Updated on Nov 01, 2016.
There are a few fashion accessories that every man needs in order to create the perfect outfit: an elegant watch, classy shoes and, of course, a stylish leather bag. The days of stuffing one’s pockets with hundreds of things are finally gone. ‘The Hangover’ movie may have led us to believe that men bags are an unwelcome accessory, but this negative stigma has become a thing of the past. As a matter of fact, the Wall Street Journal recently reported that luxury bags sales have increased a whopping 47% percent in 2014.
It is also suggested that sales will continue to increase, as more and more celebrities, including David Beckham or Kanye West, are adopting this signature item and major fashion houses like Ralph Lauren and Marc Jacobs are taking new interest in them. The variety of leather bags designed exclusively for men is simply overwhelming - leather messenger bags, leather tote bags, leather duffle bags, leather briefcases, and the list could go on forever. When faced with so many options men can become easily confused. If you’re thinking of buying a leather bag for yourself you’re probably asking yourself many questions:
- What type of bag would fit my style best?
- Why is leather so highly regarded in the creation of bags?
- What is the difference between different types of leather?
- How are high-quality leather bags made?
- Which designers and brands make the best leather bags?
I will try to answer all these questions, and more, in the Gentleman’s fashion guide to leather bags.
If you’ve ever purchased a low-quality leather bag before, you probably already know why spending a few extra bucks for a bag that lasts is worth it. Right now, the market is saturated with fake, low-quality craftsmanship and cheap products that break after a few seasons. Lower-quality bags are made with chemicals, have imperfect seams and lack the durability of premium products. To ensure that you buy the ‘real deal’ there are a few things you need to take into account. The first, and most important, is leather quality.
Leather Basics: Types of Leather & Their Properties
Let’s take a closer look at the most common types of leather used for bags, as well as their most important characteristics. Cowhide leather has long been regarded as one of the best types of leather due to its exceptional quality, availability, unique texture and durability. Most bags and purses made from cowhide leather will, literally, last through the ages.
Another popular type of leather is faux leather, which basically means artificial leather. I would recommend this type of leather to those who prefer to not use animal skin for personal reasons, or to those looking for a perfect & durable product.
Next up we have lambskin leather, which comes from sheep. The biggest disadvantage of lambskin leather is the fact that it cannot be used for larger items. In addition to this, despite the fact that it is softer, lambskin leather is susceptible to tearing and scratching. Lastly, we have patch leather, which refers to smaller pieces of left-over leather (either cowhide or lambskin). Granted, some patch leather bags are beguiling in their unique way, but they will never look as classy as a high-quality cowhide leather bag.
Here are a few other types of leather that you might be interested in:
- * Saffiano leather is the hottest trend right now. Not only is it extremely durable, but it is also incredibly low maintenance. It will protect the contents of your bag even through the heaviest downpour and it will never lose its shape. Because Saffiano leather is finished with wax treatments and cross-hatches, it is usually characterized by a diagonal texture and soft feel.
- * Italian Leather has long been considered one of the best, if not the best, type of leather. That’s because Italians are extremely strict when it comes to the tanning process, thus creating materials that are far superior to other countries. The good news is that the tanning process practice in Italy has now been adopted by major providers – similar to what happened with Cuban cigars.
- * Pebbled Leather represents the perfect combination between subtle pliability and durable material. The more you use pebbled leather, the softer it becomes. Like Saffiano leather, it is also treated and stamped off with a smooth texture, which means that it will wear better and obtain a beautiful patina.
Needless to say, exotic leather from pythons, lizards, stingrays, crocodiles, elephants, ostriches and other animals can also be used.
Real Leather vs. Fake Leather
Some men insist that their bags be made of genuine leather, but most cannot tell the difference between real and fake. Just to make things clear, fake leather doesn’t necessarily imply low-quality. As a matter of fact, artificial leather has proven, on several occasions to be more durable than genuine in one.
Nevertheless, if you want to make sure that your leather is the real deal, you have to take a good look at its grain – imperfections that are embossed into the surface of leather with dyes and stain. Look for the ‘full grain’ stamp instead of the ‘genuine leather’ one.
Let’s find out more about full-grain, top-grain, genuine and bonded leather.
