leather and suede outerwear guide

While all of your clothes deserve a certain level of care, a few materials warrant specific dedication and attention. Understanding how to wash, wear, and care for items like a pair of raw denim jeans or a linen shirt can help maintain the quality of your favorite clothes. 

Among the most perennially stylish clothing materials are leather and its close relative, suede. They certainly aren’t formal, but leather and suede communicate a refined style and unfussy assuredness. As such, leather and suede jackets are timeless staples that deserve a spot in anyone’s wardrobe, which is why we’ve developed a collection of jackets in both materials.

This article serves as an in-depth guide to leather and suede, outlining how these materials are used in modern style and the methods you can employ to maximize the longevity of your suede and leather goods.

Suede vs. Leather: What’s the Difference?

Leather and suede have been essential materials in menswear for centuries - with uses dating back to prehistoric times. In modern terms, suede and leather are most commonly used in footwear, outerwear, and personal accessories like wallets and bags.

Both suede and leather are derived from animal hides, but as times have changed, there are now synthetic versions and vegetable leathers and suedes made from plant fibers. For our purposes, we’ll stick to real leather and suede.

The key difference between suede and leather is where on the animal hide they are derived from. Leather, known for its smooth, structured surface, is made from the outer side of the skin. Meanwhile, supple and soft suede comes from splitting the inner flesh side of the animal. As such, suede is a close relative of traditional, full-grain leather. In practice, leather offers a buttery smooth texture with a glossy sheen and durable feel. Suede, on the other hand, is very similar to velvet, with a delicate feel that requires special care. 

The word suede comes from the French: “gants de Suede,” which means gloves from Sweden. Swedish leather makers had developed the technique of using the inner flesh of animals to craft soft gloves, which were particularly popular among the French nobility. Eventually, suede was used by leather workers throughout Europe as a material for boots, bags, jackets, and more. Continuing into the modern era, suede is strongly associated with luxury thanks to its softer texture and feel.

Full-grain leather starts with the rawhide of an animal, typically cow, sheep, or even pig. The skin is sometimes tanned with vegetable tanning agents, chromium salts, or a mixture of both. The tanning process will result in either a more flexible or rigid leather. After the leather is dried, some manufacturers will choose to dye and or finish the leather, which can enhance both the color and sheen of the leather and support its rigid, durable structure.

Both leather and suede are handsome and timeless materials once finished, but they require very different care practices to uphold their appearance.

How to Care for Leather and Suede Clothing

Both leather and suede are stylish materials worth keeping in your wardrobe, but to do so, they require hands-on care and conditioning.

Leather is naturally waterproof, so you can feel comfortable wearing it in most conditions. That being said, it’s worth investing in a leather protectant, often found as a spray or balm. Simply wipe down your leather jacket or boots with a damp cloth, apply the leather protector, and confidently wear your leather goods.

On the other hand, Suede is exceedingly susceptible to water damage, so avoid wearing suede clothing in the rain. While it is a fairly durable material, it is both thin and absorbent; water will ruin the velvety texture and quality of suede. There are suede protectors and water-proofing sprays worth investing in to protect your suede clothing. If your suede material does get wet, a small amount of talcum powder can help. But, in general, consider avoiding suede when there’s inclement weather.

If your leather or suede clothing gets dirty, simply brush off dust and debris with a microfiber cloth or a soft-bristled brush. Invest in a leather cleaning solution or simply use some dish soap to treat dirty spots for a deeper clean. For deeper stains, you can use matching shoe polish to cover blemishes or attempt to treat the stains with a small amount of rubbing alcohol. If that fails, consider reaching out to a professional cleaner.

You'll want to store leather and suede jackets in a fairly well-ventilated area on wooden hangers and avoid packing them in plastic for long-term storage. Leather and suede need to breathe to maintain quality, so suffocating them in plastic will damage the material. A wooden or padded hanger will also help your jacket keep its shape and avoid wrinkles or damage to the inside of the jacket. It’s also important to regularly apply conditioning creams and waterproofing sprays annually to maintain the sheen, protection, and durability of your leather clothing.

How to Wear Leather and Suede

Now that you know how to protect and care for your leather and suede clothing, it’s time to invest in some! While both leather and suede are the best choices for footwear and accessories like wallets, boots, and bags, the quintessential item of leather or suede clothing is the humble jacket.

A leather jacket is an enduring piece of clothing; it’s a staple of menswear that never goes out of fashion. A good leather jacket calls to mind classic Hollywood style, a sense of rugged determinism, and vintage Americana. Suede jackets, on the other hand, take a softer approach with their velvety texture. Like the Rollup Suede PCH Jacket, a handsome suede jacket will engender a smoother, more relaxed lifestyle. You might also find it a touch more comfortable thanks to its softer structure versus the more rigid feel of a leather jacket.

Leather and suede are some of the finest materials, but they shouldn’t be considered formal. So, both leather and suede jackets should be worn with a carefree sense of ease. For example, you can pair the Black Bruiser PCH Jacket with well-worn light-wash jeans or khakis. Meanwhile, the Canyon Suede Bomber works perfectly with a more serious dark-wash jean or navy chinos. With both suede and leather outwear, contrasting color and texture with your bottoms can create more visual appeal. However, a matching leather belt is always a recommended finishing touch. Beneath your leather jacket or suede bomber, throw on a plain heavyweight cotton tee, henley, or cotton flannel shirt and jeans for a foolproof outfit that embodies a carefree attitude. Just about anything from our collection of core icons is the ideal complement for your next leather or suede jacket. Round it all out with some matching leather boots to add the finishing touch.

Like your favorite pair of denim jeans, your leather and suede outerwear will develop a beautiful patina as you wear it over your lifetime. As with all your clothing, the most important thing is simply wearing them. Continue to care for and maintain your clothes; they‘ll respond by molding to your body and sharing the story of your style journey.