Suede gets a bad rap. No, its peach-delicate nap won’t be winning any awards for its practicality (or lack thereof), but there’s more to this fabric than its potential for stains. Suede is versatile. Suede is luxurious. Heck, suede is pretty much a transcendent sartorial experience.
Have you ever felt suede? I mean really felt suede, as in lovingly stroked its buttery soft nap under finger until you’ve slipped into some kind of starry-eyed, saliva-sodden stupor? And don’t even get us started on its smell, that heady, leathery scent which is – bespoke fragrances be damned – pretty much the closest you’ll get to inhaling luxury.
Whether you’re looking to merely sample, or swathe yourself in, suede’s premium softness, this guide will arm you with the know-how to stay stylish and hopefully stain-free.
What Is Suede?
Before it exploded onto practically every surface in the 1960s, suede enjoyed a long and illustrious history as a signifier of luxury.
Proof of the material’s blue blood is its fancy French moniker. Originally ‘gants de Suède’ (gloves of Sweden), suede’s name arose in 19th century France through the import of soft, napped leather gloves from Sweden.
All suede starts life as leather (usually lamb’s and frequently goat’s) which has had the top grain removed. This process reveals a soft, fuzzy surface (a nap) below and can be further split or sanded to achieve the desired finish.
Thinner and more porous than leather in its original state, suede is much softer than natural leather, but it’s also an unequivocal stain magnet.
Offering a compromise between suede’s smoothness and leather’s resilience is nubuck, a top-grain cattle hide leather which has been sanded to reveal a short nap similar to that found on suede. Think of nubuck as leather in suede’s clothing.
Why Wear Suede Now?
Ever since someone discovered tearing leather in two was a great idea, suede and sophistication have gone hand in hand. Right now, though – and owing to fashion’s current obsession with 1970s style – this leather is being radically reinterpreted by designers worldwide. And the results, it’s safe to say, are resoundingly strokeable.
From reliable purveyors of luxury (Italian houses Corneliani, Bottega Veneta) to sportswear brands reviving archived suede trainers (Nike, Puma), there’s never been a better time to get your hands on this Barry White-smooth hide.
Leading the pack in innovation for SS16 is Belstaff, which offered up a suede cape (sounds madcap, looks surprisingly wearable), and Dunhill, which took the cagoule, gave it the suede treatment and birthed a – frankly brilliant – Liam-Gallagher-gone-luxe piece of outerwear that will be pitifully useless in the rain, but will make you very enticing to touch. Every little helps.
Suede has swathed the streets, too. For London Collections Men ambassadors Jack Guinness and Oliver Cheshire, a well-cut suede jacket is pretty much a fashion week prerequisite. Suede is, quite literally, sitting front row.
How To Wear Suede
Yes, it’s all well and good for the professionally styled Gandys and Olis of this world, but what’s the best way of deploying this plush fabric in your rotation (without looking like you’re line-dancing your way to a country and western convention)?
Modernity is king when it comes to wearing suede – so give old-school, vintage-inspired designs the short shrift in favour of pieces that give suede a more contemporary treatment in cut and colour.
Let’s start on familiar ground, shall we? Whether you opt for a safari, bomber or worker jacket as your suede outerwear of choice, you’ll want to steer towards earthy tones (hunter green, tan, taupe, brown) which not only feel particularly relevant right now, but also won’t show up dreaded suede stains as much as lighter hues like beige.
Even better, these colours are relatively easy to pair with navy, black, grey and white (the cornerstone colours of any man’s wardrobe), which means you’ll have a fighting chance of recouping through wear the fairly significant outlay a quality suede jacket demands.
On that note, chances are you’ve shelled out a fat chunk to secure a suede jacket, so make it count by making yours the focal point of your look. As a rule of thumb, you should avoid print and pattern and instead play with colour combinations or try a head-to-toe tonal approach.
