What is a suede leather jacket or coat? What type of hide or animal does suede leather come from? Is suede real leather? Where are my blue suede shoes? Sorry, couldn’t resist that last one! Most people have NO idea what suede really is. So, I’m going to tell you right now! Unfortunately that word has been mangled so much that you can go to 10 different sites and find 10 different meanings.
Suede is real leather; that is, it comes from animal hide. Anything made from the hide of any animal is leather. Rawhide bones are leather, so is bindings on a snowshoe. So the name suede refers to the TYPE of leather it is. Now if you read my other post on how leather hides are split, you know that good quality leather is the top part.
A cows hide, or most any animal’s, is so thick that they split the hide, making a top grain, which is the part the hair was on, and has the natural leather grain pattern in it. The bottom part is called the split leather. If a hide is really thick they may make 2 or 3 split layers. Suede leather is ALWAYS made from split leather.
Suede leather can be from any animal, just like leather can. But most often suede leather is from cows, pigs, sheep and goats. It can be thick or thin, it depends on how thick they split the layer. Now you may notice that often a suede leather jacket or coat is very smooth on the front side, then fuzzy or rough on the other side.
That’s because once they split the leather, they sand one side of it smooth. That will be the top, or outside part of the suede leather. Have you ever heard of Nappa leather, or Nappa-finished, or Nappa soft leather? All the word “Nappa” means is the process of sanding the leather smooth. It sounds better than “sanded smooth leather”!
So a jacket that is advertised as “quality Nappa soft leather jacket” is just a jacket made from split leather. Now suede leather is very soft; why is that you may ask? It’s because it’s the split layer, not the top layer. Think about a tree. If you peel off the outer bark, that layer is rough, tough, stiff and hard. But if you peel off the inside layer it’s smooth and soft.
So the top layer from an animal hide is tough, with the natural leather texture rough and stiff. Once they treat it and work it, it becomes the top quality leather found in the best leather jackets. The bottom, or split part has no natural leather grain, so it’s much more smoother. After they treat it and work with it they make it even more softer and flexible.
That also means it’s not as strong as top grain leather. But if it’s just going to be a fashion jacket, fancy outfit, purse or whatever else, that is fine. Most all fashion jackets are made from split leather. Now, what’s the difference between a split leather jacket and a suede jacket or coat?
The difference is in how they treat the leather. If they are going to make a leather jacket from the split layer, they sand both sides, color it and treat it as leather. Often they also use a press that embosses a leather grain, fake alligator grain or some other type of grain into the top part to make it look more like leather.
If it’s going to be suede leather, they sand just one side, use very little treatment in it, don’t color it and leave the top smooth with no design. You notice most suede leather is a light brown. That is because they don’t dye it, the color you see is the natural color of the hide.
Most suede jackets and coats are much cheaper than leather jackets. Again, it’s because it’s the cheaper split layer, not treated much, not dyed so there is less work to make it. Also a lot of suede jackets and coats are made from pigskin. Pigskin hides are cheaper than cow or buffalo hides, so they can make a cheaper selling suede jacket.
Now, I know you don’t like to think that your wearing a pigskin jacket, but actually there is nothing wrong with pigskin leather. It is about the same strength as cowhide and last about as long. Think about how tough the old pigskin footballs are!
Because suede is not colored, or often not, and has very little treatment, it can discolor very easy. In fact just getting it wet can leave water marks on it. You can apply conditioner and treatment to it like leather, but keep in mind that it will almost surely change the color, often more darker.
You can use suede leather for lots of different things. You know that fuzzy string that ties a suede shirt or outfit together at the collar or waist? That’s just the suede leather cut in strips. So is that fuzzy fringe that is popular for trim on suede jackets or even leather jackets. You can use it for bags, liners, hats, gloves and yes, blue suede shoes!
So, suede leather is just the split part of an animal hide, from any animal, sanded on one side, often not colored or treated much. Suede does make a very attractive looking suede jacket or coat, as the top picture shows. A suede jacket or coat often has fur or wool lining, trim, designs and other colorful decorations on it.
So if your looking for a very soft leather coat that looks great and your not going to use it for rough stuff, a suede jacket or coat works great. Just make sure to take good care of it. But if you want a leather motorcycle jacket that protects you from the elements, can take a beating and maybe even save your hide from skidding down the pavement, get a quality top grain leather jacket.