Is Faux Leather a Fashion Faux Pas?

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I own a pair of faux leather pants that are a staple in my wardrobe and have been for seven years. And since last winter, I now own a faux leather pleated skirt. The skirt was part of a little conundrum I got myself into with online shopping during lockdown last December. My unintentional haul, so to speak. And since I’ve been trying to find ways to style my faux leather skirt for spring, I’ve been thinking about faux leather in general. And asking myself: Is buying and wearing faux leather bad? In this age of sustainable fashion, is faux leather a fashion faux pas? Should we be eschewing vegan leather for real leather in the name of ethical shopping? Well, turns out, according to this article in The Good Trade, the answer to that question is complicated.

Woman sitting on steps wearing an H&M skirt, with Equipment shirt, Paige jean jacket and Asics sneakers.
Trying to style my faux leather skirt for spring

Real leather comes from real cows, or other real animals. So if you like animals, and are against animal products in general, there’s that. I like animals. But I eat meat, and I’d always preferred real leather to faux or plastic. That is until I bought my vegan leather pants in 2014. The leather industry claims that since real leather is made from cow hide (or other animal hide) it’s more biodegradable than vegan leather or faux leather which is often made from petroleum-based plastic. That’s true, actually. But according to several articles I read yesterday, that’s only part of the story. A 2017 study of sustainable materials cited in this article says that, overall, faux leather has one third of the environmental impact of cow leather. Partly because of the huge effect the beef industry has on global warming.

H&M faux leather skirt worn with Vince cashmere sweater, Paul Green flats, and Cerruti jacket.
H&M skirt, Vince sweater, Paul Green shoes, Cerruti jacket.

But see, here’s the thing. Not all vegan leather is the same. The original faux leather, which we called pleather back in the day, was a petroleum-based plastic called PVC. And according to Greenpeace, PVC is the worst of the worst. These days lots of faux leather is virtually plastic free, and can be made from numerous base fibres like mushrooms, or apples, or even pineapples. This modern fabric still contains some petroleum-based product to hold the fibres together, but much less than the old PVC from years gone by. Even polyurethane (PU) leather has less overall impact on the environment than the natural leather that is a by-product of the meat-producing industry.

Still, faux leather doesn’t have the durability or the life-span of real leather. I doubt that any of us has a forty-year-old faux leather jacket hanging in our closet. But we may have a cherished, slightly battered, worn to a whole new level of cool, genuine leather messenger-bag from the seventies. Faux leather just does not have the same cachet as real leather. Much as I love them, my seven-year-old vegan leather pants are already starting to wear noticeably. In their defense, they have been worn tons of times since 2014. But I don’t see them lasting another twenty years.

H&M faux leather skirt worn with Vince cashmere sweater, Paul Green flats, and Cerruti jacket.
Owning up to owning a 100% polyester skirt.

So, like that article in The Good Trade said, the issue is complicated. And although I found several articles that seemed to confirm what other articles said about the environmental toll taken by the leather industry, I could not track down the original studies cited. And while each article in itself seems objective, they are published on sites that have an easily identified agenda or bias. It’s a contentious issue, that’s for sure. And I have only scratched the surface. I will say that despite the problems with some faux leather products, it seems that the fashion industry is making a concerted effort to move away from natural leather. This article from Vogue Business outlines the industry’s search for “the perfect vegan leather.”

But in the meantime, I own two imperfect faux leather garments. One is made from polyurethane, and the other is 100% polyester. Gulp. So what should a fledgling fashion revolutionary like myself do now?

H&M faux leather skirt worn with Vince cashmere sweater, Paul Green flats, and Cerruti jacket.
Mixing old, really old, and new.

Well, I guess I can make every effort to make sure my faux leather garments stay out landfill sites for as long as possible. That means finding lots of ways to wear my faux leather pieces. My pants from 2014 are already a wardrobe hero. They go with almost everything in my closet, and except for wear in a few places, still look great.

