Most leather today is taken from cows because of their size, availability, and exceptional quality of leather. However, depending on the use, leather is also commonly taken from pigs, sheep, deer, horses, and kangaroos. Additionally, some of the more exotic leathers come from alligators, ostriches, elephants, snakes, frogs, and stingrays.
Full-Grain Leather vs. Top-Grain Leather
The strongest and most durable part of the hide of an animal is just below the hair.The grain pattern in this part of the hide is very tight, and the leather made from here is called “full-grain” leather.Full-grain leather is the strongest and most durable leather. Additionally, since the grain is so tight, it resists moisture very well. Over time, full-grain leather will look nicer and nicer and develop a patina from being handled.
The next best—and second strongest—leather is called “top-grain” leather. Top grain leather is similar to full-grain leather, except that the top couple millimeters have been sanded and buffed to take away imperfections. With the top layer removed, the leather will have a more uniform finish, but it won’t be as durable—and it will break down much faster. This is more of a “cookie cutter” leather that most leather wallets and handbags are made of, which lends to their generic appearance. Top-grain leather can be good leather, but its strength and durability is not even close to the strength of full-grain leather.
However, even the highest quality leather will have small irregularities: from healed scrapes where the animal brushed against a cactus or a barbed-wire fence; to insect bites; to brands done by the rancher; to fatty areas and neck wrinkles; even vein marks. These slight irregularities are incorporated into products to showcase each product’s natural individuality and handcrafted nature.
Factors in Leather Quality
There are extensive factors influencing the quality of leather: the animal’s diet and nutrition; the age and sex of the animal; the climate; the presence of viruses, fungal diseases, and parasites; the care taken during slaughter; the flaying; the tanning chemicals used; the dyes and stains used; and the shipping and handling methods are just some of those factors.
Different Types of Leather: Grains & Grades
The difference between high grade and low grade leather is not much to the naked eyes: They can both look great on the outside, but it doesn’t take long to tell that one cost a lot more to make.
Life lesson? Know your Bourbon. And know your leather.
There are four main types of leather. Here’s a quick rundown:
1) FULL GRAIN : Full grain leather is the highest grade of all types of leather. It’s the top layer of the hide, including the full thickness of the skin, and is not sanded or buffed to remove natural marks or imperfections. The full thickness makes this the most difficult type of leather for manufacturers to work. All the grain remains in full grain leather, which allows fiber strength, durability, and breathability. Rather than wearing out, the natural surface of full grain leather develops a patina over time.
2) TOP GRAIN : Top grain leather is the second-highest quality, and is the type most commonly used in high-end leather products. This leather has the split layer with imperfections removed, making it thinner and more workable for the manufacturer. The surface of top grain leather is sanded and given a finish coat. The finish coat means the leather will not develop a natural patina and greatly reduces breathability, but it provides protection against stains that would otherwise sink right into full grain leather.
3) CORRECTED GRAIN / GENUINE : Corrected grain leather and “genuine” leather are two names for the same type of leather. This is the third grade of leather and is produced from the layers that remain after the top layers are split off for the better types of leather. An artificial grain is applied to the surface and then sprayed with stain or dye to give it a more natural appearance.
4) BONDED : Bonded leather is quite literally the bottom of the barrel. Leftover scraps of leather are shredded and ground to a near pulp, then bonded together using polyurethane or latex onto a fiber sheet. The varying degree of actual leather in the mix (versus chemicals) affects the smell, texture, and durability of the product. Bonded leather is the cheapest to produce and is often resurfaced to look like higher quality types of leather – so watch out!
Ultimate Guide to Leather
Different Animal Leather & Uses
Pure Leather Jackets - Details & Attributes
We associate leather jacket with ruggedness because rugged people have depended on leather since the early days of humanity.
Leather jacket gives its wearer a sense of toughness, competence, and edginess, even when it’s a very smooth and refined style of jacket. Leather jackets are pricey pieces of clothing. It’s hard to find one that can go with both a dressy business look and a unique casual one.
Why Pure Leather Jackets?
1) ATTITUDE : Attitude. Style, funkiness, class, uniqueness, that bad boy vibe – call it what you want to, but leather has an attitude that cloth doesn’t.
2) PROTECTION : You’re hopefully never going to need your jacket to turn a knife or protect you from a bear’s teeth, but the toughness that protects from those holds up just fine against lesser, day-to-day wear and tear as well. A good leather jacket made from quality hide and treated well should last through all kinds of nicks and scrapes. The same toughness provides a good level of weather protection as well. Leather is an excellent windbreak and is naturally water-resistant; A leather jacket will still be warm and dry long after wind, rain, or snow have worked their way through the same jacket in wool or denim.
