What You Need to Know When You Buy Leather

Because you might be paying too much for that purse

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When you see a bag and it’s labelled ‘genuine leather’ you assume it’s high quality, right? Wrong.

Sure, ‘genuine leather’ is real (ie. not synthetic) but it’s also one of the lowest grades of real leather.

In fact, genuine leather has become one of the biggest marketing dupes of the century. It was only until I visited a gorgeous leather-making school in Florence this year that I realised I had a raft of misconceptions around leather.

This visit inspired me to do my own research and educate myself so that the next time I buy an expensive leather item, I know it’s worth it.

That’s enough background for now. Here’s a quick rundown of the leather grades you need to know.


Full Grain Leather


This is the creme de la creme of leather. The hair is removed from the hide but everything else is kept intact (hence the full grain) making it durable to boot (pun intended). The full grain keeps it water resistant, and like a fine wine, it’ll look better with age. Unfortunately, like all valuable things, it comes with a heftier price tag.

Top Grain Leather


This is the next best thing. Top grain leather is when full grain is split, sanded down to remove imperfections and an artificial grain is stamped over it for a more consistent appearance. Although it’s not as durable as full grain, it’s used in a lot of women’s handbags and leather garments.

Genuine Leather 


After the top grain is split off, this layer of hide is used to make what we know to be ‘genuine leather’. Usually, a glossy paint or embossing is used to make it look as nice as its top grain counterparts. It is not as durable as top grain (or full grain) so try to avoid it when purchasing items that will undergo physical stress.

Bonded Leather

genuine8.jpegA step down from genuine leather is bonded leather. Made from scraps of leather waste, this is the least durable and cheapest sort of leather on the market. As it ages, it often peels (see image above) to reveal the pulp of the shredded leather below.

I hope this is helpful to you. While I’m definitely not saying you shouldn’t purchase genuine leather, it’s good to be informed on what that label truly means before you pay a premium.

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Facebook Comments
  • Interesting blog! Have a bonded leather couch. In accordance with above, it is now largely peeled. However, will always still stringently and disproportionately defend suggestions that it is “pleather”.

    • Agreed, bonded leather is still real, so definitely not pleather!

  • This is an amazing article, the descriptions you have giving about the leather is informative and awesome. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us.

    • Hi Shreya, no worries at all and thank you for your comment! I am happy that it’s been helpful to you. Learning about this when I was in Italy has been immensely eye-opening.