Uses of Leather
Table of Contents
Leather in Clothing and Fashion
The use of animal hide to create clothing dates all the way back to prehistoric times. However, the first conclusive use of leather appears to have been by the Egyptians around 1300 BC. Yet it wasn’t just the Egyptians that had discovered the technique of creating leather, as use of the material has been found in primitive colonies across Asia, Europe and North America around the same time. At this time leather was used in a simple manner to create clothing, especially foot wraps, to protect the body and keep warm. By 1200 BC the Greeks had already started using their leather more decoratively for clothing and armour. This was furthered by the Roman Empire, who were known for their extensive, and often beautiful, use of leather in clothing. During this period leather was elevated from a necessity that colonies needed to survive, to a sign of affluence amongst communities.
In modern times, though, leather – although expensive and considered luxurious – was used mainly in the military for items such as fighter bomber jackets given to pilots in the 1920s. It was yet to become a fashion item. Indeed, it wasn’t until the 1960s that it became the must-have addition in any fashionista’s wardrobe. In particular, there was nothing quite as ‘cool’ as a leather jacket, mainly due to actors like Marlon Brando and Steve McQueen, who made the leather jacket a key item in their bad boy look. In later years, Tom Cruise brought the leather flight jacket souring into fashion after Top Gun.
When the 80s hit, leather was seen as an extension of the popular rock, punk and new romantic music scenes of the time. Singers like Debbie Harry and Joan Jett made leather the quintessential item for every fan’s wardrobe. Even Madonna, known as a pop princess at the time, was rarely seen without a piece of leather clothing.
In the 90s, leather wasn’t just the clothing of movie stars and rock stars. It was also seen as the signature style for models such as Kate Moss who was regularly seen wearing a leather jacket or leather trousers. More and more people were adding leather to their lives and even fashion designers like Alexander Wang released his own line of leather garments.
Unlike many other fabrics and pieces of clothing over the years, leather has made itself a permanent feature in fashion and clothing. It’s protective, long-wearing qualities mixed with its obvious fashion appeal means that leather clothing has become timeless. It doesn’t matter if you’re a movie star, musician or just a normal person on the street – there is nothing that will make you look quite as good as leather!
Leather For Luggage
From overnight bags to trunks and suitcases, leather luggage has been popular since the late 19th century. However, leather luggage has become even more popular in recent years due to the luxury fashion lines using leather in their goods. Brands like Louis Vuitton and Ted Baker produce luggage bags in leather due to its long-lasting and stylish properties. Unlike the common plastic and fabric coated suitcases that are often seen spinning around at baggage claim, leather is less likely to get scratched and stained. Plus, with proper care and attention any damage can be fixed. Leather is also popular in luggage due to its flexibility. A leather holdall will alter over time to fit your items rather than a plastic material which has no give in the fabric. Leather Luggage is seen as a good investment due to its durable nature and timeless look.
Leather as a Currency (In India)
The most common forms of currency, as we know it, has been metal coins and paper notes. However, leather currency has been used sparingly over the years. Particularly in times of war or crisis, where a king would stamp his royal crest on a piece of leather and this could be used as currency. In India during the 13th Century an eccentric monarch, Muhammad Tughlaq (1325 - 1359 AD) introduced leather currency as well as brass and copper coins. This new currency was to equal the value of both gold and silver coins. However, many of the citizens of the time were goldsmiths and were therefore able to make leather, brass and copper currency for themselves, which were used to buy various arms and horses at the time. Because of this extra currency being made its value decreased until it was worthless.
Leather in Sports
Leather in sports is an extremely lucrative business, perhaps due to the fact that its flexible and durable qualities make it so versatile. From making balls, gloves and protective garments, leather is a must-have in most sports.
In American football, balls were first made from an inflated pigs bladder, but with a leather cover over the top. These days, footballs have a rubber or plastic bladder but most still use a leather cover. This is because leather is a material that can be stretched and shaped into the perfect ergonomic ball known in American football. Leather strips are shaped and then stitched together to form the chosen shape. Most ball manufacturers will also tan their leather specifically to provide a tacky grip when used in both wet and dry conditions, which is particularly important in a game. During the NFL Super Bowl each team will receive 108 leather balls – 54 for training and 54 for the game. These balls will be subject to rigorous testing before a game to ensure authenticity and that there has been no tampering. British rugby used to be played with leather balls, however heavy rain mixed with the absorptive properties of leather meant that the ball became too heavy. Synthetic balls are now used.
Cricket balls also use leather covers over a cork centre, similar to how baseball balls were historically made from leather. Baseball gloves are still made from leather as the material provides the best grip and protection for catchers, particularly as these balls can travel at such high speeds.
Yet it’s not just ball sports that use leather, many other sports do too. Formula 1 drivers might be dressed head to foot in a highly scientific flame resistant synthetic material, but drivers still insist on thin suede leather driving gloves as only these provide the required sensitivity for steering during a race.
Motorcycle racers dress in leather suits in order to protect themselves if they fall off their bikes at high speeds. Each racer has a made to measure suit, as this is vitally important in a crash to ensure the right amounts of protection are in the correct areas of the body. This includes in-built protection in the knees and elbows of the suit, which are used for impact protection when turning corners and during crashes. Every suit is made with high-quality leather as this will provide the greatest abrasion protection. Gymnastic equipment is also traditionally made from leather including vaulting boxes and pommel horses.
Leather for Accessories
Similar to the popularity of leather in fashion clothing, leather is also an extremely popular material for accessories. From high-end fashion handbags and shoes, leather is also popular in jewellery, watches and even phone covers.
Leather handbags are regarded as the most luxurious on the market and many top designers, such as Gucci and Burberry, will sell their leather bags for a premium price. Leather is particularly popular as a material for bags due to its distinctive feel, longevity and beautiful smell. If looked after correctly, these handbags will last a lifetime.
Indeed, anything made with leather is considered a luxury in the fashion accessory world, which is exactly why you will see jewellery designers such as Thomas Sabo selling leather chains and bracelets alongside silver versions, with very little price difference. Similar to the idea of a leather jacket or leather trouser evoking a sense of rebellion or ‘cool’, leather accessories can do the same. It’s an incredibly diverse material that can be marketed to many walks of life. Of course, it’s not just the fashion industry that uses leather for accessories. Leather is also a popular material due to its lightness, longevity and strength. It is therefore popular in boots used for activities like hiking, driving gloves due to its natural grip and is the most popular material for men’s belts.
Leather for Saddles and Horsemanship
Different types of saddles are used for different equestrian events. This means that, for instance, a show jumping saddle and a horse racing saddle will be different. Although the basic structure of the saddle is the same, different equestrian events will require a different shape, weight and size.
Every saddle has a base called a saddle tree, this is usually made from fibre glass or wood and should be individual to every horse, as each horse will have a different size and shape. From there the saddle will be covered in leather – less expensive saddles will use leatherette but leather is by far the best and will be used by professionals as it gives a better grip and performance.
Leather saddles do require a lot of upkeep and care, though, to ensure they last. Saddles will be put under a lot of stress from regular use, sweating and the elements that might soil them. After every ride the saddle should be wiped with a damp cloth and thoroughly cleaned once a week using saddle soap. The leather also needs to be conditioned. A badly kept saddle will dry and crack, it can even become fragile and dangerous over time.
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