How to Identify Leather

How do you go about recognizing this widely used and imitated material? With the growing market of impressive faux-leather alternatives such as viscose based leather, it’s softness and similarity to the real thing means it’s getting harder to tell the difference.

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But what methods can you apply to figure out if its leather or not?

Authentic Label

When clothing garments are made of especially expensive materials, it can be hard to prove that they are genuine. This can be common with luxury brand imitations, such as with Chanel or Prada bags.

However, to combat this, some pieces will actually come with a certificate. Like with genuine pieces of high end jewelry, genuine leather goods may come with a certificate, not only to confirm that they were actually made by the brand, but also to signify that the material is genuine.

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If your leather goods don’t have this authentic label, then don’t worry! Other real leather goods may have another label on the leather printed onto it saying ‘genuine leather’, or attached with a funny looking puzzle piece shaped stating this.

Of course, even if your piece claims to be genuine leather, it might not always be. But there are other ways to test this.


Leather has a very distinct smell when you put your nose to it. Since it has to be treated with preservatives to keep it lasting longer, it will have a scent of one of a few of these chemicals.

As it is a natural product, it has a kind of natural musk which can be pleasant. I would compare it somewhat to the smell of new latex.

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Compare this to faux leather plastics, which have a very plastic smell. They lack that hint of naturalness that you get in real leather scents.


Real leather tends to feel very soft and supple. It’s a flexible material which molds very easily to the shapes it surrounds. This is why, if you own a non structured leather bag, it’s best to keep some paper in it so it holds its shape and doesn’t start look uncared for.

Their detailing also makes it very unique. The creases in its skin make it a one of a kind, and some patches will be smooth where others are very textured. This is the nature of leather.

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But nowadays many imitations can and try to replicate these patterns. Polyester and Viscose copies actually do pretty well, so that you can’t always tell. However I find polyester leather more rigid and less supple compared to real leather. There’s something about it that just doesn’t feel the same.

Wear and Tear

At this stage, it can be much more easy to tell the difference between plastic and real leather.

When real leather ages unpreserved, it tends to start drying up and cracks crop up in many places. The top layer fades out gradually, and the most worn parts are just smoother with little color.

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With direct exposure to sunlight, it gradually loses this color as well. With synthetic leathers, the color lasts much, much longer and can hold on. Plastics and vinyls also tend to peel, but it leaves a solid block with the same patterned creases pretty much intact.

Burn Test

Now at this point I probably wouldn’t advise this. But if you’re absolutely desperate to find out, you can spare a short few seconds with a sample of two or three types of leather.

If you hold genuine leather up to a flame, it will not catch fire very easily. It’s pretty flame resistant, so the most damage it will get if any will be a very slight burn and little black marks. It will also smell, as you expect it, like burnt hair or a barbecue.

The result will be different if it’s actually polyester. You can find out here about polyester, but it will most likely react instantly to the flame.

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And as for viscose, you will find yet another different reaction. It will react very quickly and burn up in the flame, leaving very fine light grey ash in the process. When it’s taken out of the flame, will just continue to burn.

So those were some of the ways you can identify real leather from other materials. Hopefully this will help you a little as it did with me.

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