pliable, particularly in reference to shark (known for its strength), salmon (a thin material used for fine leatherwork), and sea bass (which is easy to work with since it doesn’t “ravel”).

VEGAN LEATHER

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Genuine cork handmade vegan wallets by Cloomy

Vegan leather is a growing industry, as the practice of vegetarianism and vegan-ism is increasing each year. Not only do some people choose not to eat animals, but many also eschew the “wearing of animals”. Whether you choose this way of life or prefer a more mainstream lifestyle, you may consider buying from leathermakers who pledge to work only with animals who are treated humanely.

Eluxe Magazine addresses the subject:

Some manufacturers, including Valentino and the entire Gucci Group (now known as Kering) are very much aware of the issues surrounding leather production, and have now vowed to use only vegetable dyes, natural tanning processes, and slaughter only cattle raised on old farmland, as opposed to newly razed rain forests. (Valentino and Kering are also phasing out harmful PVC from their fashion goods–unlike the allegedly ‘eco friendly’ designer, Vivienne Westwood who continues to use [these materials] in some of her bags and shoes.) Other brands are using alternative leathers including fish and eel skins, which are usually thrown away as waste in the food production process. [source: eluxemagazine.com “What the heck is vegan leather?”].

Some vegan leathers are cork, kelp-based, or made with textile composite microfibers—but the majority of faux leathers are made with risky chemicals like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or polyurethane. In the latter case, a vegan product may be pure marketing “greenwashing”.

Further reading :

https://parisiangentleman.co.uk/2016/03/05/men-who-are-elegant-seven-wardrobe-upgrades-for-2016/