What’s the Difference Between Suede and Leather?

Phil Denton/CC-BY-2.0

Clothes and accessories are often made with the two distinguishable fabrics of suede and leather. There are several differences and similarities between the two to consider to be fashionably knowledgeable before the next shopping trip.

Suede Fabric Suede fabric is usually soft and textured with a freshly brushed look. Rub it in one direction, and it might be lighter in tone that rubbing it in the other direction. It comes from the underside of calfskin or other animals, so is considered to be a type of leather. The skin is sanded to reach an ultrasoft texture. It’s often dyed in soft pastel colors but can also be radiant in bold blacks, golds and reds. It doesn’t hold up in extremely wet conditions, so should be waterproofed before exposing it to lots of water. Suede is an excellent material to use in gloves and ear muffs because of its softness but needs some protectant against harsh conditions. It’s a durable fabric that doesn’t have a lot of give to it, so suited to suede jackets or upholstery. The appearance has a plush look to it. Suede brushes can keep the fabric looking good for many years and work well for cleaning. As a general rule, suede shouldn’t be washed in the washing machine. Have it professionally cleaned or try to spot clean with a small dab of vinegar and water. Test the fabric in an inconspicuous area first. Be sure not to use commercial spot removers.

Leather Fabric Leather comes from an animal’s outer skin layer that is treated by tanning a tanning process after removing any hair. The tanning is done with tannin that is a chemical derived from fir or oak trees. This process makes the leather pliant and long-lasting. It can be dyed or stained for color variation. Leather holds up very well but can stretch out in time. It’s often used in shoes, belts, pocketbooks, jackets and boots. It also holds up well as a long-lasting furniture or car seat upholstery. Spot clean with a mix of vinegar and olive oil or a damp rag or try commercial leather cleaners. Always test the fabric on an underside to be sure the product won’t damage the look. Real leather can’t be washed in the washing machine. To air out a jacket, vest or other leather accessory, hang it in a protected outdoor area. It can also be hung in a bathroom with an air freshener. The humidity will help the leather absorb the air freshening scent.

Choosing Between the Two Depending on what the fabric is being used for, compare the differences between the two. Both are considered a luxurious type of fabric and each has its own unique characteristics in the fashion world. Suede is soft to the touch and has a velvety sophisticated look to it. Think of it with evening gowns, dresses and sashes. Leather has an earthy, rugged look and a smooth appearance. Both fabrics are warm so ideal for cold weather clothing. Lots of motorcycle gear is made of leather due to its durability and warmth. Leather gloves are good to wear in extremely cold climates, especially when working outdoors.