This is the first of a five-part series on leather.
Throughout history, leather has and continues to be utilized for all types of items like bags, clothing, shoes, accessories, tools, and more. Because real leather, unlike vegan leather, is crafted from animal hides, it’s prevalence in the wild has made it one of mankind’s most trusted materials.
What is it about leather that makes it so desirable and frequently used? Archaeologists studying the historical trends of leather have come across its use case in every type of ancient civilization, making it significant both as a way of understanding how our ancestors used tools, as well as its role in shaping cultures at the time (like civilizations that used animals as sacrificial tributes).
One reason for its prevalence can be seen in the versatility of leather compared to other forms of non-synthetic materials. It can be soft and supple, firm and inflexible, or hard and impermeable to the elements depending on how it’s made and used.
Although on the surface, leather may seem like a simpler material, it’s forms and types can be more complex upon a deeper dive, from the way that it’s made to the types of animal hides used to create different types of leather goods.
What are the different parts of leather?
Typically, there are four parts to a leather hide, the butt, bend, shoulder, head
The “butt” provides the best quality leather and makes up approximately 13 percent of the hide. This area is the strongest and toughest part of the hide.
The “bend” is a step down in quality compared to the butt of an animal hide, yet it can still result in high quality leather, especially given that it makes up 30 percent of the hide. Portions of the hide can result in both tough and soft leather depending on the area of the bend, its size, and the type of animal providing the hide.
The “shoulder” is commonly considered as
“The Head or Belly”
Lastly, the “head/belly” portion of the hide is considered the lowest grade in quality and makes up 25 percent of the hide. This area can be stretchy and often varies in thickness, making it the least consistent area of the hide.
The 24 Most Common Types of Leather
When most think of real leather, the type of animal used that probably springs to mind is cow leather. While cows (commonly the elder cattle) are the most common animal that leather goods are made of, there are also 23 other types of real leather that designers and bag makers use to create leather objects:
Usually the most popular and common type of leather; leather from cattle has a structure that varies across the hide, but it’s extremely strong. It is incredibly common as use in bags and other small leather goods due to its familiarity and cost (compared to the other types of animals used).
Buffalo leather is extremely strong, tough, pebbly in appearance, and thick. This type of leather tends to be used to make bag shell material and gloves due to its hard shell and texture.
Goat leather is a strong but thin leather that contains fine grains, a regular pattern structure, and almost papery like feel. Goat leather is also used in bags as a shell material, like Balenciaga’s The City.
Sheep leather is an extremely good heat insulator as its thin, soft, loose grain surface and light
Lambskin is the softest most supple type of leather, with a buttery texture and fine grain. It’s elastic, form-fitting, stretches well and can reshape after being worn, which makes it a luxurious material for designer bags like the Chanel 2.55.
Deerksin leather is a tough, soft, supple, extremely stretchy; washable and abrasion-resistant type of leather. It’s excellent for high-use items like handbags and wallets because of its durability.
Elk leather is very similar to
Pigskin leather is a highly breathable leather, one that is also soft, thin, supple, while remaining durable and tough due to its tight grain. It’s commonly used for its suede and can be found in bags as a shell material.
Alligator leather is thick in the bend and thin in the belly and limbs. Scaly, supple (belly area), tough, and durable due to the nature of the animal and its role as a predator in its environment, alligator leather is most commonly as a luxury bag shell material like the Hermes Kelly. Alligator leather is also commonly used as a form of vegan leather, since the pattern of an alligator hide is so unique.
Snake leather has many variations depending on the type of snake used for the hide. Like alligator leather, snake leather has a very distinctive pattern and is lightweight and strong, with a
12. Frog / Toad
Ostrich leather is one of the finest and most durable types of leather in the world with a unique bumpy texture that’s flexible, pliable, soft, and strong. Ostrich leather is great for a
Kangaroo leather is one of the strongest types of leather as its thin, lightweight and uniform fiber structure makes it 10 times stronger than cowhide and 50 percent stronger than goatskin. Kangaroo leather is great for
Salmon leather inherits the fine scales from the fish and is pliable, strong and elegant looking, making it the most popular type of fish leather. Salmon leather can be seen in certain types of wallets and handbags.
Perch leather is thick, large, soft and contains round scales, since most of its production is sourced from the Nile. Perch leather is used in wallets and purses.
Wolffish leather is smooth and contains scale-less skin compared to other types of fish leather. It’s easily recognizable due to stripes formed by the friction of marine rocks in wolffish and its use case is seen in belts and wallets.
Cod leather is a type of fish leather that can vary in texture, from smooth and fine to rough and scaly, although it does feature much finer scales than salmon. Cod leather is used in wallet and purses.
Eel leather is smooth with an elegant horizontal pin-striped pattern. It’s also lightweight, supple, and incredibly strong, especially when its sewn together to create a leather panel. Eel leather is used in handbags and wallets because of its distinctive pattern.
Tilapia leather is similar to salmon skin, but much more beautiful because of the soft and
Stingray leather has a distinctive pattern and unique, supple texture. It’s 25 times more durable than cowhide which makes it great as a bag shell material or in wallets, and belts.
Rabbit leather is
Lizard leather is strong, lightweight, and thin with a papery feel. This type of leather is usually only used for luxury bags as a shell material and hardware decoration.
Horse leather is tough, thin, extremely stretch and. comes in non-uniform quality levels. Because it stems from a larger animal than other types of leather, it makes it an economical use for bag shell material and shoes.
Leather, upon a deeper dive, can be a bit more complex when considering all of the different ways in which it can be made. Similar to how a great butcher or chef will use every part of an animal for making different types of dishes, the same can be said for a piece of leather hide. Even with the rise in vegan leather and other forms of synthetic imitations, types of real leather will continue to have a during impact, as it has throughout human history.
Stay tuned for Part 2 in this