Choosing and buying a leather jacket can be a daunting prospect. It's not a cheap item (at least not if you want it to last) and it is very difficult to judge the quality or fit when searching online. There is also a lot of technical jargon used, particularly in the descriptions of leather that often isn't explained.
So we have written this buying guide to help you in your research. We'll start by describing the different types of leather used in garment manufacture and what their strengths and weaknesses are. Then we'll go on to discuss the different styles that are out there. Some styles suit particular body shapes and we will explain why. Aside from fashion there are also very good reasons why certain features appear on leather jackets. We'll go through those so that you know what to look for, and more importantly, what to avoid.
And finally we'll highlight some useful tips which will help you judge the level of care and quality that have gone into the manufacture of the garment.
By the end we hope that you will feel confident that you can make an informed purchase.
We are often asked, 'which is the best quality hide for a leather jacket?' The annoyingly vague answer is, 'whichever suits the style and function of the jacket best' This is an important point and worth remembering. The type of leather used should always be dependent on the style and purpose of the garment. Beware of retailers who only use one type of leather in all their jackets. It suggests they don't fully understand the subtleties and characteristics of the material.
The major distinction between leather types originates with the animal that the hide came from. The general rule is the larger the animal, the thicker and heavier the leather.
Cow and buffalo - The toughest of the hides and used in shoes, furnishings as well as jackets. The leather is on the stiff side and offers excellent abrasion resistance and protection but at the expense of weight, drape and comfort. You will often find it used in motorcycle protective gear. and biker styles where toughness is the prime consideration. Jackets made of cow hide can take a long time to 'wear in'. Of the two, buffalo hide has more grain than cow.
Sheep and lamb - finer grained, more supple and lighter weight than cow but still tough and durable, this leather is often described as having a 'buttery' feel. Sheep hides offer a good balance between comfort, style and strength. They particularly suits jacket styles where suppleness is important such as bomber jackets, blazers and reefers.
Pig - Cheap and not particularly cheerful. The leather made from pig skin is thin, plasticy with a shiny finish and very poor durability. Pigskin is often used when price is the most important factor so we recommend you avoid it where possible. Be particularly suspicious of leather jackets retailing for less than £100 ($150) as pig may have been used to keep the price down.
Once you've established the type of hide you require then the next step is to look at the tanning process that has been applied to the hide. Different processes produce distinct finishes which affect the handle and the appearance of the leather.
Nappa/Napa - Is a lengthy and complicated tanning process applied to full grain sheep or lamb hides that results in exceptional softness, suppleness and durability. A hide that is described as nappa is therefore amongst the highest grade of leather that can be achieved but is correspondingly expensive. Any that claim to be made of a nappa leather and are retailing for less than £100 ($150) should be viewed with some scepticism.
Aniline - This is leather that has been treated with aniline, a transparent chemical which allows the hide to be coloured and softened without concealing the natural tones and shades and blemishes of the animal. It is applied to cow, buffalo and sheep hides and produces a natural, mottled appearance that also allows the skin to breathe. Particularly good for brown and tan leather jackets.
Nubuck - In this process the top layer of full grain hide is buffed or very finely sanded to produce a soft, velvety finish similar to suede. However the quality is much higher and so is the price. Nubuck leather jackets are more susceptible to water staining and therefore benefit from waterproof finishes.
Suede - In which the underside of the hide is used. This is more fibrous with a matt, napped finish but lacks the durability of the a full hide. Like nubuck it is prone to discolouration when in contact with water unless a treatment has been applied.
Split - Used as a cost cutting measure, the top layer of the hide is sliced away resulting in two thinner layers. It allows some retailers to market jackets at very low prices whilst still claiming they are 'leather'. Avoid.
Leather jackets come in a myriad of styles and colours but basically fall into four broad categories based on the garment's origins.
