Differences Between Leatherette and Leather

Leatherette may sound like a cute name for a type of leather, but in reality, it's a fake. Man-made products designed to look like leather -- such as leatherette -- give shoppers an affordable alternative to the genuine product. Ultimately, the savings are cut short -- faux leathers typically do not last nearly as long as similar genuine leather pieces.

Brown armchairs and table still life.
credit: Ron Chapple studios/Hemera/Getty Images
Synthetic leather may look as nice as real leather -- until it starts to wear out.

Faux, by Any Other Name

Leatherette or faux leather bears many different names, often incorporating the word "leather" in them, which potentially adds to the confusion. Pleather, synthetic leather, vinyl, Naugahyde, permeable leather or even a bizarre proprietary term such as "Fabrikoid" might be used to make a fake leather sound appealing. Blended and bonded leather are also synthetic fabrications made with minimal amounts of actual leather. Real leather, on the other hand, is typically listed as genuine leather, top-grain or full-grain leather or cowhide.

Construction Comparisons

Real leather is made from animal hides split into layers, then tanned and treated with pigments or processes to make the appearance more consistent. Leatherette and other faux leathers are synthetic materials designed to emulate the look of actual leather. They may contain a fabric mesh-like layer on the bottom or underside, with polyurethane, vinyl or another tinted synthetic substance on the top, textured to look like leather. From afar and sometimes even up close, synthetic leathers look much like the real thing, but a quick look at the underside or edge of the fabric reveals the truth.

Price Points

While there's no set rule designating price differences between an actual leather item and a similar leatherette object, the genuine leather article typically costs far more because the material is more expensive. A store selling only genuine leather furniture generally has much higher prices than a bargain outlet selling faux or blended leather furniture. "Leather match" furniture falls somewhere in between the faux and genuine leather pricing; this type of furniture has real leather for all the areas that receive the most wear, such as seat cushions and the backrest. The remaining parts of the furniture, such as a chair's back and sides, are made from synthetic leather.

Longevity Lessons

Two chairs used equally in the same room -- one covered in faux leather, one in real leather -- will not wear equally. The finish on the faux leather may crack and chip or even tear, while the leather chair -- if constructed well -- may discolor slightly in areas of the most wear, but it generally won't tear unless exposed to extreme abuse or sharp objects. Synthetic leather is designed more for an affordable leather-like finish than it is for durability, so it most likely will not last for decades like real leather.