How to Identify Whether a Belt is Real Leather | Popov Leather

How to Identify Whether a Belt is Real Leather

How to Identify Whether a Belt is Real Leather

They say that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” If that’s true, then we in the leather industry need to stay humble, because we’re being flattered left and right. 


Table of Contents

1. Belts and Leather: A Classic Combo
2. Leather Belts Have the Distinctive Aroma of Leather
3. Leather Belts Develop a Patina
4. Leather Belts Feel Soft, Grainy, Flexible, and Warm
5. High-Quality Leather Belts from Popov Leather


There’s leather, and then there are the imitators. There are all sorts of non-leather materials that do their darndest to look, feel, and function like leather. These products go by many names, such as:

  • Artificial leather
  • Synthetic leather
  • Pleather
  • Vegan leather
  • Faux leather
  • Leatherette
  • Imitation leather
  • Polyurethane/PU leather 

There’s nothing wrong with using various materials to create leather-like products. However, real leather is a unique and beloved material. Many consumers continue to seek out real, high-quality leather goods—which are becoming increasingly harder to find.

Belts and Leather: A Classic Combo 

No product is more inherently tied to leather than the classic leather belt. For some people, a belt is the only leather item that they own. 

If you buy a product that’s marketed as leather, then that’s what you should expect to receive. However, it’s nice to be a savvy consumer who can articulate the differences between real leather and the imitators. 

Let’s explore a few factors that distinguish belts made from real leather from the imitations: the aroma, the patina, and the feel.

Leather Belts Have the Distinctive Aroma of Leather

English tan-colored leather belt with brass buckle
Belt - English Tan

There are a number of leather attributes that fans of the material appreciate. However, there’s one characteristic in particular that seems to enchant leather enthusiasts: the aroma. 

”Love these belts! I love my English Tan belt. I was tired of only having cheap fabric belts from Target that looked flimsy (and they were). I wanted something with genuine leather, a good quality belt buckle, and looked the part. The popov leather belts fit the bill perfectly.

I really like that even after about two months with my first belt, it still smells like brand new leather.

You can tell it's a quality hand-made belt and will last for a good amount of time. Since buying the English Tan belt, I recently also bought the Natural leather color for a more neutral look. Love love these products!”

— Ben S., ★★★★★ Verified Popov Leather Belt Reviewer 

That distinct leather smell is the result of the tanning process. 

Tanning starts with salt curing. This removes moisture from the leather hide. Doing so prevents bacterial growth during the time lag between the start and end of the tanning process.

The hide is then soaked to remove the salt. Next, a milk of lime treatment is used to remove any remaining hair, grease, or proteins. The hide is then treated with enzymes that soften the leather in processes known as deliming and bating

Finally, the leather is pickled with salt. The end result is a highly functional, flexible, and durable material that just so happens to exude a rich, heavenly aroma.

What Do Leather and Imitation Leather Smell Like?

Scent is a powerful sense, heavily linked to memory and strong emotions. Smells also tend to be difficult to describe. The sensation of scent seems to operate somewhere outside of the realm of language. 

All we can really do to describe the smell of true leather is to repeat the adjectives that are most often used: earthy, oak, organic, natural, rich, soothing, luxurious. 

For some people, that smell just clicks. The “leather smell” becomes the scent you look for in colognes. You love the chance to get your hands on a new leather product to soak up that delicious aroma. 

Artificial leather products may try to imitate the leather smell, but there’s rarely much success. If there’s any  leather scent, it’s likely to be thin and fleeting. 

Typically, fake leather items won’t have much smell at all. Or, they may have a plasticy, chemical odor. 

If you love the smell of leather, you’ll sniff out a phony from a mile away. So, next time you’re wondering if a piece of material is actual leather or an imitator: apply the smell test.

Leather Belts Develop a Patina

natural brown skinny leather belt with brass buckle
Belt - Natural

Aside from the aroma, the patina is the next most beloved characteristic of high-quality leather. 

”High quality belt. Love this belt. Very thick leather and high quality. Have been wearing this to work every day for a year and it holds up great and is building a nice patina.”
— Tyler A., ★★★★★ Verified Popov Leather Belt Reviewer 

At Popov Leather, we use full-grain leather. The wonderful patina that develops over time is one of the distinguishing characteristics of full-grain leather (in comparison to cheaper varieties like “top-grain” or “genuine” leathers).

Patina is the sheen that develops on the surface of certain materials. It appears as a result of the passing of time in combination with the contact and movement that occurs during heavy use.

Each time a piece of leather is folded or creased, exposed to the elements, or subjected to tiny scratches, the patina grows new lines and colors.

Various materials, like metals and wood, can develop a patina too.

However, leather patina inspires a unique enthusiasm among owners of high-quality leather goods. That’s because a patina looks better and better as the years go by. As such, only a high-quality, well-crafted, and lovingly cared-for item can develop a rich and storied patina.

Full-grain leather produces the best patina because the uppermost portion of a hide is used, with various imperfections and beauty marks already intact.

Other leather varieties present a more uniform piece of material. The surface layer is reduced, thus sealing up the pores. Then, synthetic coatings are applied that further seal off the leather.

As a result, the potential for patina is limited. Plus, cheap leather products simply don’t last long enough to develop rich signs of aging.

And what about the various artificial leathers? Well, the materials for all the fake leathers out there are too varied to summarize. Suffice to say, if patina is a priority, then you’ll be choosing real leather.

Leather Belts Feel Soft, Grainy, Flexible, and Warm

Our third distinguishing characteristic of real leather is the way it feels. Real leather is pleasant to touch. It’s rugged, yet soft. Resilient, yet pliable. 

”I think an underrated feature of Popov's leather is how incredibly supple it is. I've worn a few leather belts in my time, and the higher quality ones you really get this feeling that there's not only sturdy craftsmanship, but it's so supple and soft that it doesn't feel like a vise around your midsection. It's really good, and I don't normally pay this much for belts, but it's definitely worth the price for how good a product you're getting.”
— Liam, ★★★★★ Verified Popov Leather Belt Reviewer 

Artificial leathers will have varying textures, depending on the material. Usually, you’ll notice a complete smoothness that makes for a very fake and unsatisfying feel. Leather, of course, is grainy. It’s smooth, but you can feel the richness of the texture. 

Fake leathers are also often rather cold to the touch. This involves the physical properties of the materials, as they transmit heat more easily, thus remaining cooler. Real leather maintains a bit more warmth.

High-Quality Leather Belts from Popov Leather

Full-grain Horween leather belts by Popov Leather have all the trademarks of fine leather goods—quality you can see, feel, and definitely smell. 

”This is the perfect belt for me. I love the natural leather and the quality workmanship which went into its creation. Just another great product from this fabulous company.”
— Rob P., ★★★★★ Verified Popov Leather Belt Reviewer 

We burnish and polish every edge and top it all off with a solid brass buckle.

We currently offer one design: the classic. The strap sizes are as follows:

Popov Leather Strap Size
Classic Belt Strap Size 1.5”

Our belts, along with most of our items, are available in these four colors:

  • English Tan
  • Heritage Brown
  • Natural
  • Black

Popov Leather belts pair attractively with any outfit; they’re equally functional and stunning for active wear or fancy dress. 

For more leather goods, check out our variety of wallets, tech items, and much more. 

To further explore your love of all things leather, visit the Popov Leather blog


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