Less Leather

I have this leather jacket I bought on sale in 1998 at Banana Republic for $89. It comes in handy in the 45°F – 60°F range, and I love wearing it. Here’s the thing: I’d never buy it again.

In saying “I’d never buy it again,” I should probably be more specific by saying I’d never buy a new leather jacket again. As I explore a more consumption-conscious option with a heightened sensitivity to animal welfare, the consideration of less leather has come heavily into play for me. Many years ago, I wouldn’t have thought twice about buying leather jackets, a leather weekend bag, leather belts, leather shoes, leather boots… all of it. But the idea of killing animals so I can look cool sits less well with me over time.

I’m not ready to go full vegan with my clothes. I still have and buy leather dress shoes, and I love wool. But my decision to actually pull the trigger on new leather items is exponentially more measured than it has ever been. I don’t shop recklessly. I need to know that something will have a lasting and, of course, attractive application in my life.

The most recent leather item I bought was a pair of plain black leather bluchers from Allen Edmonds. I bought them over a year ago. Before clicking the purchase button, I put a great deal of thought into where I’d wear them and how they fit in with the rest of my wardrobe. And knowing Allen Edmonds’ craftsmanship standards, I knew they’d last longer than me if I took proper care of them. (And anyone who knows me knows that I’m a stickler for good shoe care.) So I bought them. They consistently get rotated into my drag about once or twice each week. Good investment.

Back in 1995, when I was a young lad of 24, I went down to the legendary Leatherman on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village to get fitted for a pair of leather pants. They were really well made, cut exactly like a slim pair of 501 Levi’s and hemmed right then and there in the store. $325 later, I went home with a pair of pants that gave me an edgy, rock and roll flavor at countless bars, clubs, concerts and parties over the next decade and beyond. Once I hit 40, having never been part of the music industry or the leather community, I just didn’t feel like I could pull them off with the same finesse. So I ultimately decided to let them go, bringing them over to Housing Works in Hell’s Kitchen so that someone else could enjoy them with more confidence. In hindsight, I’m very glad those pants can’t talk.

My current inventory of leather goods includes exactly 3 leather belts, 12 pairs of leather shoes or boots, one suede jacket that was given to me, a 13 year old leather wallet, 2 pairs of leather gloves and that 21 year old leather jacket from Banana Republic. That’s it.

Though the lining is starting to fray, this 21 year old jacket has held up remarkably well.

I don’t wear belts often, which should make those belts last a very long time, and I’ve been very lucky to not not lose the same leather gloves I’ve had for several years. My wallet? After so many years, it’s actually about to die. My next one might be made of something other than leather. We’ll see.

The shoe situation is a little different. I have several pairs from Florsheim, which were made with very cheap leather that’s starting to literally crumble. The only new leather shoes I’m eager to buy are better quality replacements of those from Alden or Crocket & Jones, which will last until I die.

There has been some impressive work with faux leathers that aren’t your run of the mill vinyl or “pleather.” I’ve seen amazing natural, breathable faux “leathers” made with pineapple leaves. If the technology improves to the point where I can get a pair of faux leather wingtips made with the same quality, craftsmanship and longevity as an Alden wingtip, or if the material gets so good that other heritage shoemakers wanted to use it, I’d be the first in line to buy a pair. But we’re not there yet.

For now, I’ll keep any new leather in my life to a minimum. I just don’t feel like I want to feed that industry any more of my money than I need to by participating in the creation of more demand for more dead animals. If I fell desperately in love with another classic leather jacket (which is doubtful), I’d search eBay or vintage shops for an old one instead of buying a new one.

Does my logic and my practice eliminate the slaughter of sentient beings for the sake of something cool to wear? Obviously not. My point is to do my part, to reduce and to create less demand. It’s imperfect, but that’s where I am with leather right now.

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