But I need to find more ways to wear my pleated faux leather skirt. Especially for spring. I styled it with sweaters and boots last winter, so today I made an effort to see what I could do with my spring jackets and footwear.

First I wore it with a boxy, violet cashmere sweater bought from Vince in 2017. I like the shape of the cropped, loose Vince sweater with the long skirt. I added my Paul Green flats from the same year. And a Cerruti jacket purchased as part of a suit way back at the turn of the century, and kind of reinvented last spring. So in this outfit, really old meets oldish meets fairly new.

Next I tried my skirt with my blue Equipment shirt from 2015 (similar). Blue shirts are back in a big way this year. Big, baggy blue shirts. I pulled on my Paige jean jacket (similar) bought the year I retired in 2013, and my blue Asics running shoes. I like the blue, blue, and blue with the black. And since I’d be wearing this to run errands, I’d bring along my old Michael Kors tote (similar).

Sitting on the deck in my H&M skirt, worn with Equipment shirt, Paige jean jacket and Asics sneakers.
H&M skirt, Equipment shirt, Paige jacket, Asics sneakers.

I love the boxy shape and cropped style of my violet cashmere sweater. It’s a very forgiving sweater. Ha. Here are a few similar styles I found. I particularly love the bright pink Intermix/Celine one.

My pleated faux leather skirt is pretty new and has a ton of wear left in it. But as I said above, my faux leather pants bought back in 2014 have been worn and worn over the years, and are starting to show their age. So I did a little research this morning to see if I can repair them where the fabric has separated from its backing in one place at the waist, and where they are cracking and peeling a bit. I found one article which seemed somewhat helpful. But I think I need to do more research before I try any DIY with my pants. I love the fit and style of these pants so much that I DO NOT want to make a mistake.

I do know that after I’m finished with the pants and the skirt I can give them to Hubby. He will always find a use for them. He’s been mining two pairs of soft leather boots of mine from the nineties for years, cutting patches for canoe camping packs and bicycle seats. You name it, he can find a use for it. On second thought, I will give him the skirt. Eventually. But I think that once my pants are unrepairable I might be able to make some beautiful, soft leather patches for the elbows of a blazer. What do you think?

You know, if I had done all this research last winter before I bought that pleated skirt I might not have clicked the purchase button. I might have looked around for a faux leather skirt made from vegetable fibre, if I could find one. At any rate, that ship has sailed. And if the worst environmental faux pas my faux leather garments make is to not degrade in a landfill, I think I can guarantee that they won’t be in a landfill for many years.

That may be the best I can do.

Now it’s your turn my friends. Let’s not get into a discussion of the pros and cons of real leather versus faux leather. There are good points on both sides. Instead, let’s look at what else in our closets might be problematic. We can’t change the past. So let’s think about what we can do from here on in to give our wardrobe longevity. To make us love what we have as long as possible. Any thoughts?

P.S. The clothing links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking my link I will earn a commission.

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40 thoughts on “Is Faux Leather a Fashion Faux Pas?”

  1. Wendy from York

    Thanks for the info Sue . I didn’t realise such progress had been made in faux leather so that was interesting . I’ve never been a fan of leather clothes for myself & prefer softer fabrics . I do have leather handbags but seem to be turning to fabric bags these days . Lighter to carry & less dressy . My walking & holiday bag is a ‘ Healthy Back Bag ‘ but my favourite is a Margaret Howell canvas shoulder bag . It’s good to see stylish designers offering alternatives to leather .
    My mum always used an old leather handbag as a peg bag on washing day & I do too – a Dior knock off I bought in Turkey forty years ago . Recycling has been going on a long time in this family . Our shed is full of rejected bits & pieces that might come in useful sometime & they invariably do . Finding anything is a nightmare though .
    ( In Scotland just now – we made it 🥂🍾🎉 )

    1. I am so happy you and Max were able to get to Scotland. Did you jump for glee? I am becoming a fan of canvas and cloth bags as well. I have a couple that I picked up while travelling and have only used as book bags and such. I need to use them as a regular purse now and then. My stepfather used to carry his chainsaw bits and pieces in my sister’s old leather shoulder bag that she threw out and he fetched out of the garbage. Every time he went to the woods with her bag over his shoulder we’d laugh. Turns out he was a man ahead of his time.

