Compared to the history of wearing animal hides, the fashion history of faux leather is very short. In the 15th centrury, the Chinese made some attempts at artificial leather. The fact that we wear clothing from this material these days goes back to advances in polymer chemistry. Read about who invented the fabric, what it is made off, who wores it, its advantages and disadvantages to understand why it became a big cult in recent years.
- What Is Faux Leather?
- Who Invented Faux Leather?
- What Is Faux Leather Made of?
- Environmental Aspects in the Fashion History of Faux Leather
- What Are the Mechanical, Thermal and Moisture-wicking Characteristics?
- What Is Faux Leather Used for in Fashion?
- Which Celebrities Wore Faux Leather?
- My Expierence with Faux Leather
- Conclusions on the Future and Fashion History of Faux Leather
- Stylish Monday November Fashionable with Faux Leather
Disclosure: This post has affiliate links.
What Is Faux Leather?
Faux leather comes with various names like pleather, leatherette, Naugahyde, Presstoff, or PU, vinyl, artificial, synthetic and vegan leather, etc. These terms all refer to a human-made material that from one side looks similar to leather.
Who Invented Faux Leather?
In the 1930s, William Edward Hanford and fellow chemist Donald Fletcher Holmes at E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. discovered the chemistry of polyurethane. In 1937, Otto Bayer and his colleges first made polyurethanes at IG Farben in Leverkusen, Germany. The name of this fabric was Presstoff meaning pressed fabric.
What Is Faux Leather Made of?
The construction of faux leather works via three major paths, polyurethane (PU), polyvinyl chloride (PVC – vinyl), or silicone. The synthetic material is non-biodegradable.
In the United States, vinyl synthetic leather serves for shoes, automobile interiors, and upholstery since the 1940s. It consists of strong polyester fibers coated with plasticizers and vinyl from polyvinyl chloride (PVC). The vinyl is melted onto the fiber surface thereby sealing the spaces between the fibers. The result is a waterproof, flexible, but tough material.
In the late 1950s, chemical companies like DuPont developed polyurethane leather-like products. PU leather consists of a backing fabric (e.g. cotton, polyester, shredded leather) coated from one side with a flexible polymer. A special treatment ensures the coated side to look like genuine leather. High quality PU has variations in grain, color and texture and builds wrinkles when bended or sewn to look like real. PU production is more expensive than manfuacturing vinyl.
While the production of vinyl and PU require inorganic polymers, the silicone fabrics that became available in the 2010, rely on an organic polymer. Vegetable oil, for instance, are precursors of monomer chains. These may be synthesized into various various polymers (e.g., polyurethane, polyester, polyether) via free radicals, cationic processes, olefin metathesis, or condensation polymerization.
Superhide includes material from sustainable resources (cork). Read more about the production of superhide. Note that the material of the bag and backpack shown in this is superhide.
Environmental Aspects in the Fashion History of Faux Leather
Environmentalists consider PU to be environmentally-friendlier than vinyl because PU doesn’t create dioxins. They also consider organic based polymers as “greener” than inorganic polymers. Reasons, among others are: Vegetable oils stems from renewable resources. The one-station casting process of silicone requires less energy, no solvents, and only little water (as compared to the aforementioned coated fabric manufacturing). While the production releases no volatile compounds* (VOCs), it releases other harmful pollutants.
What Are the Mechanical, Thermal and Moisture-Wicking Characteristics?
The stretchability or give is low. Therefore, you should read the size chart prior to ordering to get the right fit. The moisture-wicking ability and breathability of the artificial material are low as well. Because vinyl is waterproof, your sweat remains on your skin, and your skin sticks to the vinyl surface. Designer counteract this effect by inserting a lining. In sunshine, vinyl becomes hot on the outside. Extended wear may lead to cracks, especially, in shoes.
In general, moisture remains in the surface layer of artificial leather. At high moisture levels like during rain, the cool feeling may become quite uncomfortable. This is due to the about 25 times higher thermal conductivity coefficient of water than steady air at 20°C (0.6 W/m.Kvs. 0.026 W/m.K). Note that this fact is also the reason why wetness is undesirable in clothing, in general.
Ideally, for thermal comfort in winter, you want clothing with small thermal conductivity coefficients* to keep your body warmth. The thermal conductivity coefficients of the polymers and textiles range between 0.2 and 0.4 W/m.K, and 0.033 and 0.01 W/m.K, respectively. Consequently, artificial leather retains your body heat almost as good as real hides.
What Is Faux Leather Used for in Fashion?
