Leather Clothes

Thursday, 4 June 2009 | Tags:

Leather clothing isn't just for the rough and tumble or overly sexy crowd these days. Leather gloves, pants, skirts, and jackets come in all sorts of styles and provide a durable, and fashionable wardrobe item. We find out how leather is made and talk to designers about finding leather clothes that work for any body.

The Basics

  • Leather is made from animal skin that has been chemically-modified thorough tanning. Tanning preserves the material’s physical properties, such as the tensile strength, flexibility, and resilience of the leather. This leaves it resistant to decomposition and bacterial decay.

  • Leather is durable and comfortable to wear. Best of all it can be both warm in winter and cool in summer because it breathes.

  • Types of Leather:

    • Cowhide: The most commonly used skin for jackets, cowhide is one of toughest skins available and comes from the mature cow. Heavy and durable – it is the most versatile skin and it is used in many forms. Depending on the thickness, cowhide can be used for biker jackets (thick) or fashion jackets (thin).

    • Calfskin: This leather is not as tough as cowhide and comes from the skin of a young cow. It is most often seen in fashion jackets.

    • Lambskin: From a lamb, lambskin is considered to be the most luxurious. It is very soft and smooth and used in fashion and dressy clothing. It is not as durable as some other skins and may not be good for everyday wear items since the top grain scratches easily. It also tends to absorb dirt and liquids into the pores, so it is more difficult to get clean.

    • Goatskin: Less fragile than lambskin, goatskin is still soft and lighter than cowhide, and has a pebble-like grain.

    • Sheepskin: Made from the skin of a more mature lamb, it is usually heavier and more durable than lambskin. It also doesn’t have the strength of calfskin and is not as suitable for a garment subjected to heavy use.

    • Pigskin: Made from the skins of pigs or hogs, it’s commonly used for suede. Recently, tanning processes have widened the use of pigskin. Processes such as drum dyeing have given pigskin the ability to be soft and smooth – almost as soft as lambskin. This material is also very durable and generally costs less than lambskin.

    • Buckskin: This leather is made from deer and elk skins. These skins often have more blemishes than the skins of domestic animals. It is soft, pliable and water-resistant.

    • Buffalo: Tougher than thickest cowhide, buffalo is usually only used for thicker clothing, like motorcycle jackets, pants, and suits.

  • The most important feature of leather quality, and the clearest indicator of durability and price, is the grade of the leather:

    • Top-Grain: Taken from the desirable outer surface of the hide, this material includes the genuine grain. It is also called full grain and is graded based on the ways that manufacturers prepare the leather.

    • Split: Taken from the lower surfaces of the hide, it is much weaker than top-grain. Beware that sometimes goods made from split leather is given a grained impression and retailers try to pass them off as full-grain.

  • Designers that specialize in leather clothing say that buying items should be considered an investment. Take the time to select the right piece for you. Here’s what to look for in quality, fit and cost:

    • Quality: Ensure the overall colour of the item is consistent. All skins contain some natural markings so just be sure that there are no large unsightly marks. A good manufacturer will not use badly-marked leather or suede, and most garments are made to minimize any natural markings.

    • Construction: Look at the overall construction of the piece. The panels should be evenly-matched and any zippers should lie flat. All the stitching should be even and secure.All leather should have a soft and supple feel, or “hand” as they say in industry. Suede should feature small regular pores as opposed to large prominent ones. Keep in mind that lining can help increase the life of the garment. The lining protects the leather from your skin oils and helps the garment keep its shape. Silk linings are the best but these can increase the price.

    • Fit: Remember that leather garments mellow with age and can mold to a figure like a second skin. When buying leather pants, make sure they feel a little bit snug when trying them on. Leather tends to stretch slightly so buy them a little fitted to ensure that they don’t look baggy after a few wears. Be especially careful with delicate and thin leathers like lambskin. These will get baggier than the thicker, tougher cowhide and so should be bought tighter than others. Leather does have give and you should be able to lift up your arms comfortably in any good jacket.

    • Cost: Lower-priced leathers tend to be made from cows that are older – the hide is thicker, heavier in weight, but still quite durable. More expensive leather is commonly made from a younger animal – the hide is smoother, lighter-weight, and tends to be more delicate.The tanning processes and treatments can also affect the price. This is also true for design considerations, the amount of material used and the brand or label.

Other Considerations

  • Many people express ethical concerns when it comes to leather, but most leather garments are a by-product of farming and human food production, so it is a means of using the whole animal without waste. Generally, no animals are killed only for their hides so, if you are comfortable eating meat, you should feel comfortable wearing leather.

  • Once you invest in a piece of leather clothing, it’s essential to care for it properly. When cared for properly, leather will gain character with age. Follow these tips:

    • Jackets & Tops: Use a sturdy hanger to support the shoulders.

    • Pockets: be careful about sharp objects, such as keys, which can poke and scratch the leather.

    • De-wrinkling: hanging your garment should reduce wrinkling, but you can also iron leather (carefully!) Use the rayon setting on your iron and a pressing cloth like heavy brown paper or a plain tea towel (be careful about using ones with colour.)

    • Cleaning: Most leather is not washable. If you have a major spill or stain, take it to a professional leather cleaner. (It is best to get any matching articles, such as a jacket and skirt, cleaned at same time so that they will retain a similar look.) To remove street salt from smooth leather, promptly sponge with clean water then allow to dry naturally away from heat. You can also use a leather lotion to help remove minor dirt and stains (be sure to test on an inconspicuous spot first). For suede, use a suede protector spray and spray only the areas that do not come in contact with your skin. Also use a suede brush to help remove dirt and dust.

    • Avoid: Do not use waxes, silicone products or other leather preparations that impair a garment’s ability to breathe. Avoid spraying on perfume or hair spray while wearing jacket or shirt – this can discolour or damage the leather.

    • Good to know: Wearing a scarf around the neck can help keep body oils away from the collar. Be sure to store clothing items away from heat and never cover in plastic as it can dry leather out.


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