Suede, with its velvety texture and matte finish, is often used interchangeably with leather in clothing. While the two are often advertised as being different materials, they are actually the same thing — suede is a type of leather finish. Both suede and leather can be used to make bags, coats, skirts, pants and footwear. The choice of material depends on the textures of the materials for other items in your outfit, as well as the overall effect you are looking to create.
Differences in Production
Leather is made from the outside of a hide that has been tanned, while suede is made from the treated inside of the hide. Suede is made from a hide that has been split, with the softer, velvet-like underside placed on the exterior of clothing and accessories. Both leather and suede must be treated — tanned — before being worn; otherwise they are too soft or hard at temperature extremes and are more prone to rotting.
Suede Care and Cleaning
Suede, because it is made from the dermis of the hide, is thinner and more delicate than leather. Suede needs to be cleaned with specialized materials, as wet cleaning, using a mix of water and baking soda, will not work as it does for leather. Small scuffs on suede can be erased with a rubber eraser or a toothbrush. In cases of severe stains, a combination of steam and rubbing can remove most marks.
Leather Care and Cleaning
When cleaning leather goods, do not use substances that will strip away the natural oils present in the material. Use substances that do not leave any residue, and wipe away any excess cleanser with a soft brush or a damp, clean washcloth. In many cases, just cleaning with a damp washcloth will do. In addition to conditioning after cleaning, you should condition your leather goods regularly. This helps keep the material supple and long-lasting, as well as protect it from future stains. If your leather gets soaked through with water, let it dry slowly.
Leather tends to be thicker and shinier-looking than suede. Suede has an understated appearance that is not as harsh as leather — less shiny. To make either leather or suede work, keep it to only one or two pieces. If you have a larger piece of clothing made of leather — such as a coat, pants, or even a skirt — avoid having any other pieces of leather or suede in your outfit, other than possibly a small bag or shoes. Too much of one texture can make your ensemble appear clunky and too uniform from a distance.
Uses for Clothing
Because of its thickness, both suede and leather are used primarily for cooler-weather clothing. However, accessories such as leather shoes and bags are worn year-round. To keep your leather wear appropriate for warmer seasons, choose items in lighter colors. For example, wear white leather shoes instead of black ones during the summer time to reduce their somber effect on an otherwise summery ensemble. Because of its more delicate nature, suede items should be reserved for non-rainy seasons or days, as the items can become damaged easily.
Bethany Williams has been a beauty and style writer since 2006. She has written for "ELLE Canada," "Canadian Living" and "Flare Magazine." She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism and history from the University of King's College.