Synthetic leathers can often be marketed to sound like real leather. If you are looking for an authentic leather bag, stay away from terms like:
REAL LEATHER SMELLS INCREDIBLE
How can you tell if leather is real leather? Use your nose. Fake leather smells like chemicals or plastic. Real leather smells like leather. Cheap leather can also smell like chemicals if the processing is not done right.
FAKE LEATHER LOOKS TOO PERFECT
Real leather comes from real animals. The properties of skin are irregular. If there is a texture stamped into the fake leather to give it grain, or the appearance of real leather, you can often detect a repeatable pattern much like wallpaper. The absence of wrinkles, no blemishes or an appearance that is “too perfect” are good clues the bag is made from fake leather.
REAL LEATHER ACTS LIKE SKIN
Press into the leather. Does it wrinkle and crease like your skin? Can you see any pores? Remember, leather is tanned skin from the animal. Heavily coated leather may not react the same way as more natural finishes, so this test depends upon the leather coating or finish. Full leather athletic shoes use thin leather that has multiple layers of a clay-like substance applied to give a smooth finish. Yes. They are leather, but heavily coated. Fake or synthetic materials just depress under your finger but retain their shape, firmness, and texture.
WHAT DOES THE BACK OF THE “LEATHER” LOOK LIKE?
Often a leather-like surface is glued or laminated to fabric or a paper-like material.
TEST THE FAKE LEATHER WITH FIRE
This test is not recommended on a product you have not purchased. Obviously, you’ll be destroying part of the material. If you own the product and can find an interior seam, hold a lighter’s flame on a small piece of the material. If the leather chars and smell like burnt hair, it is leather. If the product catches fire or melts, it is synthetic.
TEST THE LEATHER WITH WATER
Depending on the finishing process, real leather can have water repellent properties. Most leather will absorb water at some rate. Almost all synthetic materials will repel water instantly.
COLOR IS NOT ALWAYS A CLUE TO FAKE LEATHER
With all of the dyes, waxes, and special treatments that can be applied to a tanned hide, color is not a good indicator of whether a bag is made from fake leather or real leather. A hot pink or a bright blue could be either.
FAKE LEATHER COSTS LESS
Compare the cost of a product you are certain is made from real leather to one that you suspect is made from fake leather. As a rule, the fake leather item will cost far less than the real leather item. If the deal looks too good to be true, trust your gut. Fake leather is manufactured in bolts, like cloth. Real leather goes through a series of time-consuming and expensive processes. A lower cost of goods makes the finished product less expensive, usually.