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What Is Suede Fabric? Learn About the Difference Between Suede, Leather, and Nubuck

Written by MasterClass

Jun 19, 2019 • 4 min read

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You’ve probably heard Elvis singing about “blue suede shoes” or perhaps remember the Seinfeld episode when Jerry ruined a suede jacket. Suede is a high-quality form of leather, made from the underside of the animal hide. It’s characterized by a soft smooth surface, and it is popular for fashion items, like shoes, accessories, and jackets.

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What Is Suede?

Suede is a type of leather made from the underside of the animal skin, giving it a soft surface. Suede is usually made from lambskin, but it is also made from other types of animals, including goats, pigs, calves, and deer. Suede is softer thinner, and not as strong as full-grain, traditional leather.

What Are the Origins of Suede?

Animal hides have been used to make clothing and other items since the Paleolithic Era. The term suede comes from the French word “gants de Suede,” which means gloves from Sweden, but the term eventually came to mean any kind of leather with a napped surface. Suede became very popular in the twentieth century, and it was associated with high-end luxury thanks to its soft, delicate feel.

How Is Suede Made?

Suede can be made from any kind of animal hide. To make suede, the underside of the animal skin is separated from the top, which creates the thin, flowy, softer leather. This means suede is a split leather, as compared to a full-grain leather. Some leather manufacturers will just turn the leather hide so that the underside is the outside, giving the appearance of suede but with a the same tough and rigid quality of leather. This is not technically suede, however.

The texture of suede is usually soft and smooth when it comes from lighter leathers, like those of younger animals. The nap of the fabric, which are the tiny, raised hairs on the surface of suede, can be tougher if the hide comes from older animals or animals with thicker hides, like cows and deer.

What Are the Different Types of Suede?

Suede differs in quality and appearance slightly based on the type of animal hide used in production. These are some of the most common types of suede:

  • Sheepskin suede. This is the softest, most delicate type of suede, made from sheep and lambs. It has a smooth nap and is lighter weight than other suedes.
  • Cowhide suede. Cowhide is the roughest form of suede, and the older the animal, the thicker and rougher the nap. Cowhide suede can also be called split cowhide, rawhide, bush coat, rough out, and calfskin.
  • Pigskin suede. Pigskin is a thick, durable, and heavy type of suede with a short, rough nap.

What Is Suede Used For?

Softer and thinner than standard leather, suede leather is popular for clothing and fashion accessories.

  • Footwear. Suede’s smooth nap gives loafers, slides, and boots an appealing appearance and structure. Suede boots are especially popular for comfort and character. Suede is also lighter than standard leather, while maintaining durability which makes it good for footwear.
  • Accessories. Named for gloves, suede is popular for all sorts of accessories, from gloves to handbags, and belts. Suede’s unique appearance makes it a favorite fabric choice among fashion designers for accent items such as bags and belts.
  • Outerwear. Western fringe jackets are famously made of suede, and a suede jacket is a fashion staple, thanks to the beautiful suede texture and its durability.

What Are the Advantages of Suede?

  • Durable. Suede is a very durable and tough fabric when compared to cloth fabrics. The thin nature of suede gives it a nice, delicate drape.
  • Smooth appearance. Suede is very soft, and its smooth nap gives it an appealing fabric texture.
  • Pliable. Suede is a pliable leather, and it can be molded easily to make clothing and accessories, like jackets and purses. Thinner versions of the leather have a nice drape and can be used to make dresses.
  • Long-lasting. Since suede is a form of leather, the material can last for an extremely long time.

What Are the Disadvantages of Suede?

  • Thin. One of suede’s biggest advantages is also its weakness—suede is thin, making it not as durable as standard leather.
  • Easily damaged. Suede’s nap can collect dust and dirt, which can harm the smooth appearance and make it look dirty easily.

What Is the Difference Between Nubuck and Suede?

Nubuck is also a soft leather made from the top grain of the animal hide, like standard leather. Nubuck is sanded down to give it a smooth finish. Nubuck leather is more expensive than suede. Nubuck is generally made from cowhide, and, while suede can be made from cow skin, it is less common because cowhide creates a tough texture. Nubuck is stronger and thicker than suede. Nubuck and suede are both not naturally waterproof, but they can be treated at home or by the manufacturer to make them more water resistant.

What Is the Difference Between Microsuede and Suede?

Microsuede fabric is a type of faux leather made from polyester fabric with a suede-like texture. Microsuede is one of the most popular forms of faux suede , as it is soft, water-resistant, light weight, stain-proof, and easy to care for. Microsuede is popular for home decor, like furniture upholstery fabric, particularly in homes with children and pets, as the faux suede fabric is durable and can be cleaned more easily than suede.

Fabric Care Guide: How Do you Care for Suede?

Suede should be professionally cleaned by a leather-cleaning expert for proper care, but there are some tips and tricks you can use at home to maintain the appearance of suede.

  • Do not let suede come into contact with water. While it is absorbent, the water will ruin the material, and the water damage is irreparable.
  • Use a suede brush made with brass or nylon bristles, or a toothbrush, to keep the nap fresh. A suede eraser is a good tool to remove stains from suede fabric. You can also buy special suede treatments to make the fabric more water-resistant. Make sure to clean your suede item before applying these treatments.
  • Use talc powder to treat a wet stain. A dried stain can be treated with some white vinegar.

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