What is ‘Genuine Leather’?

A classification built to confuse?

The term ‘genuine leather’ can be quite confusing to anyone who is unfamiliar with the leather grading system, as it does not really give any insight into exactly what sort of leather this ‘genuine’ stuff is or whether it is of any quality. All it really signifies is that it is not faux leather. Today we will clear up the fog surrounding this.

Why call it Genuine Leather?

Leather is graded according to its hardiness and how much of the skin is contained within it. The sturdiest and strongest leather is known as full grain leather, followed by top grain leather and so on. At the bottom of this scale, we find the term in question: genuine leather.

Genuine leather is the lowest quality real leather, and is named so purely for a marketing purpose to distinguish it from synthetic leathers such as polyurethane faux leathers and leatherettes. As genuine leather is a broad category, when researched you will find that it largely encompasses scraps of leathers that are the remainders from making split grain leathers (such as top grain or suede), which have been bonded together and painted over with a grain pattern.

What are the consequences?

As genuine leather is made from scraps glued together, it is the weakest type of leather and it does not age well. It is cheaper however.

Naturally, this means that you should avoid genuine leather for any item that needs to be resilient through many uses.

Is it worth buying anything in genuine leather?

While genuine leather is the lowest quality of leather and certainly should not be used for all your leather purchases, there are some things that may still be fine if made of genuine leather. After all, it is crafted to be particularly supple and flexible from the beginning of its life. Just be aware that anything you buy in genuine leather will have a limited life span:

Can Buy

  • Watch straps, if used irregularly
  • Keytags
  • Decorative items
  • Bags that will be used on rare occasion


  • Shoes
  • Bags that will be used regularly
  • Belts
  • Briefcases
  • Jackets

That’s all for today!

When and where you can, try to find full grain or at least top grain leather goods. However if you are on a budget, genuine leather may be your most realistic option.

If you want to learn how to take care of your leather goods, make sure to check out the Simple Leather Care Guide.

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With content features ranging from appearances on popular menswear hubs (The Rake, StyleForum, Put This On) to French perfume newsletters and university course readings, Sam is a writer, designer and enthusiast in the fields of menswear and fragrance.

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