History of Leather in the Fashion Industry

Throughout history, animal hides have been an essential material to human survival for civilizations all around the world. Thanks to its toughness and availability, people have been using the material for protection, shelter, and ancient handbags as far back as 1200 B.C.

In ancient times, animal skin clothing was used to provide protection against the elements, often wrapped around the body in the form of a loin cloth, or head protection. It wasn’t until a process called tanning was discovered that leather as we know it today was actually invented.

Tanning is the process of treating animal hides to produce leather. When tanning was first discovered, prehistoric men would chew the hide to make it mailable which resulted in a more comfortable wearing experience.

Today, leather is still made of animal hides, but as our societies grew more advanced and the necessity for protection from the elements began to dwindle, leather stayed close to our hearts, managing to stick around for other uses.

One of the earliest examples of leather in American culture is that of the western cowboy boot. Especially in the Great American South, the cowboy boot left a print in the hearts and soles of American settlers.

Cattle drivers of the 19th century needed something that was durable and protective, making the classic leather boot the perfect option. The creation of the first American leather boot is often credited to John A. Frye, who’s leather craftsmanship has set the standard in boot making since 1863.

After the lifestyle of the American cowboy faded away, leather boots, bags, and belts prevailed.

Popular western books and movies inspired others to wear boots too. The advancement of boot making technology only made them more popular with fancy stitching, bright colors, and intricate overlays that attracted fashion lovers around the world.

One of the most monumental moments for leather boots in fashion was during the the “Texas Chic” movement of the eighties, fueled by the T.V. show Dallas, and the popular film Urban Cowboy starring John Travolta.

The next most well-known use for leather in the fashion industry is the classic leather jacket. When leather jackets were invented, they were done so out of necessity. The iconic accessory was made world famous thanks to WWII General George Patton, who wore the leather bomber jacket for protection and warmth.

It wasn’t taken seriously as a fashion statement in the United States until closer to the 1950’s thanks to Biker Gang culture.

These unlikely trend-setters wore the jacket as a symbol of status, later turning it into a staple of masculinity in American culture. With the rise of biker movies in Hollywood, young people around the world began to demand the Black Leather Jacket as a must-have fashion accessory.

Today, we still use leather for the same reasons we always have. It’s readily available, protective, and modern tanning technologies have made it more comfortable than ever. The most expensive animal hides are still sought after for use in boots, jackets, and bags.

A model on a brick sidewalk holding her full-grain crossbody tote bag by Kerry Noël. In fall fashion, the bag matches her riding boots and cute blue cardigan perfectly.

After the turn of the century, the focus on fashionable leather turned towards luxury bags. Thanks to pioneers in the industry like Louis Vuitton and Marc Jacobs, leather bags are highly sought after by men and women across the world.

The best kind of bags are those made by genuine leather craftsmen and women who produce their products by hand.  Today, these craftsmen are still celebrated as much as they were during leather’s early origins for their attention to detail and mastery of their craft.

If you’re in the market for a beautifully made handcrafted luxury bag, head on over to our store to shop our collection. Proudly American made and seamlessly blending traditional techniques with modern styles and trends, Kerry Noël delivers incredible goods direct to consumers at far below typical retail prices.