Untreated full-grain leather
Without a doubt, the strongest and most durable part of an animal’s hide can be found just below the hair. That’s because the grain part in this area is extremely tight – meaning that it also resists moisture extremely well. The leather manufactured from this area is commonly referred to as full-grain leather. Luxury fashion houses prefer this type of leather, even if it’s more difficult to manufacture, because it performs well over time and creates a beautiful patina (making it perfect for the creation of leather camera bags and leather briefcases for men). Of course, full-grain leather is also the most expensive type.
The second most durable leather type is called top-grain leather. The major difference between full-grain and top-grain is the fact that the latter has a sanded surface that smoothens imperfections. Because the top layer has been removed, this leather will have a finer finish. This also means that top-grain leather is less durable(exponentially so). It is generally used for simple handbags and wallets because it isn’t nearly as qualitative as full-grain leather and because regular wear and tear will deteriorate the material quickly.
Next we have genuine leather. Often confused with the term of ‘real leather’, genuine leather actually refers to leather of the lowest quality. In other words, this type of material doesn’t look as well, or lasts as long, as full-grain, or even top-grain leather. Genuine leather is typically usedby low and medium-priced companies to manufacture belts, or shoes.
If you see the ‘genuine leather’ sign, this means that the product was made with several leather scraps that have been bonded together and painted to look premium quality. We also have patent leather,which is basically lower-quality leather that was treated with a plastic, glossy finish, and corrected grain leather, one of the lowest quality types of leather that was printed with fake grain.
But what type of leather is commonly used in bags?
Even if all the materials presented above can be found in leather bags, you will usually come across three basic types:
- * Full-grain leather (out of which calfskin is the most appreciated type)for durable leather briefcases for men or leather backpacks,
- * Suede leather (a fuzzy and velvety material made from leather that was split from the hide) generally used for satchels, handbacks, backpacks or shoulder bags, and
- * Corrected-grain leather (one side of the leather is smoothed and sanded to obtain an artificial gain, while the other maintains a fuzzy appearance).
Manufacturing & Tanning Process of Leather
Another thing you should keep in mind is that not all full-grain leather is the same. The quality and price of the finished product also depends on the animal’s life (health conditions and life marks) and the tanning process. But how is hiqh-quality leather produced? Let’s find out. First of all, you should know that the ‘tanning process’ refers to the act of cleaning and treating animal skins in order to obtain leather that is less susceptible to decomposition.
At first, the tanning process was done with the help of ‘tannin’, a chemical compound derived from tree bark. At present, tanning can also be performed with the help of mineral and vegetable substances. Here comes the important part:
The tanning process should last a minimum of 6 hours, otherwise the leather will crack. For the tanning process to be successful, oils and natural preservatives must be extracted from the animal’s hide (together with the hair), treated and re-introduced in the hide. This can be done by tumbling the animal skin in a specialized drum for 6+ hours.
Leather at this stage of the manufacturing process is called wet blue. Once the leather has tumbled for hours and hours, it is ‘thrown’ into a heated press and hung up to dry. A coat of paint and finishes can be added, then the leather is placed in the heated press again.
The problem is that most manufacturers cannot afford multiple drums, so they take the leather out before it has been completely treated – leaving the outer layer untreated. You can tell the difference by looking at the inner layers which maintain the ‘wet blue’ appearance.
Sometimes it can be quite hard to tell the difference between correctly and incorrectly tanned leather because most companies sew or paint the edges. Of course, leather that isn’t completely tanned doesn’t necessarily imply low quality.
It may not be perfect, but that’s exactly what makes them perfect.
How can you Tell if your Leather Bag is High-Quality?
As far as leather bag crafting is concerned, the process is as interesting as it is complicated. I won’t walk you through all of it, but there are a few things you should know. If you want to see how leather messenger bags, and other types of bags are made, I suggest watching this short video.
First of all, high-quality bags are created with the lowest possible number of seams (because good bags are made from large scraps of leather). This adds strength to the final product. If the bag also has hidden nylon reinforcing straps, pigskin lining, and insulation it is probably premium quality.
In addition to this, most leather bags are hand crafted. Take the time to overview all the details on it. Look for raw surfaces.
True craftsmen will always polish edges by hand. Raw, flimsy surfaces are usually signs of low-quality product.
Hardware and zippers are also important, especially since you will be using them every day. In most cases, when the zipper fails, the leather bag becomes useless. Premium crafters prefer brass (made with nickel and copper platings)over other types of zippers - because it is durable.
