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November 28, 2020 10 min read
by Joanna Smykowski
Joanna does quite a few things in life, but writing has been her favorite by far. She is a city girl who has moved to a beach town, and second to writing, will never tire of music, travel, and the friendships she makes as a result of both.
The world of leather is vast, and there are many different types of it. This is based on not only the animal that the jacket comes from, but the quality of the leather. The quality of leather is based on the grain. Let’s do a deeper dive into leather types and what makes them different and ultimately, how to break in a leather jacket the right way.
Types of leather
The type of leather, or which animal your leather jacket comes from, is one of the most important factors when it comes to your jacket. It determines the feel of your leather and what your jacket is overall going to look like. The most common types of leather are cow leather and lambskin, but here’s a running list of what you might find (and we are not including faux leather here, but that is always a plastic option):
There are a few leather qualities that are available when you purchase a leather jacket:
- Top grain
- Full grain
The quality of leather refers to the leather itself, and how altered or close it is to its natural setting. It has an effect on how the leather feels as well. This is determined by how the leather has been handled before being turned into a jacket. We mentioned the qualities before, but let’s take this opportunity to have a quick refresh:
Top grain leather refers to leather that is split from the bottom layers of the leather. Top grain is the process of sanding away the natural grain from the top surface of the leather. Imitation grain gets stamped into the leather to give a more uniform look. However, no genuine grain remains. This results in a leather jacket that is thinner in material and weight. Since leather is heavy. That can be uncomfortable for some people. As a result, many times top grain leather is preferred for that reason – it leads to more comfortable jackets. The bottom layer of the leather is used to make suede, while the top layer is used for the jacket. Top grain leather is the most common type of leather in high-end leather products, but it is the second-highest quality, although the name suggests otherwise. The surface gets sanded and a finish coat is added. This results in a colder, plastic feel of the leather with less breathability, even though it is thinner and more comfortable. The coat does not develop a natural patina, and it is more pliable than full-grain leather. It is less expensive and is more stain-resistant, making it the most common type of leather in a leather jacket.
Genuine leather is the lowest quality leather. When full grain leather is split, genuine leather is the bottom half, while the top half becomes top grain. Genuine leather is the catchall term for anything that is leather, but not high quality. It essentially just means it is technically leather, and can even mean scraps of leather bonded together to make the product (bag, jacket, belt, etc.)
Correctedleather is leather that has been sanded down to remove any imperfections. As a result of the sanding, the original grain is gone. A faux animal skin grain is then put on the leather by a mechanical pressing, and the leather is treated. Corrected leather gets treated with a few different products, including oils, treatments, and dye. This makes it more appealing and customizable to consumers, and results in a uniform grain with extremely smooth leather, albeit a more plastic feel. Corrected leather is always made from top grain leather, but not all top grain leather is corrected.
Full grain leather is leather that has not been split. It is the full hide. Not only has it not been split, but it has not been sanded, buffed, or any other alterations to remove any natural marks of the hide or imperfections on the surface. This type of leather retains the natural grain and skin pattern of the animal. Full grain has some breathability due to the natural pores. It also has natural oils, making it a very soft leather. During prolonged contact, there is less moisture. Full grain also develops a patina during its lifetime. A patina on leather is a gloss or sheen on a surface that results from aging. It is the highest quality leather out of all of them, and if you are buying a product that is full grain leather, the seller will be sure to make it known that it is full grain. Full grain leather is more expensive, as it is higher quality and will last you much longer. For a leather enthusiast, or if you have the budget to afford the higher quality leather, full grain leather may be what you are looking for.
You may be asking yourself what the difference is between all of the various types of leather. Mostly, this comes to how the leather jacket feels. Certain animals are more supple than others. Certain grains are tougher or heavier.
When it comes to animals, cowhide is one of the strongest and stiffest leathers. For some, that could be a good thing. It is not affected by wear and tear as much and provides an excellent layer of protection. For others, that stiffness is not what they want to wear as a jacket. The softest leathers are deerskin and lambskin. While they are strong leathers and great against a chill, they lack sturdiness.
In addition to the way they feel, the quality of leather jackets matters for the thickness of it. Full grain leather jackets are the highest quality jacket. They have the most layers and are therefore the thickest, which is why they are used as protective outerwear. Other quality leathers are thinner.
There’s a lot of faux leather jackets out there. If that’s what you’re looking for, go for it. For people looking for real leather and worry about accidentally purchasing faux, there’s a few key things to look out for:
- The touch and feel of the leather:Real leather has a softer, genuine feel to it, while fake leather feels more synthetic and plastic. If you are shopping in a store, feel out the jacket. Many stores carry both real and fake leather jackets, so you can compare the two.
- The price:Unsurprisingly, real leather costs more than fake leather. There is a range of leather jacket prices. But, if it seems suspiciously low, there is a high chance that it is a fake leather jacket. Our Independence Brothers blog talks about a lot of different leather jacket companies and their price points; use those for a starting reference.
- The texture pattern:Real leather has a unique texture pattern. It comes from the animal, so there are uneven variations on the jacket. Faux leather is synthetically made, resulting in even texture throughout. Remember that the quality of leather can also affect the texture pattern.
