Drilling down into the meaning of what suede actually is
Let’s call suede what it is: leather. It’s just a different type of leather. It’s napped. What this means is that after the leather is woven, it goes through a wash, then fulling and finally raising and then trimming the nap to get the finished look.
As you no doubt already know, suede is used for many products from the shoes we wear to the bags we drape over the shoulder of our suede coats and jackets. Suede’s a French term. It translates to “gloves from Sweden.”
Although many types of suede may look and feel similar, just like other textiles, there is high-quality suede that’s soft and supple from the underside of Italian lambs, and there is less elegant suede from the poorly-treated coats of the animals from the average American dairy farm. The finest suede is sourced exclusively from animals raised for that purpose. It’s the difference between Kobe beef and frozen hot dogs.
Although suede isn’t the most durable leather, it is one often reserved for working jackets. The kind of bomber jacket worn by the factory man, or the overalls of the cement worker trying to keep warm as winter descends on construction season. It’s also reserved for the most exceptional and rarified goods; the driving gloves of a British aristocrat. The country jacket of an American tycoon. The valet tray of the savvy traveler. The casual shoes of a billionaire from Dubai.
Besides coming from the lamb, suede is often trimmed from a young calf, doe, or goat. The best way to separate the fine qualities of an Italian lamb from the coats of an American calf is to look at the nap. The lower quality the nap, the shaggier it tends to be.
Since suede isn’t a full-grain leather and lacks the outer skin, it doesn’t hold up nearly as well to the elements. For the average country gent, that likely isn’t a problem as his coveralls or jacket are meant to get dirty. But for the New York socialite, she probably doesn’t want the lining of her handbag to be sullied or her gloves to be stained.
For those who live in severe climates, suede may not be the best option when wearing it for the style. However, there are numerous byproducts that have managed to replicate the look and feel of suede without its sensitivity to the world around us. They also appease those against the use of animals for clothing.
Unfortunately, they are usually treated with chemicals and lack the hallmarks that make authentic suede such a popular choice. Microsuede, which is often used for upholstery in furniture, is very resistant to stains and far more durable. Unfortunately, it doesn’t drape the same and offers far too much stretch.
The fact remains that for the rakish man about town, the only option is the high-quality suede for his outer clothing. However, for the lining of his bags and accessories, having a more durable suede-like fabric is perfectly acceptable.