A few other signs of quality: zippers that don’t have sharp teeth, brass zip-sliders, sturdy fabric around the zipper, appropriate for the size of the bag.
Hardware refers to buckles, back-washers, rivets, d-rings and a few other accessories. Again, they should be crafted from solid materials such as brass, nickel silver or plated zinc. Look for appropriately sized hardware.
Most Popular Types of Men’s Bags
Now that we know how leather bags are actually made, it’s high-time we look at some of the most popular types that will fit anyone’s lifestyle: from student to business owner.
#1 The Leather Messenger Bag
We can’t talk about men’s fashion without mentioning the immortal leather messenger bag. Originally designed to carry documents and books, this accessory has been a staple item for as long as I can remember – As a matter of fact, messenger bags have been around since the dawn of the Roman Empire. They are elegant, masculine and practical.
Despite the fact that most bags have undergone serious changes and style experimentations over the years, the leather messenger bag’s essential features have remained unchanged. What would you expect, it is a classic. This type of bag is generally preferred by men who aren’t completely sold on the whole idea of men’s bags -yet. Its versatility make it perfect for business as well as casual attires.
If you want to purchase your very own leather messenger bag, there are a few things you should consider. First and foremost, you have to decide on what you will be doing with this bag. Will it be subjected to heavy use? Are you planning on taking it with you while traveling? Will it be a briefcase substitute or an elegant accessory? Depending on your answer, the size, accessories, color and features of the leather messenger bag will vary. Canvas and nylon are also used for messenger bags.
Price: As mentioned before, the prices of leather bags can vary greatly, depending on the quality of leather and craftsmanship. If you want something that will last I suggest allocating at least 200-300 dollars, but you should know that the most durable bags will go well beyond 500-1000 dollars.
Here are a few examples of elegant leather messenger bags:
SELVAGGIO Messenger Bag & Backpack
Price: $279.00 | Product link: SELVAGGIO Leather Messenger Bag
If you’re on the market for a heavy-use, extremely well-made bag that will last a life-time and fit your entire life’s work in it, you should definitely consider the SELVAGGIO Messenger Bag & Backpack? Wondering if your 17.3 inch laptop fits? It does! What about books, power-cords, tablet and other documents? They also fit. Quite comfortably, I might add.
This handmade messenger bag was created with the best full grain leather, so you can be sure that it will last for years to come. It also looks incredibly fashionable.
SELVAGGIO Vintage Messenger/Briefcase Bag
Price: $194.50 (discounted) | Product link: SELVAGGIO Vintage Messenger Bag
Since we’re on the topic of SELVAGGIO, here’s another sexy-looking bag. This elegant, vintage leather messenger bag will compliment any outfit. It has a unique feel to it due to the beautiful markings of the full grain leather, finished edges and delicious dark brown color. The SELVAGGIO vintage messenger bag is a genuine & sturdy accessory that every man should own.
The hardware is made from iron and genuine brass, and the three exterior compartments offer more than enough room for all the stuff you need. Size: 15.3x5x11 inches.
SELVAGGIO Vintage Messenger/Briefcase Bag
Price: $189.00 (discounted) | Product link: Dark Coffee Leather Messenger Bag
I know what you’re thinking: “Doesn’t this look a bit too feminine?” While it may be true that this Dark Brown Messenger Bag has a more sophisticated look to it, it can hardly be considered feminine. As a matter of fact, guys are currently rocking it with hipster outfits, prewashed jeans and simple shirts. The genuine leatherSelvaggio Bag comes with an adjustable shoulder strap and high-quality zippers so that items can remain safely nestled inside. Size: 16 x 4 x 12.5 inches.
You can check out this gallery for more inspiration.
#2 Leather Briefcases for Men
There’s nothing that conveys class better than an elegant, vintage leather briefcase. As is the case with leather messenger bags, better quality briefcases will also break the $500 mark – you could even end up spending over $1000 for a premium quality one. Briefcases are not only elegant, they are also convenient. The interior compartments are designed to safely carry laptops, tablets, personal supplies and documents.
At the moment, professionals, entrepreneurs, CEOs, workers and students can be seen prancing about with their leather briefcase bags. Material and style are important when deciding on the best briefcase for your needs, but ergonomics are undoubtedly the biggest factor. Unless you want to suffer from horrible neck pains for the rest of your life, you will want to test how your briefcase feels.
