Most people think of leather as being cowhide and indeed, it is the most common. Capable of expressing numerous textures and quality, cowhide is quite durable and suited to various uses. A natural byproduct of the meat industry, cowhide is suitable for use in furniture, garments and accessories.
Thickness is a primary factor in how leather is used and for what purpose. Thicker leathers are suitable to uses that require extra durability, such as in motorcycle leathers. They not only offer superior protection but can also offer exceptional style. This is typical in the case of jackets and chaps where you may need a second skin between you and the elements.
Fashion leather is often made from softer, more supple leathers that can be lambskin, pigskin, buckskin or goatskin. Lambskin is known for being a very soft, luxurious leather often used in form fitting vests, skirts, pants and light jackets. Pigskin has its own delicate textures and soft silky naps that make excellent shirts, sportswear and blazers.
When choosing leather, you may run into terms that can be confusing. Here are some definitions.
Naked Leather is a term that refers to unblemished leather without scars or uneven grain in the garment.
Split grain refers to any leather that is not from the actual outside of the hide and is better known as suede. It has better flexibility than top grain leather but is not as durable or as waterproof as top grain.
Full top grain is from the smooth top layer of the hide. With more durability and stiffness than split grain, it better resists water and abrasions.
Leather adjusts to the temperature, which will keep you warm in winter and still cool in spring and fall. When selecting garments for waterproofing, look for items constructed with as few seams as possible, since stitched seams become weaker as the materials degrade, inviting leaks.
There are four basic methods of waterproofing for leather; oil based, wax based, silicone based and water based. Oil based compounds soften leather making it more pliable and more rip resistant.
Wax based water proofing tends to cut down on breathability. However, this method is commonly applied to boots and can be quite effective, if reapplied regularly. Be sure to buff off the excess as it can attract dirt and grime. Wax is not recommended for application to jackets or vests since it cuts down on air transference when perspiring.
Silicone will stiffen leather when exposed to low temperatures and does not aid in conditioning the leather. Silicone is recommended over wax for boots with a Gore-Tex liner, because it is more breathable.
Fluoropolymer is water based, comes in a spray can and has been rated the best by authorities on the subject. Suitable for use on leathers that have been treated previously by a different method, it dries quickly, repels stains, and does not change the appearance of most leather. However, it does not condition the leather and if concerned about possible staining, treat a small inconspicuous area first.
To see years of quality wear from leather, carefully choose an item made from the best thickness and type for its function.