  2. I’m not an expert and can’t give you advice about faux leather. I love real leather and,as I eat really a small amount of meat in general and don’t buy tons of leather product-there is a kind of balance,I believe
    I would like to wear pineapple (or else :)) made faux leather and there is a reason: big,leather totes start to be too heavy for my spine. I have only one faux leather item-cross body bag at my sea side apartment-light as a feather,so this could be a way to integrate more of it eventually in a couple of years or so
    Dottoressa

    1. I love real leather too. Especially bags. I need to try to find some vegan leather bags from now on. I think the newer stuff is much better.

  3. Thank you for a comprehensive and thoughtful parsing of synthetic leather. I don’t wear it as a garment because it does not breathe, which really takes away the pleasure for me, but have had a couple of bags— expensive considering the durability.

    What to do? Right now I’m thinking the way to handle leather is the way we are now advised to consume its parent product, animals farmed for meat: consume less. Also, I’ve found some fantastic leather pieces in thrifts and on eBay. Just scored a vintage Roots jacket (from the days when they were made in Canada() for Le Duc. Excellent condition, $100.

  4. Not exactly what you asked but my 2 cents about leather/faux leather pants. Back in the days I had 2 beautiful Danier leather pants (1 dark blue and 1 one lipstick red). Great and comfy. After a few years they developed bags under the knees and became diapers like at the seat: worse, they didn’t stay put. Now, I own 2 recycled leather pants and 1 faux leather (mostly cotton) pant: no bags! The old pants were entirely recycled in the “DIY cave”, So are old t-shirts, shirts, cotton pants. etc. Wool pants deemed unwearable in public go tho the recycle bin. They are everywhere here. Our sweaters are mended when needed.
    Your blue, blue, blue with black outfit is great!

    1. I was never attracted to real leather pants when they were big back in the day; they always seemed so thick and heavy. Nor the old PVC ones which were too shiny and looked like what they were-plastic. But when the next incarnation came round I could not resist. My faux leather pants are soft and light and supple, and not fake looking, even though they are. 🙂

  5. I have some faux leather items – jacket, bags – and real leather – bags, shoes – and they all seem to wear well. I had a suede coat too, that I wore for well over 20 years and which was already vintage when I got it. My faux leather seems to look good enough so more than happy to stay with it. I do like the idea of recycling though.

  6. I so loved your ‘leather’ pants that when I saw some in a sale I jumped at them. Since then, although I have tried them on again and again, they haven’t left the house. I just feel a bit mutton (dressed as lamb) in them, well I’m probably a year or two older than you. I’m promising myself that I’ll wear them when a girl friend and I make our maiden visit for lunch at our local pub in a week or so.

    1. I wear my “leather” pants with bulky sweaters and boots in the winter, and a nice jacket and loafers in the spring and fall. If you keep the top half classic you won’t feel mutton-as-lamb-ish at all, Mary.

  7. I think one of the best ways we can increase the longevity of our fashion purchases is to continue working to broaden the notion of Style, so that it’s not as dependent on commercial fashion cycles which stimulate constant consumption. Also, and much more difficult, to try to train (re-train? untrain?) our eyes to see past the clothes and their “styling” to the person they’re clothing, somehow. For many decades now, through commercial advertising and popular media, we’ve come to believe that we can become more socially attractive through the way we dress. . . and a corollary of this belief, we often unconsciously (or consciously) dismiss the value of those who don’t “buy in.”
    All kinds of big “social justice” questions involved here as well, but even a post like this one works in the right direction by showing ways we can still participate in Retail Fashion (buying a few fashion-cycle pieces–even a 100% poly pleated skirt, gasp! ;-), but combine them with pieces from many fashion seasons ago. . .
    And then, maybe ten or fifteen years from now, when some cute young trans kid buys your passed-along pleated skirt at a thrift store and styles it creatively, or the young dad next door wears it to his kid’s soccer games or the 50-something woman down the street wears it with a flip-flops and a halter top to shop for groceries, we can be the kind of old women who applaud that kid’s style, or that dad’s modelling of gender neutrality or that 50-something’s fashion defiance even if it’s so different from our own.
    Yep, that was kind of a tangent. Hope it made sense. And btw, I really like all these outfits and I still think you’ll be finding ways to wear this skirt for many years and it’s probably indestructible (eco bonus: I’m guessing it’s not needing much laundry water or dryer heat!)