3) DURABILITY : The durability of leather is its natural longevity. Good hide gets more supple as it ages, but doesn’t crack or split. If you’re careful about treating it when it needs it, leather can last a lifetime. It’s worth remembering that we still have leather clothes and armor worn by Roman soldiers in museums all across the world. If you’re willing to spend a bit up front for a quality product, you can get a leather jacket that will outlive not just you but also your children.
This is a good consideration for anyone and a huge consideration for practical men whose jackets see a lot of real, outdoors use. Leather lacks the weakness of a weave – its fibers are matted into a natural solid, so there’s nothing to unravel. As long as you can avoid a puncture that goes clean through you’re not going to see your jacket coming apart on you.
Elements of a Leather Jacket
First it’s worth familiarizing yourself with the bits and pieces that make up a style, so that you can understand why a simple change in the height of the collar and the angle of the pockets can make the difference between a sleek business jacket and a rugged working man’s coat.
|Length||Most leather jackets are just that – jackets, rather than coats. The bottom hem falls right around the waist. A higher, snugger hem is more stylish, while a hem that falls past the belt with a bit of looseness at the hips is a more rugged and outdoorsy look. As a general rule of thumb for stylish jackets, your belt should be visible when you zip your jacket up. If you’re out working with cattle or timber, something longer is fine.|
|Collar||Short, tight collars that don’t turn down are associated with fashion and with motorcycles and race cars. They give the most sleek and streamlined look. A short, soft collar that can either be turned down or popped up to frame the chin is a casual style associated with military surplus and street wear. That bit of floppiness says “rugged casual.” It’s typical on jackets with a looser cut.
Full turn-down collars are typical on rancher’s jackets, dusters, trenchcoats, and other long leather jackets and coats. The best ones will be designed to flip up and button closed in the rain. They’re also a defining characteristic of bomber jackets, which are shorter but, because of their aviation history, also meant to be practical, weatherproofing garments.
|Pockets||More pockets is more casual. More details on the pockets is also more casual. Logically, that means that your sharpest-looking leather jackets have smooth fronts. Since that’s not very practical, most fashionable jackets opt for a pair of jetted pockets instead, where the opening is a small slit in the leather without a flap or button. These can be vertical or horizontal, but a vertical or sharply-diagonal slit on each side for the hands is typical of jackets seeking a streamlined shape.
More casual jackets add flaps and rotate the pockets to fully horizontal openings. Dressier styles have the pockets sewn onto the interior, while more casual ones will have larger “patch” pockets sewn onto the exterior, so that the back of the pocket is the front of the jacket.
|Zippers and Buttons||Zippers are sleeker; buttons are chunkier. From a practical standpoint zippers are also easier to use, while buttons are easier to repair or replace. There are some contradicting schools of thought on whether a man should wear buttons at all. Leather jackets with big, round buttons have been a feminine style for much of the 20th century; on the other hand, men in both World Wars wore leather jackets with buttons. A lot of cattlemen still prefer buttons because they just pop off when the jacket strains, rather than breaking or tearing away from the leather like a zipper.
This basically shakes down to a cultural divide: sharp-looking urban jackets rarely use buttons, while rugged outdoors jackets use both zippers and buttons. You can do whichever you want, but a very sleek and modern-looking jacket with buttons does run the risk of looking a little feminine.
|Lapels||There’s very rarely a good reason for a man’s leather jacket to have lapels. They exist, and they appear on the runway regularly enough, but the “leather blazer” look is a tough one to pull off. If you like the framing effect of lapels – that V-shape widening up your torso – you should look for zippered jackets with wide, soft collars instead. These can be worn half-zipped with the collar flipped out onto the shoulders like a cardigan, giving you the same effect without the awkwardness of a fully-constructed lapel.
