Leather is one of the oldest materials first used by humans. As a consequence of our hunter-gatherer roots, leather has been used since prehistoric times to clothe, protect, and aid our daily lives. Although we enjoy a variety of materials and clothing options today, leather remains one of the most popular materials thanks to its durability, strength, and aesthetic appeal. In 2007 there was over 23 billion square feet of leather produced with more and more being demanded from the industry every year thanks to the high profile appeal of the fashion industry.
Leather and Human History
Early humans quickly learned how to treat hides to make them strong and durable for use as articles of clothing, satchels, and pouches. Since cowhide makes for some of the thickest leather, it has been used widely across the globe as the highest quality which can range in thickness between one and 12 ounces. During the time of the Roman Empire it is known that extensive leather sales were used on boats thanks in large part to its durability. Over the course of human history leather became used for tents, weaponry, household furniture, and a number of other applications — in some societies such as in Egypt around 1,000 AD leather became a distinguishing trait of the social elite. During the middle ages hardened leather and studded leather pieces were frequently used as light armor thanks to the thickness and durability of treated cowhide. Although today’s leather is more fashionable than functional it remains one of the distinguishing materials used by our species.
Leather and Modern Fashion
Leather remains on of the most extensively worn materials on the planet with the average consumer wearing around four leather products at any given time: this includes leather belts, wallets, purses, satchels, leather briefcases, and even leather keychains. High-profile events such as award shows, movie premiers, and other Hollywood events are highly anticipated times for members of the fashion industry to show off the latest products and trends. European designers such as Claude Montana, Versace, Armani, Ungaro, Fendi, Gucci, Alaia, and Hermes helped drive the leather apparel industry through the 1980s to where it is today; the popularity of leather today is thanks in no small part to these fashion giants.
Caring for Your Leather
The one thing that people constantly forget when wearing leather is that leather is literally skin; like skin this means it is susceptible to drying out and becoming damaged or brittle over time. By properly caring for your leather belts, purses, wallets, and other apparel, you can ensure that they enjoy a long life and endure regular wear and tear. Leather is particularly susceptible to absorbing grease and oils, especially those found naturally in our skin — it is recommended that owners clean their leather every six months or as needed to condition and protect the leather from soiling and water spotting. Likewise, low humidity below 40% can cause leather to become desiccated and irreversibly change the fibrous structure of leather; this can weaken and damage the leather over time with relative ease. Finally, when buying leather belts, purses, and other articles, consider that not all leather is created equally: there are four categories of leather including full-grain, top-train, corrected-grain, and split leather; of these categories, top-grain and full-grain offer the highest level of quality making them ideal for jackets, pants, and other leather accessories that may be prone to regular wear and tear. By caring often for your leather goods you can potentially save hundreds of dollars on costly repairs and replacements.