Choosing the Best Leather Belt
May 12, 2022
Most people don’t think very hard about buying belts. However, a good belt can make or break an outfit and there’s more to the humble belt than meets the eye. When shopping for a new belt, you want one that will last and for that, you need the finest grade leather.
Poor-quality leather is prone to cracking, splitting and fraying and doesn’t have the durability, strength and flexibility of quality leather. And that means a belt that won’t last long and will quickly start looking shabby.
So let’s have a look at some of the best (and worst) materials so you know what you’re buying and what you can expect from your next leather belt.
Top Grain Leather
Top grain leather is the highest quality and is used for the best leather goods. Top grain is made from 100% pure, natural leather from the uppermost layers of the hide. These layers contain the most densely packed fibres, making it the strongest, most durable and most flexible type of leather.
Top grain leather is generally made into full grain leather and corrected leather.
With full grain leather, you should be able to see the natural grain of the hide, including the patterns, imperfections and wrinkles. Full grain leather will develop a natural patina over time that further brings out the marbling, texture and colour of the hide. Nothing beats a full grain leather belt.
Corrected leather is sanded and embossed to give the end product a more uniform, smooth appearance. Tanneries can also stamp artificial grains and patterns onto corrected leather to hide imperfections and give it a uniform, natural feeling texture.
Depending on the level of the processing carried out, corrected leather can be as durable as full grain leather. It’s worth noting that the process seals the surface of the leather, which makes it easier to maintain, but also means that the aged patina will take much longer to develop.
The finest quality belts will be made from either full grain or corrected grain leather.
Split Grain Leather
Split grain leather comes from the layer of hiding beneath the tougher top grain. It is made by separating the fibrous middle layer of corium (the middle layer of skin between the top grain and the flesh) from the top grain. Split leather is often referred to as suede due to its rougher, fuzzy texture. It is generally coloured using pigments and stamped with an artificial grain texture or pattern.
Split grain leather has a looser structure and is not as tough or durable as top grain leather. It also requires more care and maintenance to protect it and keep it looking good.
Split grain leather can be used to make lesser quality leathers including genuine leather, suede and other leather by products.
As you may expect, split grain leather is not an ideal choice for belt material due to its relative weakness compared to top grain leather.
Genuine or Bonded Leather
Genuine leather is a label that can be misleading. While technically made from leather, it is a manufactured product of inferior quality. Genuine or bonded leather is a type of finished split leather made using leather dust, scraps and offcuts that are bonded with polyurethane or latex onto a fibre mesh. Bonded leather is sometimes coated with a real leather outer material. This can significantly reduce the cost of the leather, but also diminishes the quality, durability and feel of the leather.
Genuine leather belts can look and even feel good on first inspection, but they won’t stand the test of time, quickly cracking, fraying, stretching and tearing. If you see any belt stamped with “genuine leather,” avoid it. It is simply announcing its inferior quality.
As the name suggests, this isn’t made from anything approaching real leather. Synthetic leather is made from polymers designed to simulate the look and feel of leather. Synthetic leather belts are among the lowest quality. They may be a viable choice if you’re against using animal products. But otherwise, you should avoid it entirely.
While the price tag on bonded or split leather products may be enticing, don’t be fooled. A top grain leather belt can be expected to last upwards of 20 years with regular use while continuing to look better with age. Lesser materials, on the other hand, can start to show wear and tear after as little as six months.