We love leather. At any given time, the average consumer is likely to be wearing four leather products. From leather bracelets and belts to leather jackets and pants, fine leather goods are easy to appreciate and admire for their aesthetic appeal and durability. The key phrase in that sentence, however, was “fine leather goods.” Not all leather is made alike. Next time you’re shopping for a leather item, don’t get duped into paying too much for imitation quality. Follow these four tips to ensure you’re buying only fine leather goods:
- Know thy leather
In general, there are four categories of leather: full-grain, top-grain, corrected-grain, and split-leather. The highest quality is top- or full-grain. Most leather clothing such as leather belts, pants, or jackets are made of top- or full-grain leather. At least the finest leather goods are.
Leather’s weight is measured in ounces per square foot. For example, three-ounce leather means a square foot of the leather weighs three ounces and is approximately 1/8 inch thick. As you’ll see in the next bullet, where fine leather goods are concerned, heavier is better.
- Examine the leather
Sounds rather rudimentary, doesn’t it? Of course you’re going to examine the leather of any fine leather goods you’re buying. The question is: Do you know what you’re looking for?
Fine leather goods should feel heavy in your hands. This is because the fibers of fine leather goods have a high density. It can be tempting to get leather totes that feel lightweight – – after all, you won’t want to be carrying more weight than you need on your arm, right? – – but this is a bad idea. Fine leather totes for women will feel heavy, the way a ripe melon feels heavy for its size.
Fine leather goods are also be flexible and have a soft, supple feel. If you bend it (which we encourage you to do before purchasing), it should flex without showing signs of tearing or breaking. You want to be on the lookout for any items that look as if the finish has been painted on. There should be no vinyl-like smell to it.
- Inspect the stitching
While the primary component of fine leather goods is the leather itself, the second most important aspect is what’s holding that leather together: the stitching. The most durable and aesthetic stitching is hand stitching, referred to as saddle stitching. During saddle stitching, two blunt needs are attached to the ends of a single thread. The artisan stitching the leather will pass each of these needles through the same hole as he or she stitches, thus creating a knot with his or her stitch. When the artisan then pulls on the needles, the knot seals the stitches in place. Since each individual stitch is secured by its own knot, even if one stitch falls apart, the thread holding your leather good together won’t unravel entirely.
- Cut determines quality
You know how you’re told to cut steaks “against the grain”? Well, the opposite holds true for fine leather goods. Leather should be cut in the “grain direction,” or the direction that the grain follows. Why? Consider leather wallets for women. If you’re looking at a bi-fold wallet, the leather needs to be cut so as to minimize the resistance at the folds. If the leather isn’t cut this way, stress at the folds will cause it to alter its shape and wrinkle over time.
Fine leather goods should also be cut so as to hide any imperfections in the leather. We can’t forget that at its heart, leather is skin, and it’s only natural for skin to develop unsightly spots or scars. The most skilled leather artisans are able to cut pieces from a hide that don’t display these blemishes or imperfections. Or, if they can’t be avoided entirely, an artisan should be skilled enough to hide these imperfections in the lining.
Fine leather goods are a beautiful thing. However, it’s easy to think you’re walking out of the store with a work of art only to realize over time that what you have is a sad imitation. To ensure your leather goods are of the finest quality, take the time to inspect their weight, feel, stitching, and cut. Next year, you’ll be glad you did.