Choosing the Right Garment

When shopping for a leather or suede garment, visit a reputable retailer and examine the item you wish to buy. Look closely at the colouring; do the colours and textures between portions of the garment match? While suede won’t be completely uniform (since this is part of its desirability), leather should be. Try on the item. Does it fit snugly? If it does, then go for something a little less snug since relaxtion and cleaning can cause it to shrink to a certain extent. And with any garment, make sure to check the care label prior to purchase.

Wearing and Caring

Steps should be taken to preserve the beauty and longevity of your leather and suede garments. Do not allow the garment to come in direct contact with excessive perspiration and body oils, since it can stain or damage the material. Wet garments should be air dried rather than be exposed to dry heat, since it can crack. Store in a cool and ventilated area not in a plastic bag, avoiding damage caused by mildew or heat. Stains should be treated immediately by a professional cleaner specializing in suede and leather, not by home treatments.

Cleaning Leather and Suede Garments

It is advisable to have your leather and suede garments professionally cleaned. Prior to cleaning, let your cleaner know any care information that came with the garment and point out any new or old stains if they exist. Matching pieces should all be cleaned at the same time for consistency. Because these garments may sometimes be risky to clean, your cleaner may ask you to sign a consent form at the time of your order.

Although cleaning technologies for leather and suede are constantly improving, some changes will almost always result from the cleaning process:

  • Variations among sections of a garment. Leather garments are constructed with skins taken from various parts of the animal or even several different animals. While the manufacturer attempts to match the skins as uniformly as possible, even the best matching may still create a product that has some variance in texture, weight, and colour uniformity. Cleaning may accentuate these variances.
  • Loss of Colour. Do not be surprised if a slight variance in the depth of colour occurs after cleaning. Since a garment is constructed from skins obtained from different parts of an animal or animals, colourfastness may vary. Some leather dyes may also not be resistant to dry cleaning fluids. Spray dyeing can correct some colour loss. This is performed by the dry cleaner. Some changes are almost always unavoidable, particularly when processing handpainted suede vests.
  • Loss of oils. Oils are used during the tanning process to keep the leather supple. Dry cleaning may rob some of these oils, reducing suppleness. Special additives can be used by your cleaner to restore it, but a slight change may still be sensed when the garment is returned to you.
  • Scar tissue and vein marks. Scar tissue and imperfections are often filled by tanners prior to dyeing during the manufacturing process. Some fillers may be removed during cleaning, causing these imperfections to reappear.
  • Wrinkles. Skins on some parts of the animal are naturally wrinkled. These wrinkles are smoothed out during manufacturing. However, cleaning may accentuate wrinkling by relaxing the leather.
  • Texture and shading changes. Sometimes a smoother skin is combined with a coarser textured skin during the manufacturing process. Textural differences may become more apparent with cleaning due to varying levels of fat liquor and additive absorption. Some areas may become darker than others. Please note that this is a natural phenomenon which is beyond the cleaner’s control.
  • Shrinkage. With time, some amount of shrinkage will occur as the skins relax. The rate of shrinkage can be accelerated by cleaning. Shrinkage can dissipate with regular wear. Overstretched skins by the manufacturer may relax permanently.
  • Damage to thin skins. Some skins are extremely thin and fragile, making them inappropriate for apparel. Dry cleaning can further aggravate any existing damage. Even with normal usage, such skins wear exceptionally fast.
  • Shading from adhesives. The glue used to attach seams, hems and trim may not be resistant to cleaning solvents, dissolving or seeping into the leather. Seepage can shade affected areas or cause discolouration.
  • Leather trim bleeding and transfer. Leather buttons and piping can bleed colour onto the adjacent fabric of garments. Make sure that the instructions on a care label are for all parts of the garment, including the trim. If a problem occurs from misadvice, the item should be returned to the retailer. You may find it difficult to have your garment professionally cleaned if a leather-trimmed garment fails a test for colourfastness.
  • Oxidation. With time, the dyes in leather and suede garments can oxidize when exposed to light and atmospheric gases. Although some areas may be able to retain their original colour, such as those that are protected (i.e. under the collar), oxidation may become more apparent after cleaning. Unfortunately, this problem cannot be easily corrected by the cleaner.
  • Imitation leathers and suedes. Imitation leathers and suedes are produced in such a variety of ways that it may sometimes prove difficult to distinguish it from the real thing. Vinyl or urethane based films may be used to coat the material while others may be made to look like suede. Coatings and imitations may be vulnerable to a host of problems, such as self-sticking, blistering, puckering, or stiffening.