These are the messages you're sending with a quality leather bag.
Often times – they're great icebreakers at professional or networking events.
But…are all leather bags created equal?
Unfortunately – the horror stories exist.
Men spend $1,000 on a leather bag and 6 months later:
- The leather starts cracking
- The stitching comes undone
- The hardware begins to rust
There are things to look out for before buying leather bags.
This article is meant to highlight the key points to consider before you pull out your wallet.
1. Type Of Leather Used
Like shoes and leather jackets, you want to choose a bag that's made of full grain leather. It's top-quality leather that looks even more fantastic after years and years of use.
The best leathers develop an attractive patina – a weathered, sheeny look which a material gets through aging. The higher the quality, the better the patina. It's not something you'll get with heavily treated leather or other lesser grades.
Avoid bags that are made of bonded leather. These bags actually use scrap pieces of leather which have been reworked with chemicals and plastics into a second-rate version of leather.
It doesn’t age well or have that distinct, nice leather smell. It’s quite common these days and sales people try to promote them as authentic leather products. Beware – they come at low prices but are not value for money.
2. Tanning Process
The leathers used for bags and cases aren't prepared the same way. You need to know the differences between 2 major tanning processes: chrome tanning and vegetable tanning (especially since they affect the price).
For chrome tanned leather, the process involves chromium and other harsh chemicals. It's finished in a couple of days – which is why their products are always cheap. Chrome tanned leather accounts for about 90% of the leather market.
Then we have vegetable tanned leather. It's produced in an eco-friendly way, unlike chrome tanned leather. The term “vegetable” refers to the natural materials that are used in the process (such as tree bark).
Here the cowhides go through a pre-tanning stage in which they are rehydrated with all the hair removed. Each hide is cut into two pieces called “sides” – which are then put into large vats and filled with natural tannins. For several weeks – not days – they are soaked in tanning liquor.
Since the entire process is longer, most vegetable tanned leather products tend to be thicker and stiffer than chrome tanned leather ones (but get softer eventually when the leather breaks in). That’s why vegetable tanning works best for higher end bags. The leathers are superior to their chrome tanning counterparts in character, durability and holding ability. They’re known for their classic leather smell as well as excellent patina.
One company I know that uses veg tanning is Jackson Wayne. In a world of products from both extremes – expensive designer options and cheap quality ones – their bags are a breath of fresh air. Jackson Wayne leather bags are designed with first-class style and functionality. They’re also affordably priced.
These guys have an amazing quality control process that guarantees long-lasting luggage. They also offer a lifetime warranty that covers any problems you might encounter with their products (but the chances of those are pretty slim!)
3. Country Of Origin & Making
A lot of times, the origin of the leather determines the quality of the bag. We know of some countries that constantly produce quality leather like Italy, England, France and the US. History shows that those countries have a good track record of tanning leather well.
But these days you need a little more discretion – especially when it comes to labels. There are companies which try to capitalize on the “Italy” reputation by doing all the work in another country and simply finishing the leather in Italy. Then they stamp the product as Italian leather – which is how they sell chrome tanned leather or low-quality leathers at higher prices.
You’ll want to look out for premium leather – where the hide selection and tanning are all performed in Italy or other reputable countries. You can only trust the people there to have great skill and attention to detail throughout the bag making process.
4. Durability & Handwork
The best leather bags come from the most durable leathers. They're professional works of art – it's not just about putting different parts together. Two things have to be involved: (1) a careful selection of leather and (2) precise stitching.
The ideal bag can hold a certain weight and be moved around without being weakened at all. That's why the grain is crucial – full-grain leather makes the most durable bags. But top-grain leather is a more affordable alternative that also works.
The stitching on a bag should be straight, barely noticeable and without any loose threads. It’s important that you check the inner and outer surfaces for this consistency.
The handles should also be attached to the body through reinforced stitching or metal fixtures. You don’t want those handles glued to the bag – they're at risk of getting loose or coming off.
Before you buy a leather bag, inspect the quality of all the little parts. It always helps to examine the details from each side of the bag. These are the features you should pay close attention to:
- Metallic rings
- Shoulder strap fittings
- Zippers (take note that metal zippers are of better quality than plastic zippers)
For bags to purchase online – zoom in on the photos so you can check out the individual parts. Also remember to look at (or request for) pictures that show the bag with its zipper closed and open.
Here's a breakdown of the common leather bag colors and the environment for each one: black, dark brown, tan and light brown.
Black and dark brown are best suited for professional environments. They project a sense of authority and power. Tan and lighter brown go well with a more casual or relaxed working atmosphere.
The most formal option is black, as it complements suits of all colors. But keep in mind that dark brown (chocolate) leather is another perfect choice. This color can stay very elegant and classy even after a decade.
Avoid bags which have more than 2 different colors or have stitching with a contrasting color. These bags are seen as flamboyant. A single color would be the safest bet.
Finally, you should consider the kind of statement you want to make with your bag. The design should be appropriate for your profession.
The bag itself should do what you need it to do. The right choice can take your style and image to the next level. It helps you make a powerful statement wherever you go.
In line with that – it’s important to know the differences between a briefcase and a messenger bag:
- This is useful for lawyers, accountants, engineers, doctors, business people and other professionals who transport documents/laptops to and from the office
- It’s the best choice to accompany a suit that you're wearing to work or for a meeting
- An attaché case is a smaller luxurious case that can be used to take a few documents or a laptop into a meeting or presentation, without the need for a full sized briefcase
- This is less formal and more versatile than a briefcase
- It's meant to be carried over the shoulder or cross body
- It works great for casual work environments or when traveling for a holiday
Remember that price is NOT always an accurate indicator of quality. There are brands who charge more for less quality simply because of a name. At the same time, you will have to invest a little more for good quality.
So bear in mind: don’t pay for a name brand premium and instead, buy a premium product. You want to go for competitively priced leather bags here that have all key quality indicator mentioned above.