Leather Biker Jackets - Evolved from the protective gear worn by motorcyclists because of leather's extraordinary toughness and resistance to wind and rain. The key characteristics of a leather biker are:
Leather Bomber Jackets - Originated with the early pilots who needed a garment that was warm and protective. They generally have the following features:
Leather Blazers - based on traditional suit jackets, the blazer is a fantastically versatile garment which can be dressed up or down. Key features are:
Reefer Jackets - Similar to blazers but with more casual features and a higher button break point. Think Life on Mars or any seventies cop movie. Expect to see:
Once you've found a style you like, there are a couple of things to look out for which will give you a good indication of the quality of manufacture.
YKK zips - Sounds silly but these are the best zips out there. They are more expensive, so if you see a YKK branded zip on a jacket, you know the manufacturer has invested in higher quality components throughout.
Matching panels - As leather is a natural product it will vary from piece to piece. Care has to be taken during manufacturing to ensure that the pieces match in colour and tone. Cheaper jackets may not.
No loose threads - Trimming is the final stage of the manufacturing process as each garment is checked over and any loose threads snipped away. Manufacturers keen to cut costs will skip this stage so the appearance of loose threads can give a useful insight into the overall quality standards throughout.
Internal pockets - A quality leather jacket will have as much attention to detail on the inside as the outside. Check to see how many internal pockets are provided. Ideally the openings will be trimmed in leather whilst a zip pocket is a nice touch.
A good quality leather, suede or sheepskin jacket is an investment piece. Over the years, with minimal care it will more than repay you in terms of comfort, durability and appearance. You just need to follow a couple of basic guidelines.
Our jackets are already treated during the tanning process so they are fine to wear in the rain. The most important thing to remember is that they should dry naturally, away from direct heat sources. So don’t drape your jacket over a radiator or hang it right in front of a fire.
Because your new jacket will already have natural oils on the skin, which will provide protection from the elements, we do not recommend the use of any “off the shelf” protection products. In some cases these can cause staining and / or damage to the skin.
Most day to day staining can usually just be brushed off delicately from a suede or sheepskin garment with the use of a suede brush.
To deal with more comprehensive soiling and staining, the garment should be assessed and treated by a specialist in leather and suede care.
For this we are happy to recommend Ace of Suedes, who have over 30 years of experience and 1000’s of satisfied customers.
Each item is meticulously inspected and detailed prior to treatment, and contact is always made with the customer to confirm exact costs, timescales and any possible risks.
From pre-treatment, to cleaning and re-oiling, and finally brushing and finishing – their skilled and experienced staff, together with the most delicate and specialist cleaning processes available, produce outstanding results time after time.
Ace of Suedes are able to treat all types of leather, suede, sheepskin and shearling– including suede shoes and boots!
You can contact them at:
We only sell through our own website. We do not offer our jackets for sale on Ebay, Amazon or any other website. Unfortunately it is depressingly easy for fraudulent sellers to set themselves up on these sites, copy our images and offer superficially similar jackets to ours but using far inferior leathers and components.
At first glance they can appear identical but the true test of a quality hide is how it wears and handles after years, not months. If cost is your only criteria then you may be able to find something ultra cheap on Ebay or Amazon, but don't expect it to maintain its looks beyond a few weeks.
So, if you see our jackets photographed on Chalky or Lily, our famous mannequins, on any other website then you can safely assume the seller is offering a fake jacket.
And finally, pay special attention to the claims made by any website selling leather jackets at 'discount' prices. Some will tell you that the styles they offer are at such a low price because they want to 'pass the savings' onto you the customer.
Ask yourself how plausible these bargains are and if you have doubts then demand proof of the claimed savings before you part with your money. Otherwise, rather than getting a great jacket at a substantial discount, you may end up buying a poor quality jacket at an inflated price.
Thanks for taking the time to read this, we really hope it helps you make a decision you'll be happy with. If we haven't explained anything clearly enough or you would like more in-depth information about any of our jacket and bags then please get in touch using the contact details below.