    1. Of course you are right. You are much better than I am at spotting the opportunity for moving things forward wrt social justice issues. And way better at expressing your thoughts. Thanks for this Frances. 🙂

  8. Lots of good thoughts here. I’m far from an activist on any subject but like to contribute in some way. So for me, Stop Shopping, as I’m sure I can find a way to look current with the 40 pair of shoes and heaven knows how many pieces of clothing are currently in my closet.

    1. We are so mesmerized by the look of the moment, aren’t we? But what fun we can have rejigging what we own to be “of the moment”! If I’m able to do that I always feel as if I have outsmarted the system.

  9. My pandemic goal is to train myself to be far less judgemental of other’s choices. So when I find myself blurting out ‘ she didn’t go THERE?!?!’ I quietly tell myself that’s their choice. Some will always choose pleather and others leather. Everyone has their own reasons whether financial, moral or just plain snobbery. Not up to me to pass judgement on a ( hopefully) informed choice.
    Is the fake better than real? In some cases, yes! In others a resounding no.
    Nothing wrong with putting the discussion out there for consideration and you have done an excellent job of doing so. Where I really applaud you is in your continuing endeavour to suggest to others that one can mix the old with newer pieces. Jettisoning last years wardrobe for all ‘new’ is a passé notion as is the constant replenishing of the closet with ‘fast fashion’. Why would one junk a fortune’s worth of cashmere, leather boots etc. based on fashion’s whim? That is the more ethically charged dilemma that needs to be addressed then the pleather vs leather question. The old chestnut, if it hasn’t been worn in a year then toss it…so last century.
    Maybe it’s a Canadian thing but I see more fashion bloggers here promoting thrifting, recycling, up cycling, re styling. From you with your interesting restyle ideas to Duchesse suggesting ways to rework older unworn jewelry( I am working on the pearl redo;) Many have been promoting the ‘shop your closet’ theory for awhile.
    To those reading the charming Frances’ comment above…100% What she said!!

    1. I think we have to be careful to not jettison too much in the name of being minimalist, creating capsule wardrobes, or Marie Kondo-ing our home. Not every donated item makes it into a thrift store.

  10. Catbird Farm

    As a lifelong vegetarian increasingly feeling guilty and convinced I need to wean myself off leather goods, but with the conundrum that I am also completely averse to synthetic materials, I found this was an interesting insider POV to consider: https://www.instagram.com/p/CNT0RG7gMUD/

  11. Interesting thought provoking post. I am a fan of leather, but have never had leather clothing other than coats. I know leather alternatives have gotten much better through the years. I had some bad experiences with faux leather years ago.

    Just yesterday I started a clothing journal and made a pact with myself not to buy any new clothing (other than necessaries) for a year. I really want to try to take stock, bring down my amount of clothes and try to do better. I have also been downsizing in other areas around the house too. I will never be a minimalist, but I need to declutter my closet, house and mind. I turn 70 in July and want to start a new chapter! 😊

  12. Thank you for the thought provoking ideas about leather, faux leather, and environmental impact. I also appreciate your ideas about how to get good use out of an item, for years possibly, before tossing it away. We all need to be more creative. After reading this post, a huge question has arisen for me. What about our shoes!!!!!!!!!!!