For the diehards that must have a constructed lapel, narrow and understated is better. Big flaring lapels on a leather jacket makes you look like a low-level Las Vegas mob enforcer or a 1990s superhero.
|Color||Most leather jackets are black or brown. Black works well if your wardrobe has lots of solids and sharp contrasts, while brown works well with a more muted wardrobe that uses lots of earth tones and textured fabrics. One of the keys with leather is to match it – you shouldn’t wear a brown jacket with black shoes. Other, brighter colors are available but less versatile. It’s hard to get away with wearing them day in and day out. Avoid racing stripes or other flashy colored patches unless you’re actually wearing the jacket to motocross races.|
How to Buy a Leather Jacket for Men
RSI EH Leather Offerings
The Classic Leather Jacket Styles
|THE MOTO CROSS JACKETS||Sometimes called a “moto”. This is a tight-fitted style with a collar that hugs the neck and doesn’t turn down. The front zips up all the way and the waist is usually elastic. Since it’s made to be streamlined, there’s usually no extra outer details like buckles or pocket flaps. It’s one of the most common urban styles for both men and women. It’s simple, sleek, and a bit dressier than the other jackets.
The tight fit and slim lines make this a good jacket for people with a slender or athletic build. If your midsection is wider than your chest it’s going to make a noticeable (and unattractive) bulge.
|THE FATIGUE JACKETS||A leather fatigue jacket looks pretty much like a cloth one, except in leather. It has a soft collar that can be turned down or flipped up, horizontally-opening pockets with flaps covering them, and sometimes (though not always) details like a built-in D-ring belt or epaulets. The fit tends to be looser than a moto jacket: it might cinch at the waist if there’s a belt built in, but otherwise it’s a straight up-and-down fit like a sack suit, with no elastic or drawstring at the waist.
Fatigue jackets are practical, utilitarian, and good with just about any day-to-day outfit. They can’t dress up quite as sleek as a moto jacket and they don’t offer as much weather protection as a cattleman’s jacket or a duster, but they’re what most people think of when they think “leather jacket.” Bigger men look good in a fatigue jacket. The looseness around the waist helps it drape over any thickness in the stomach, and the soft shoulders keep you from looking overstuffed.
|THE BOMBER JACKETS||A favourite of vintage junkies and college kids for years, the bomber tends to get sneered at by high fashion types. Ignore them. A Bomber (Flight Jacket) has a soft, turn-down collar with a cloth or fleece lining. The interior is lined as well, usually in a heavy, warm fabric (they were made for guys in high-altitude bombers, hence all the warming details). The waist and sleeves cinch tight, usually with elastic and cloth cuffs or with buckles.
Bombers are decidedly more casual than their moto cousins. They share the snug waist and the close fit in the arms (a bomber should never wrinkle as it drapes), but the overall style tends to be much more utilitarian, and the fit (because of the thick lining) less shapely.
Thin guys can add quite a bit of bulk with a bomber jacket. It has to fit well, though – a loose bomber will just swallow you right up. Heavyset guys would do better in a looser style like a fatigue jacket.
|LEATHER CATTLEMAN JACKETS||The classic Western style has seen a lot of adaptation to urban wear lately. In its classic form it’s a long, straight jacket that flares out slightly at the hips and falls a few inches past the waist. This makes it long enough to protect the weak spot where the shirt meets the trouser from weather, but short enough to wear in the saddle without a pile of leather bunched up around your crotch and butt.
Cattleman coats rarely use any detailing around the edges. The collar is usually a short turn down that can button up against the wind, and the cuffs and waist tend to be plain stitched leather without a hem.
|LEATHER DUSTER JACKETS||A duster is a full-length coat that falls below the knees. Traditionally they’re slit up the back to allow for horseback riding, and most feature an extra layer of leather draped like a cape over the shoulders and upper back/chest for rain protection. Most historic dusters were actually canvas or linen, but leather versions have become popular since the advent of Hollywood Westerns.
Dusters are (and should remain) the uniform of men who spend a great deal of their time in the saddle: cowboys and cross-country motorcyclists. If you’re not one of those and you’re wearing a duster, you’re either a Wild West re-enactor or embarrassing yourself.
|LEATHER TRENCH COATS||Like the duster, historic trench coats were usually made from waterproofed cloth rather than leather – it was lighter, more breathable, and cheaper to mass-produce for soldiers. They fall to around the knees, feature a built-in belt at the waist, and usually have wide, soft turndown collar that can fasten against the rain.
Trench coats are a classic overcoat for men, but a leather one takes some attitude to pull off. If the rest of your wardrobe isn’t somewhat retro and dressy, your coat is likely to overwhelm the rest of your outfit and make you look like the star of a very low-budget detective thriller. Unless you’re very devoted to the shiny, buckle-laden look (which can come across as a bit bondagey in black) you should probably pick a shorter jacket for your leather one and go for a cloth trench coat instead.