The key differences between leather and suede can be attributed to their look, feel and style. Although both materials come from animal skin, leather is made from the outer layer, while suede is extracted from the inner layer. This is what gives leather its smoother feel, compared to suede’s fuzzy and napped texture.
Nonetheless, both leather and suede are two materials that are commonly used in clothing, footwear, and other accessories. If you are debating whether to go for leather or suede fashion, this guide may help you understand how they differ and how to choose between them.
What is leather?
Leather is a material that’s obtained from the tanning and/or chemical treatment of animal skins and hides. The process of tanning leather has been around since at least 5,000 BC; dating back to Sumer (modern-day Iraq). However, the earliest indication of its use in fashion came when archeologists discovered leather shoes (complete with leather laces) that date to around 3,500 BC in Armenia.
As a highly adaptable material, leather is often used in a variety of ways. It’s a common material for making clothing, furniture, bags, purses, wallets, sports equipment and furniture.
The creation process of leather is quite simple since it only requires animal hide and some tanning. The hide is mostly obtained from cows, pigs, sheep, goats, and other exotic species like kangaroos, zebras and even elephants.
One side of the animal hide – the exterior – typically appears grainy. This is where fur or hair grows, and it’s the side that is usually processed into leather. The material is durable, stable and extremely tough compared to other materials like cotton and silk.
It is common to find some blemishes, scars and abrasions, depending on the kind of life the animal had. As such, you may come across some leather materials that look textured or patterned – if you like that kind of look. That said, most leather is actually smooth and offers a great aesthetic appeal.
Advantages of leather
So, what draws people to leather? Here are some advantages of the material:
1. As a naturally-occurring product, leather has many variations in color, grain pattern and size. You’ll often feel spoiled for choice when choosing between various leather textures, colors and patterns.
2. It’s a highly durable material owing to its physical make up.
3. Leather has a smooth and buttery feel that gives it an unmatched style, especially in fashion. It's one of the best yet easiest ways to add a little edge to your outfit without going overboard. That’s why leather clothes are often multipurpose. You can wear them for a night out or a casual day.
4. Finished leather products usually have a nice sheen and are water resistant. Depending on where it’s sourced from and how it was processed, leather can also be quite durable.
5. Leather often fits snugly. You may need some time to break it in, but once you start using it as your daily wear, it will conform nicely to your body.
6. It is a multi-seasonal material. Leather is a natural material that breathes, so you don't have to worry about it making you sweat like synthetic materials might. In the summer leather can actually be quite cooling to wear. Leather is also a great material for winter gear. It's thick enough to protect you from the cold and wind, but it's also breathable so you don't have to worry about overheating.
Disadvantages of leather
- Leather products are expensive to purchase compared to other materials. They need some effort to maintain over time, because leather is prone to wear and tear.
- It is quite costly to clean leather on a regular basis. You also need to be careful about what you use to clean leather because some chemicals can damage it.
- When leather gets wet, it can start to mildew. Leather furniture is especially susceptible to this.
How to care for and maintain your leather
No matter how durable leather is, care and maintenance are important in making it last longer. You do not have to do this regularly but once or twice a year is good enough.
Leather is maintained in two parts. The first part is the cleaning process. Start by removing all the dirt and debris that had accumulated over time. Next, take some lukewarm water with a mild soap and clean the surface.
The second part of maintaining leather is conditioning, which is done after cleaning. This process is important in restoring the natural oils that were lost during cleaning. It’s as simple as buying a leather conditioner and applying it.
What is suede?
The word “suede” originates from “gants de Suede,” which is a literal French translation to “gloves of Sweden”. As a usable material, suede became popular in the twentieth century. Since then, it has become a symbol of high-end luxury due to its soft and easy feel.
Much like leather, suede is used to make clothing and fashion accessories such as footwear, gloves, belts, handbags, bags, and jackets. It’s also occasionally used as an inside lining for leather products to make them softer.
Suede is made from the flesh or underside of an animal hide. Specifically, corium is extracted from just beneath the layer of the hide and used to make suede. The common sources of this hide include pigs, goats, sheep, deer and cows.
Since it comes from a few layers down, suede is generally less durable compared to leather. It is also a porous material, which makes it prone to dirt and liquid stains. Suede may be easily susceptible to damage if not treated with proper care and maintenance.
That said, suede has some great qualities, too. It is supple, soft, pliable and thin enough to make great fashion and fashion accessories.
Advantages of suede
Suede is very soft and supple, making it ideal for garments like gloves and shoes. It is also significantly more resistant to stains compared to leather. That’s because suede has natural oils.
As far as cost, suede is less expensive than leather, making it a more affordable alternative.
It is also a natural product that is eco-friendly and biodegradable
While not as strong as leather, suede is still pretty strong. As such, it’s a great material for clothing and accessories that will get a lot of wear.
Suede is hypoallergenic and therefore a good choice for people with sensitive skin.
Lastly it has a luxurious feel and look, which makes it great for high-end fashion and accessories. It’s hard to go wrong with suede if you’re looking to pull a classy look.
Disadvantages of Suede
One limitation of suede is that it’s very sensitive to water and dirt. For this reason, it might fade easily or get ruined. Suede is best used for garments that don't need to be washed often, like a jacket.
It is quite expensive to clean and maintain a suede product.
The material that makes suede is less durable, which makes its life cycle shorter than leather. As such, suede is not the best choice for clothing that will be worn frequently. It also does not do well in inclement weather because it can be easily damaged by water, snow, and ice.
How to care for and maintain your suede
Because it’s a very delicate material, you are always advised to take your suede to experts for cleaning. But if you want to go the DIY way, use a suede brush to freshen up the nap and follow up with a suede eraser to clean the material.
Still on maintenance, the best way to make your suede durable is to properly care for it. For example, avoid letting your suede touch water because it may get ruined. However, if it gets a wet stain, use talc powder to clean it up. And if the stain is dry, try white vinegar instead. Finally, keep suede away from heat because it may shrink.
Understanding the differences between leather and suede is quite necessary. It will help you choose the material that best fits your needs when shopping for furniture, car seats, or clothing. Plus, you’ll know exactly how to care for the material you choose to opt for.
That said, there’s no right or wrong when it comes to choosing between leather and suede. Either can be a good pick; you can even use both. For example, you can choose to rock leather shoes and a suede jacket. Or pair your leather jacket with a suede bag is also a good opt. Whatever the case, just remember that leather is generally more durable while suede will give you a softer feel on the skin.