    As Always, thank you for a wonderful and thought provoking blog post. Love the purple sweater. :0)

    1. Shoes! I seem unable to get rid of my shoes. Mostly because it’s so hard for me to find shoes to fit my narrow feet. But I’ve been glad more than once in the past couple of years that I kept my block-heeled sandals from the nineties, or my old Chelsea boots from 2012.

  13. Thanks for another interesting and thought provoking post Sue.
    I’m mainly agreeing with you and others here, that buying less and wearing what we have seems to be the way forward. With regard to less I’d say the best quality we can afford as I realise not everyone can necessarily afford the more expensive “quality” brands.
    Taking care of what we have is important too. I’m literally in the process of polishing my leather bags , those that need it anyway. I’ve never been a “brand” person as such but I do prefer my definition of quality leather, which is usually how it feels… not necessarily how much it costs or the brand.
    Noticing Duchess’s comment, I bought my first Roots bag in Whistler, Canada almost twenty years ago and it’s still as good as that day. I’ve bought a number of their bags, wallets and a backpack over the years. Either when travelling or online. They’ll all last longer than me, I think! Sadly when visiting their new shop in Chicago in 2019 I didn’t feel the quality was as good as it used to be and left empty handed. Actually I did buy a bag but ended up returning it, as the zip didn’t close properly and this happened to be the case with all the ones of that particular style they had in stock …
    Also like Wendy, I’m finding lighter weight fabric bags and backpacks are better for my back if I’m doing a lot of walking and when travelling. The downside of my Roots bags is their weight. They’re heavy, even when empty! Not always good for my neck!
    I hope you’re having a good week … I noticed your sprinkling of snow!
    Rosie

    1. Thanks, Rosie. I hate carrying a heavy bag now too. I must look to see what my new-ish AllSaints bag is made from. I didn’t pay attention to that when I bought it because I just liked it and it was the right size and style. But it is really light. I wonder now if it’s vegan leather.

      1. I have some leather bags that I’ve bought more recently that seem light, … I’ve come to the conclusion that maybe , somehow its thinner leather bonded onto fabric perhaps?

  14. Since I have evolved to a rollator (One of those push things you see grannie types walking with) I find I use them as a purse-so much easier. But I do need a bag os some sort every once in a while. So have been looking t cross boy bags. They are small, carry a few things like glasses, kleenex and lipstick,plus I can put them in the rollator when I go anywhere! i am getting rid of all my old larger bags. Some one at Goodwill will benefit! I did splurge on a faux leather jacket from Chicos this fall, and love it.. Real leather tends to get stiff in Fl.Maybe I wasn’t getting the highest quality either. Haven’t quite made the step to pants yet,but will if the sale price is right. Best to all. Happy Mother’s Day!

  15. I love the skirt with the jean jacket. So casual, so chic. Great post, lots to think about. My takeaway from reading the comments from your thoughtful readers is to consume less, shop your closet and maybe keep more of your clothes that you do have and love.

  16. It’s hard for me to imagine wearing trousers that don’t breathe, be they faux leather or polyester. They look great on you and if they don’t feel clammy, why not?

  17. Faux leather will eventually crack, as you’ve discovered, peel and flake. It will, essentially, over time, disintegrate.

    If you take care of leather it will last several lifetimes. Leather is a byproduct of the meat industry. They aren’t raising cows for the leather, they raise them for the beef but they also use the hides.

    I am a vegetairian by choice for the last 40 years but I do still wear leather, specifically vintage leather.

    1. I love real leather too. It lasts a really long time if well cared for, you are right. But some of the faux leather they are making now is really nice as well.

  18. Will you get this at this late stage? I don’t know, but I have to tell you that I’ve worn the leather pants TWICE! Better still, my other half thinks they are quite sexy. Thanks for the push to wear them,

  19. We buy used, well worn leather pants and shorts as well used pleather/faux leather garments for our theatre troupe! I invite your readers to contact us if interested in selling any. Thanks!

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