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What You Need To Know About Leather

When you shop for leather items, you often face a bewildering array of choices. Heck, leather's complexity even scared me off for many years. To help you out, I've put together a little guide. Read on to learn about the different types of leather, leather tanning, leather clothes, and how to match these garments with each other and with your existing wardrobe.

types of leather

Leather is any tanned, toughened (yet pliable), dried, and dyed skin of an animal. Thanks to modern dyeing processes, most types of leather can be found in nearly any color. Some leathers, however, are best known for particular colors.

Buckskin: Pliable leather with a smooth finish from wild stag (deer, elk or antelope).

Chamois: Leather originally made from the Alpine chamois, a goat-like animal. Nowadays, it's culled from sheepskin. Chamois is well regarded for its supreme softness, absorbency and light tan color. It is pronounced SHAM-wa, or parochially, SHAM-ee.

Calfskin: Leather from young cows. It's a smoother leather, but it can be roughened to create "velour leather," or embossed with patterns and other textures. It is considered dressy and is usually found in darker shades (blacks and browns).

Cowhide: Leather from full-grown cows that is used for shoes, boots and jackets. Tough and durable, it can have a smooth or rough finish. You'll find it in all colors, but mostly shades of brown and black.

Lizard skins: Crocodile, alligator and other lizard skins are usually limited to belts, luggage or shoes. They sport a scaly texture and a nice sheen, and can be had in shades of green, grey, red, and brown.

Pigskin: Pigskin is more commonly used in South America. It has little nap (fuzz) and is generally smooth to the touch and tan in color.

Ostrich: An "exotic" leather found on belts or shoes. Ostrich resembles a plucked chicken, and as such, has a "goose bump" appearance.

Suede: Suede is created when the reverse side of calfskin is roughened to the point of extreme softness. The resultant nap almost resembles velvet. Suede goods can be had in all major colors.

To achieve leather's distinctive look, an animal skin is "tanned;" that is, its water is removed and its fibers are sealed together by binding agents.

Vegetable-tanned: Tannic acid (or tannin) from vegetables and other plants is used to create a rather supple leather.

Mineral- or alum-tanned: Stiffer leathers are created by bathing the skin in aluminum, zirconium or chromium salts.

Oil-tanned: To create the softest leathers, fatty oils are repeatedly hammered into the skin and allowed to dry, eventually forcing out the water and binding the fibers together.

types of leather clothes

You can buy every garment imaginable in leather: jackets, blazers, overcoats, pants, shirts, underwear, belts, shoes, gloves, and hats. It's all out there.

Of course, they're not all good fashion moves. Men's clothiers have been working with leather for hundreds of years, but only with a few classic garments. Stick to jackets, overcoats, shoes, and belts. Leather pants are only an option for rock stars.

Leather jackets are most guys' sole experience with leather. And why not? Leather jackets work with a wide array of both casual and dressy clothes, and they're a good bet against the cold. Check out the previous article on leather jackets for more information.

Leather overcoats are usually found in a single- or double-breasted belted trench coat style, or the duster variety. Standard colors include black, brown and dark grey/charcoal.

The trench coat is obviously more formal than the duster. It is lighter and less durable, however. Dusters were developed with outdoor work and cold temperatures in mind.

Outside of canvas or linen, it's hard to imagine a man's belt being made of anything but leather. As such, the world of leather belts is vast. Luckily, I've got you covered with an article on How To Pick Out A Belt.

Most of you probably have some sort of leather shoe already. In fact, leather's development over the ages is inexorably tied to its role in footwear. Check out our previous article on shoes to get the leather lowdown on traditional shoes and boots.
how to match leather

Leather is certainly a striking fabric. In the documentary Comedian, Jerry Seinfeld notes that he won't wear leather jackets onstage; the tough guy image can turn off an entire audience. Nevertheless, not all conventional wisdom pertaining to leather is that cut-and-dry. For every strict leather rule, there's another that's as pliable as calfskin.

Matching various leather items
For business or formal outfits, the type, texture and color of leather jackets/coats and accessories should ideally match, or at the very least, complement each other. Shiny goes with shiny, dull with dull. You don't want to pair a calfskin belt with patent leather shoes.

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