There are 5 basic types of leather briefcases: the attache case(the traditional box-style design with hinged frames & two compartments), the portfolio briefcase(it doesn’t have a handle, making it a bit difficult to carry around, but it offers great space for organizing lightweight materials), the folio briefcase(extremely comfortable and with great ergonomics), the wheeled briefcase(generally used for travel as it can store many items), and the shoulder bag(the crowd’s favorite, versatile & highly portable – variations of the style include messenger bags, satchels and laptop cases).
If you’re not sure how to buy a good briefcase, I suggest reading this Definitive Guide from Gear Patrol.
Here are a few examples of great-looking leather briefcases for men:
Leather Briefcase Laptop Men’s Organizer
Price: $209.50 (discounted) | Product link: Leather Briefcase Laptop Men’s Organizer
This is the type of leather briefcase that you want to take with you to work, business meetings and other formal occasions. It’s extremely elegant, made from the highest quality genuine leather, and it has a solid build that will ensure maximum utility. You can comfortably store your laptop, tablet, phone and other documents in the Leather Briefcase Laptop Men’s organizer.
Handcrafted Genuine Leather Briefcase
Price: $234.50 (discounted) | Product link: Handcrafted Vintage Leather Briefcase
I’m a sucker for vintage fashion, so this handcrafted genuine leather briefcase hit home with me. It has everything you will ever want in a bag: it is incredibly beautiful, it offers plenty of room for storage, and above all, it was built to last. This vintage leather briefcase comes in dark brown, weights 5.3 lb. and is 16 x 5.5 x 11 inches large.
Leather camera bags and leather laptop bags pertain to the briefcase bag category, so if you’re looking for something to store your precious devices, always choose this department.
#3 Leather Backpacks for Men
I have already covered the basics of buying the perfect backpack in a previous guide – The Ultimate Guide to Canvas Backpacks – so you should definitely check that one out. The only difference from what was said earlier, is that you also have to take a closer look at the pack’s leather and clasps. Good backpacks have finished edges & high-quality metal accessories. Also, if you’re worrying about bringing your backpack to work, don’t.
I’ve seen plenty of presentable business people rocking their leather backpack, and in an age where comfort has become the number one criteria for measuring style, leather backpacks are quickly making their comeback. Let’s take a look at a few awesome backpacks that you can take pretty much anywhere:
Handcrafted Genuine Leather Backpack
Price: $84.99 (discounted) | Product link: Canvas & Genuine Leather Backpack
Some backpacks, like the one presented above, are made from a combination of canvas and leather. This type of construction gives the bag a unique feel and comfortable grip. The handcrafted genuine leather backpack is recommended to the outdoorsy & casual types who want to buy a good pack at a reasonable price. This item is fitted with adjustable straps, multiple inner pockets as well as a large outer one.
Vintage Italian Leather Backpack
Price: $229.99 (discounted) | Product link: Vintage Italian Leather Backpack
I’ve been talking quite a lot about Italian leather, so it would have been a shame not to showcase it. This vintage backpack is made from the finest Italian leather you can find.
You can immediately tell the difference by looking at the product’s unique shine and soft appearance.
Comfortable and stylish, this chocolate colored backpack with a 20-35 l. capacity should be able to fit all your belongings. It will also endure many years of hard use.
#4 Leather Duffle Bags for Men
Most men call duffle bags the “Goldilocks of bags”, or “Unicorn bags” because they come in perfect sizes and are insanely comfortable to wear.
Generally used to carry gym equipment or other light items, the duffel bag looks exceptionally well when made from leather. If the size of the bag permits it, you can also use it for traveling.
#5 Leather Tote Bags for Men
Probably my least favorite of them all, the leather tote bag for men, is the ultimate symbol of statement accessory. If we look back a few years, we will notice that men were never seen wearing this type of bag. But fashion has evolved, and, of course, everything is now possible.
After a slightly awkward period of transition, the leather tote bag made it into the male fashion scene and quickly became a daily essential for stylish men. This unusual alternative to the briefcase is definitely not as comfortable as cross-bodies or messenger bags (because you pretty much have carry it around like a shopping bag), but you know the old saying: beauty means sacrifice.
This concludes the Gentleman’s guide to leather bags. Don’t forget that knowing more about how a product is made can help you make educated purchase decisions.
I hope that the information presented above will help you tell the difference between high quality products, and low quality ones. If you have other questions, feel free to contact us.