Determining a leather belt’s quality goes beyond looking at its surface. While it may look attractive on the outside, understanding the different leather grades is the key to knowing if a belt is durable, comfortable, and a worthwhile purchase.
The highest quality and most exquisite leather belts are made from full grain leather—the outermost layer of an animal hide that has all its natural markings and imperfections intact.
Besides its premium quality, full grain leather products are number one because of their impressive features:
- They have strong fibers tightly woven together, providing maximum durability
- They age beautifully, developing a rich leather patina over time
- They retain their shape, even after extensive use
- They’re made from all natural leather with visible, beautiful imperfections
As manufacturers of quality leather products, we understand the tell-tale signs of different leather grades and how to identify real leather products. We only use Horween leather for our leather belts—the highest-quality full grain leather that lasts a lifetime and is exceptionally rare.
If you’re wondering how to identify a premium-quality, full grain leather belt, these simple tips will help:
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1 - Take Note of the Belt’s Trademark
It’s common for manufacturers to trademark their belts as real leather, even if they're not made from full grain leather. If the product label indicates “genuine leather” or “man-made material,” it’s likely low quality or synthetic.
Manufacturers who use full grain leather pride themselves in it and are quick to let you know. Popov Leather, for instance, makes it clear in their product descriptions that all belts are made with thick, all-natural 9 oz Horween full grain leather.
This goes for any real full grain leather belt manufacturer. You’ll often see labels such as “100% full grain leather” or “genuine full grain cowhide.”
Anything different indicates another leather grade. Labels such as “genuine leather” and “top grain leather” still suggest that the belt is made of leather, just not the highest grade.
There are also leather imitations that disguise themselves as real leather. You can quickly identify them by looking for labels such as:
- Faux leather
- Synthetic leather
- Polyurethane leather
If the belt is not labeled, some additional clues will help you decide if it’s made from real full grain leather.
2 - A Real Full Grain Leather Belt Has Visible Imperfections
One of the easiest ways to identify a real full grain leather belt is by observing its surface. It will have a less uniform look than other grades or synthetics.
In full grain leather, there’s no tampering with the hide’s top layer. It’s complete, with all of its natural markings, and you’ll be able to see scars, scratches, nicks, and other so-called imperfections. It’s the topmost layer of the hide, as shown in the image below:
Full grain leather is not sanded or perfected during the tanning process, so you’ll see some flaws. Once the top layer is altered, it’s no longer full grain leather but top grain, corrected grain, or genuine leather.
However, it’s worth noting that full grain leather also undergoes finishing, but in a way that doesn’t alter its grain.
The specific finish can either be aniline or semi-aniline. Aniline leather is treated with a soluble dye to give it a buttery soft and smooth touch, while semi-aniline uses a thin protective pigmented coat that gives the leather a uniform color and improves its durability.
3 - A Real Full Grain Leather Belt’s Grain Pattern Will Differ
When examining full grain leather belts, you’ll realize that no two hides are exactly the same.
Every hide is unique because it’s from a different animal with different patterns and markings. The unaltered markings (or grain patterns) of full grain leather make every belt unique.
As a result, you’ll notice that each full grain leather belt has a distinct and visible grain pattern.
So if all the leather belts sold by a manufacturer have a similar grain pattern, it’s likely that they’re not made from full grain leather.
4 - A Real Full Grain Leather Belt Is Strong and Durable
The outermost layer of a hide is the strongest because its fibers are densely packed.
Since this is the layer that is used to make full grain leather belts, they’re incredibly strong and durable.
A real full grain leather belt will get many compliments, even after years of use. If you’ve ever heard of “quarter century belts,” or those passed down from one generation to another, they’re likely made of real full grain leather.
"This is definitely a lifetime belt. You could pass this down to your grandkids."
Since the leather hasn’t been altered in any way, its entire thickness is retained. All its oil-absorbing properties and initial characteristics are left intact, increasing its durability. This is different from top grain leather, which has had its strongest fibers sanded down.
Over time, full grain leather develops a protective layer called patina, just as a natural hide would. The patina is long-lasting and gives the belt an attractive and unique appearance.
Expert Tip: Full grain leather belts are more susceptible to staining. To keep your belt looking new and polished after years of use, invest in an effective leather cleaner to clean and protect it from unsightly stains.
5 - A Real Full Grain Leather Belt Has Tiny Holes on Its Surface
Another way to spot a real full grain leather belt is by inspecting its surface. When you look very closely, you should be able to see tiny holes in the leather. These holes are what remain once hair is removed from the skin during the tanning process.
If a leather belt’s surface lacks these small holes, it’s probably not full grain leather.
Since the skin’s pores are left intact, real full grain leather is also more breathable than lower grades like corrected grain and split grain. This prevents the growth of mold or mildew on the belt.
Note: The older the animal used to make the full grain leather, the more visible the pores become. While spotting the pores in both cases is still possible, it’s much easier to identify them on leather from a cow than from a calf.
6 - A Real Full-Grain Leather Belt Ages Beautifully
One of the key differences between a real full grain leather belt and other grades is how it ages.
Leather patina, a desirable process that develops as leather ages, is unique to full grain leather. It’s formed after the product has been subjected to continuous stretching, folding and friction.
Even after multiple scratches and blemishes, the belt will continue to look good as it absorbs the natural oils of the animal's skin, causing its surface to darken and become glossier with age.
"...The patina looks great and helps the belt pop … I plan on wearing this for years to come"
Any unique markings or scratches give a leather belt character and are a true sign of a quality product that has been used for years.
Patina will look different on every belt. It’s as unique as the belt’s owner and is highly sought after by consumers who appreciate quality leather products.
Choosing the Right Full Grain Leather Belt
A full grain leather belt has an elegant finish that adds class to any outfit. Because of its durability, a single belt will last for decades, making it a worthwhile addition to your wardrobe.
Popov Leather full grain leather belts are versatile and come in four colors that suit most styles—Black, English Tan, Heritage Brown, and Natural.
The table below summarizes their features and how to style them:
Only Invest in Real Full Grain Leather Belts
If you want a well-made real leather belt that will last a lifetime, then Popov Leather belts are worth your investment.
All our belts are made with full grain Horween leather that’s thick and sturdy enough to withstand constant wear. They’re everyday belts that pair well with both formal and casual outfits and develop a rich patina as they age.
Our sizing chart and video guide will help you select the correct size. As a general rule, go for a belt size that’s equal to your waist size plus two extra inches. This gives you enough room to style the belt appropriately.
Don’t hesitate to contact us for any further questions regarding our leather belts and other leather products. We’ll get back to you in a moment.
Article by Ryan Popoff
Ryan Popoff is the CEO and Co-Founder of Popov Leather. He has absolutely no business background, in fact, he graduated in 2012 with a bachelor's degree in fine arts. Ryan's leather goods business was born from a hobby at the dining room table and a passion for technology (ecommerce in particular). Ryan calls Nelson BC his home where he's raising his family and enjoys spending the odd afternoon at a local craft brewery.
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