OK, so you walk into a store, straight up to the belt rack, grab one that matches your style and your idea of how much a belt should cost, cinch it to the second hole and look in the mirror - "perfect" - you tell yourself. But, do you think about what that forty five dollar strap will look like a year from now? “Heck yeah,” you say, “it's genuine leather. It's gotta be good and last a long time, right?" Not so fast cowpoke. Let's take a minute and get real about leather.
Here are three definitions common to the industry which, by consensus, are generally accepted as accurate. There are a bunch more, but here's the ones that are of concern to most belt buyers like you and me:
1. Full Grain or Top Grain (As rugged as it gets). This is the outer layer of the hide minus the hair. It shows the scars, imperfections and hair cell patterns of the animal's original outerwear. It's what they make those $400 baseball mitts out of...the ones that get passed down five generations. It's the titanium of leather.
2. Corrected Grain (If Full Grain is the T Bone, this is the Filet Mignon). Sometimes those lovely scars and imperfections are not wanted, so the hide is split to the desired thickness and then sanded to a smooth finish. It can be used in that form or embossed with a perfect (fake) grain pattern and then dyed. It's commonly used for expensive shoes, hunting boots, handbags, belts or wherever long wearing or even weather proof leather is needed. Not as strong as No.1, but close.
3. Genuine Leather (The Smoke and Mirrors). Now, at first glance this one would look like the real deal, right? Wrong. This is like the words “Natural Flavor” on the "Fat Boy's Knuckle Sucker Barbecue Sauce" bottle – you're not really sure about it, but you're like, “they wouldn't say it if it weren't true”, and you slather it on and wonder why you get a Texas sized gut ache. Only in this case, leather scraps and remnants are recycled, ground up and applied with adhesive to a suede or fabric backing then stamped with a grain pattern and dyed. Technically, it is 51% leather, but it literally is now the particle board of leather. This is that overpriced, imported item that cracks and separates like sled dog's paws in six months. Yep, the one that says “Genuine Leather” - and you're gonna be genuinely p.o.'d when it falls apart. So, there you have it cowgirls - your three minute leather education. Hope it helps!