- The smell: This might sound strange at first, but the smell of a leather jacket is telling. Real leather has a musty, natural smell. Faux leather, on the other hand, will smell more like plastic, or nothing.
- The edges:The edges of a real leather jacket are not smooth and perfect the way those of a faux leather jacket are. They will be a bit more rough and coarse.
There are a few other ways to check if the leather is real or faux, but we don’t necessarily recommend them (the fire test? No thank you!). The methods above are the most common and easiest way to tell if your jacket is real or faux leather.
Breaking in a new leather jacket is like breaking in a new pair of shoes. New real leather jackets can be a bit stiff and awkward. Even though it may be stiff when you first get it, it will feel much better after some wear. There are a few ways to break in your new leather jacket quickly so that it feels like a second skin in no time:
- Wear it and move:Wearing your leather jacket is the easiest and quickest way to break it in. Are you staying inside more often than not right now? You don’t need a reason to don that beautiful jacket - wear it inside! When you wear your leather jacket, make sure you move around in it as well. This is important - it will soften up the jacket. You can do other things with your jacket as well that imitate the effects of wearing it and moving, such as using it as a pillow or draping it over your body for warmth. Wear is the most natural way for your leather jacket to get broken in.
- Leather conditioner: A leather conditioner is a great product to have to care for and maintain your leather jacket. What you may not know, however, is that it can also help break it in. The leather conditioner softens the leather. It does exactly what it says it will do - condition the dry leather of animal skin. This makes the jacket softer as a result. When it comes to using leather conditioners, make sure you read the care instructions for your jacket - every jacket is different, and comes with its own set of instructions. Leather conditioners are usually formulated with a specific animal skin in mind, and you don’t want to mix that up and potentially damage your jacket.
- Water:Moisture is a great way to break in your leather jacket, but one you will have to be careful with. Too much moisture and soaking leather can cause serious damage. What this means is if it is misting outside, you can consider wearing your jacket out in it. If it is pouring, don’t go out there without your umbrella for the sake of breaking your jacket in. If you don’t want to depend on the weather or are afraid of how it might turn, you can use controlled moisture at home. A spray bottle or a damp washcloth is a great way to expose the jacket to some water, but not too much. Remember that if you see drips on the jacket, it is too much and you can use a towel to remove the excess liquid. Prolonged contact with water is what ruins the leather, so just be sure to use caution. When your jacket does get wet, you should have it on and move around in it, and keep it on until it dries. Not doing so can cause shrinkage and damage. And whatever you do, don’t use something like a hair dryer to speed up the drying process.
No matter how you decide to break in your new leather jacket, be sure to remain mindful of two things. First, don’t use excessive force when breaking in your jacket. You want the breaking in to happen naturally, and excessive force can ruin it. You don't want any rips or tears in your brand new jacket. Second, always look at how to maintain your jacket. The instructions on the care and maintenance of your jacket are what you should follow above anything else. If the instructions advise against the method you were going to use to break it in, listen to those instead.
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Whether or not to get a custom leather jacket is the new age old question. Those of us over here at Independence Brothers love a good bespoke jacket. It isn’t only because we specialize in affordable custom jackets, but because it adds an extra layer of awesome to our favorite thing. Here’s why:
- It is custom.The first pro of having a bespoke leather jacket is the custom factor, which is the biggest draw. You create this jacket to fit you, and nothing else exists like it. This is a huge bonus for people to express themselves. You can make sure this jacket encompasses everything you want it to. You can choose everything to your liking. While there are plenty of great already made jackets, having a custom leather jacket allows you to choose your color, style, lining, and leather. Instead of having to choose from jackets that already exist, you can create your own masterpiece with the leather jacket company. That knowledge itself is pretty awesome. Your jacket becomes more of a statement as well as an extension of yourself. Outerwear is the first thing people see on someone, especially when you are outside. Now, the first thing everyone sees is more a glimpse into who you are.
- It truly fits.This is a big thing, especially when it comes to breaking in that jacket. If it is custom, the jacket will fit you in the truest way that a jacket can. If you are ordering from pre-made, pre-designed factory leather jackets, standard sizes are the option. Figuring out your size and measurements can be more of a process than just sending it your measurements, depending on what size you are. Even when you pick a size, there is the possibility that it does not fit as snugly and securely as you would like it to. Leather jackets should wear as if you have a second skin, and if you fall in-between sizes, that may not be the case. Bespoke leather jackets are perfect for anyone who has trouble finding jackets that fit them because you cannot get them in a mass-market store. And when it comes to breaking in the jacket, custom ones already fit you that much better. You will still have to break the jacket in, but one that was made to fit your size will by default fit better than a standard jacket.
Breaking in your jacket may seem tough and time consuming at first, but it can easily be done. Going custom is a great way to make sure your jacket truly fits! At Independence Brothers, we specialize in custom jackets and can help you at any point while you are shopping for a beautiful new leather jacket. We hope this article has been helpful for your leather jacket journey. Let us know your favorite tried-and-true way that you break in your leather jacket in the comments!
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