The fashion industry uses all three types of artificial leather. See examples of vegan leather fashion in the carousel below. However, the choice of pleather type depends on the end product. For instance, designers prefer PU fabric for clothing because its higher softness, flexibility, and breathability than vinyl. Vinyl is relatively stiff, and well repels moisture and water. Therefore, vinyl is great for shoes and bags. Vegan leggings typically consist of polyester and spandex coated with polyurethane. Coats and jackets as well as skirts and pants are favorites in PU. Silicone is soft, waterproof, flexible, and has a better breathability than vinyl.
Which Celebrity Wore Faux Leather?
Kris Jenner, Jennifer Hudson, and even fashion designer Donatella Versace, just to mention a few, have been seen wearing Spanx faux leather leggings. These leggings are very populat because of their contoured Power belt with shaping properties, high waist, and center seamless design. These features provide excellent tummy coverage and a flawless look on every body, no matter of the shape.
My Experience with Faux Leather
When I was in 3rd grade, I got a light tan pleather dress. Its cut was like a long vest with clip closure in the front. It had a relatively thick lining fabric inside. I recall that I loved to wear it with a light blue or white sweater underneath and tights in winter. Note that West Germany’s winters have quite similar weather and require dressing like for winters in the Pacific Northwest. I missed the nice scent of the real thing.
As an adult, I owned several great vegan leather bags and shoes, which all had astonishing long durability. However, my favorites are those that don’t even pretend to be leather like the superhide crossbody from Jord.
Care for Faux Leather Attire
You can wash most faux leather items turning inside out in the cold water gentle cycle. Make sure you line dry your piece. However, most manufacturers recommend to have them cleaned from an expert.
Unlike real leather, fake leather requires no conditioning and stains can be easily removed. More on removing stains from real leather.
Faux vs. Real
Major advantages of faux leather are being cheap, durable, stain resistant, easy to clean, insensitive to scratches, scrapes, and UV radiation. Garments from artificial leather can be cut like garments form fabric. Therefore, sewing is easier than working with hides that require patching them together. Consequently, using the synthetic product decreases production costs with respect to material and personal. A yard of artificial leather costs between $10-$25 per yard ($9.14-$22.86). Unlike real hides that have to be dyed, the color choices, textures, and pattern of synthetic are seemingly endless. Read more on what to look for when shopping for genuine leather clothing.
Major disadvantages of faux leather items are that (most of) the apparel fails to stretch, and all fail to be tear-restistant. Also the faux material fails to develop a nice luster and patina with age, and lacks the pleasent scent of the real hide.
Typically, faux leather exhibits greater thermal conductivity* and lower thermal absorptivity* than natural leather. In plain English, this means for the wearer that in cold weather, they feel cold stress faster in faux than in real leather. Analogously, hot stress occurs faster for the fake than real hide under hot weather conditions.
Is Faux Leather Fashionable?
Pleather clothes, covered leggings, or jeans are “look-alikes”, but can easily look cheap, when the coverage breaks with time. If it happens, discard them. Broken pleather looks plain trashy on everyone. Therefore, invest in good quality. Note that pieces of good quality come close to the price of the real thing.
Conclusions on the Future and Fashion History of Faux Leather
The fashion history of faux leather reaches back to less than a century. During this time, pleather conquered the apparel and accessory market, and even became mainstream. The fashion industry anticipates that the demand for synthetic leather will increase at an even faster pace during the next decade for the same economic reasons, but now further triggered by environmental arguments, and the cultural change in consumers’ behavior towards a favor of (seeminingly) renewable/sustainable resources.Did you know this about the fashion history of faux leather? #pleather #history Click To Tweet
Stylish Monday November Fashionable with Faux Leather
My blogging friends Julie at Fashion, Friends and Trends, Nina at Sharing a Journey, “Shelbee” at Shelbee on the Edge, Amy at Amy’s Creative Pursuits, Lucy at Lucy Bertoldi, Nancy at Nancy’s Fashion Style, Ada at Elegance and Mommyhood, Joy at Pearls and Pantsuit, and I invite you to the Stylish Monday November Linkup Party. Please feel free to link up your Instagram, and/or blog outfit posts. Visit their blogs for other twists and stories on the fake hide.
Roh, E., Oh, K.W., and Kim, S., 2013. Classification of Synthetic Polyurethane Leather by Mechanical Properties according to Consumers’ Preference for Fashion Items. Fibers and Polymers. 14. 1731-1738. doi: 10.1007/s12221-013-1731-x.
Sewport team, 2021 (retrieved). What is Faux Leather Fabric: Properties, How its Made and Where
Xia, Y., Larock, R.Cc., 2010. Vegetable oil-based polymeric materials: Synthesis, properties, and applications, Green Chemistry, 12, 1893-1909, doi: 10.1039/C0GC00264J