Get The Look
- Pepe Jeans Sydow Brown Suede Bomber Jacket
- Asos Suede Harrington In Tan
- Reiss Suede Jacket
- Allsaints Hinton Suede Jacket
- Allsaints Chorley Suede Jacket
- Topman Ltd Roadtrip Suede Harrington Jacket
- He By Mango Suede Bomber Jacket
- He By Mango Flap-pocket Suede Jacket
- River Island Dark Brown Premium Suede Biker Jacket
- Reiss Universe Suede Belted Jacket Emerald
- Jigsaw Suede Trucker Jacket Steel
- Hackett Suede Bomber Jacket
The beauty of suede accessories lies in their subtlety, so they’re the perfect foil for men who’d rather stop short of putting the fabric front and centre.
Your first port of call should be a belt (if in doubt, go for black, rich chocolate brown or navy), which promises to give even your most unremarkable chinos a welcome facelift. Also worth considering, especially for athleisure aficionados, is a suede-accented baseball cap, which will add an extra textural dimension to all the loopback cotton and nylon that makes up the rest of your look.
For an even easier way of tapping suede’s premium feel, try picking up a wallet or cardholder lined in the fabric.
Get The Look
- J. Crew Five-panel Wool And Suede Baseball Cap
- Reiss Kurzwell Slim Suede Belt Taupe
- He By Mango Suede Belt
- Reiss Tanner Suede Tote Bag Charcoal
- River Island Tote Bag In Leather And Suede
- Starter Madison Suede Cap
- Tods 3.5cm Woven Suede Belt
- Tom Ford Buckley Suede Backpack
- Brunello Cucinelli Suede And Leather Document Holder
It might sound counterproductive to put a stain-seducing fabric to work on your feet, but as any man who’s seen a pair of chocolate brown suede double monk-straps up close will tell you, they look sh*t hot.
Rendered in suede, Oxfords, Derbies and brogues retain a sense of elegance but shrug off some of the stuffy formality of their leather counterparts. Add to that suede’s natural texture and you’ve got yourself a pair of shoes you can easily team with your smarter denim and tailored trousers.
Meanwhile, in the sports arena, suede has repositioned trainers from comfy cop-outs to legitimate objects of desire. Sure, suede trainers are about as useful as a chocolate teapot on a treadmill, but when it comes to maximising your stunting potential, they’re nothing short of grail.
If you’re looking to slip into pure sports luxe, try a pair from Common Projects. But, for a more grounded (read: affordable) take, turn to Nike, adidas, New Balance and Puma, all of which offer classic athletic styles rebuilt in suede.
Get The Look
- Standard Forty-five Suede Driving Shoe
- Hudson London Costello Suede Monk Shoes
- Asos Oxford Brogue Shoes In Tan Suede With Contrast Sole
- Reiss Aden Suede Chukka Boots Dark Brown
- He By Mango Suede Blucher
- Kg Kurt Geiger Sparrow Suede Monk Shoes
- Nike Internationalist Lx Suede Sneakers
- Puma Suede Classic Steeple Grey & White
- Common Projects Achilles Premium Low Suede Tan
- Topman Ben Sherman Brown Suede Tassel Loafers
- John Lewis & Co. Made In England Suede Derby Shoes Brown
- Grenson Dylan Suede Wingtip Brogues
How To Care For Suede
If you’ve ever stained suede then you’ll know what abject misery feels like. Commiserations. If you haven’t – we hate to break it to you – it’s only a matter of time. So get a robust suede protection plan in motion now.
The first step in bolstering your new suede’s barriers is applying a protective spray, such as Liquiproof or Jason Markk Repel, which acts as a first line defence against raindrops and dirt stains alike. Hold at a distance of 10-15cm from the surface of the fabric and apply lightly and evenly. Allow to dry naturally (never use a hair dryer or towel), and consider applying a second coat for extra protection.
It’s also important to clean your suede regularly. To do this, gently remove any surface debris with a suede brush (or a cleaning block for more stubborn stains). Like when shaving, always brush with the grain of the fabric, rather than against, to avoid destroying that all-important nap.
Once clean, remember to reapply your protective spray.
Have you been swayed by suede or is it far too precious a material for you to muck around with? If the former, how do you wear yours?
Share your thoughts below.