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A Short History of the Suede Jacket
Human beings have been using animal skins to keep warm since pre-historic times, but the use of suede is a much more recent development. The Oxford English Dictionary cites the first use of the word as recently as 1884. The word derives from the French phrase ‘gants de Suede’, ‘gloves from Sweden’. Somewhen during the eighteenth century, Swedish tanners hit upon the realization that imperfect hides could be reversed, and the napped underside used instead. If the hide is then split, the resulting leather is very soft and pliable, perfect for the construction of fine soft gloves so coveted by the French aristocracy of the period.
Meanwhile, North American Indians, who had developed highly sophisticated tanning methods, were making buckskin jackets, reversed deer-hide jackets, with a napped finish, the clear forerunners of today’s suede jackets. During the twentieth century, suede found favour with haute couture fashion designers because its softness and delicacy mean that it can be cut and deployed like cloth. The sensuality of a suede finish made suede jackets a luxury item rather than utilitarian everyday wear.
Paradoxically, the jacket also became a form of high-end hippie wear after Dennis Hopper’s character in Easy Rider and Jon Voight’s character in Midnight Cowboy both wore fringed suede jackets. In the decades that followed, suede jackets found their way into mainstream fashion as a wardrobe addition that is something rather special and always a delight to wear.
What is Suede?
Suede is the inner surface of a tanned animal hide. A tanned hide can be used with the napped, suede, side on the outside, like the buckskin worn by North American Indians, but this results in a much heavier garment than conventional suede. If the leather is split and the upper grain removed, the resulting suede is napped on both sides and is a much lighter and more pliable material. Suede can be made from any hide but thicker hides, such as cow hide, produce a much rougher nap and so the preferred hides are sheep, calf, pig and deer.
What is a Faux-suede Jacket?
Faux-suede jackets are made from polyester microfibers. They are cheaper than genuine suede and have better water and stain resistance. They are popular with people who do not wish to buy animal products. Polyester microfibers are catastrophic for the environment and are a pervasive source of pollution. Faux suede is not biodegradable and in no sense can it be termed eco-friendly.
Suede Jacket vs Leather Jacket
Suede jackets are prized for their lightness, softness and the luxuriance of their texture. Although they are considerably more durable than fabric they are not as durable as a leather jacket. Whilst a leather jacket is viable everyday wear which will last a lifetime, a suede jacket is a luxury garment which should only be worn on occasion. Suede is far more permeable than leather and consequently it can be more easily stained and is less waterproof.
Is a Suede Jacket Waterproof?
Your suede jacket is likely to have been proofed to increase its resistance to water, but this is not a garment that you should wear in the rain. Suede’s sumptuous texture is because it is a very porous material, consequently it can never be made waterproof.
Suede Jacket Durability
With care a suede jacket will last a lifetime, but it will not endure the kind of rough treatment that a quality leather jacket can handle. A suede jacket is not an all-purpose utility garment, it is a luxury garment. A suede jacket will not wear out, in the way that a fabric garment will but it is susceptible to staining and suede is easier to tear than leather. Read up on how to care for your suede jacket here.