The Ultimate Guide To Men’s Suede Jackets
A genuine investment piece with luxury cachet, the suede jacket has timeless style and sophistication written all over it, so long as you know what to look for.
The suede jacket is perhaps alone in the pantheon of men’s jackets for its unique combination of rugged masculinity and delicateness. While most other jackets are one or the other, suede seems to effortlessly bridge the two. Certain contemporary leather jackets can look very sophisticated but lack the edginess of more traditional styles, while the unique tactility of suede lends it a rawness, no matter how refined the silhouette.
Think back to Paul Newman in a tan suede shacket in The Towering Inferno (1974), Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider, Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy, or more recently, Daniel Craig in a lightweight tan suede blouson in Spectre, as well as a black suede café racer jacket. So far, so masculine.
What the suede jacket lacks in its proclivity for wet weather, it more than makes up for in textural finesse and luxury cachet. Today, all of the very best luxury jacket brands release suede versions every year, with some labels even specialising in the genre.
This guide will detail everything you need to know before investing in a suede jacket, from what to look for in the fabric itself to the most suitable jacket silhouettes, as well as how to make sure it stays in perfect condition for many years to come.
What exactly is suede?
Put simply, suede is the inner surface of a tanned animal hide, worn so the napped side is the exterior. But before it can be made into a jacket, the hide needs to be split, otherwise it would be much too heavy. Splitting is simply the process of removing the upper grain of the hide, which results in a significantly lighter fabric that is much easier to work with.
Suede is typically made from the hides of sheep, calf, goat, deer and pig, due to their naturally thinner hides than cow, but the latter is perfectly acceptable when used to create a more rugged and durable style.
Due to the removal of the aforementioned upper grain, that process leaves suede much more permeable than leather, hence why it’s a nightmare in wet weather and can be easily stained. It’s why suede aficionados tend to have premium subscriptions to Accuweather.
Key types of suede jackets
By far the most common silhouette for modern suede jackets could loosely be described as a ‘blouson’, although there is a good deal of deviation in styles within this broad genre.
Many suede blousons have been fashioned with references to the early flight jackets of the 40s and 50s, cut cropped at the waist with a turn-down collar and two patch pockets, or side-entry pockets on more minimalist styles.
Elsewhere, you’ll find suede iterations of trucker jackets replete with shearling collars and chest pockets, classic bombers with the ribbed collar and hem, while the typical café racer jacket also gets a look in with its short stand collar.
Longer suede jackets don’t seem to have stood the test of time too well, so stick to the cropped blouson style for the most contemporary aesthetic.
The shirt jacket
What was perceived as something of a 70s silhouette has definitely come back into focus with a number of brands revitalising the shirt jacket through the lens of modern workwear. Lightweight suede is a perfect upgrade for this type of layering piece, bringing a healthy dose of texture and luxury to an otherwise casual garment.
Look for two- and four-pocket styles with button fastenings, as these are the most versatile. However, if you search hard enough you’ll also be able to find belted styles in the shape of traditional field jackets, which can look very sharp.
While not strictly a piece of outerwear per se, the sartorial blazer can often be found cut from soft, lightweight lambskin by some of the more tailoring-centric luxury brands.
For those who prefer to wear separates rather than suits, it’s an amazing investment piece for fall wardrobes, bringing texture and tactility in abundance.
What to look for when buying a suede jacket
Suede type and quality
Not all suede is made equally so you need to be aware of what to look for, since it’s very easy for brands to slap an elevated price tag on a suede jacket. Above all, you want to prioritise fabrics with the smoothest naps, which will invariably come from younger animals. The longer or tougher the raised hairs on the surface, the older the animal.
Cow suede and certain hides from deer will be more rugged and rougher than calfskin and lambskin, the latter of which is deemed the pinnacle of suede. Suede fabrics from older animals may be a bonus depending on the type of jacket you’re looking for and how you intend to wear it – for example, you’d want a more durable suede biker if you’ll actually use it on a bike.
Pigskin is another variant and prized for its thickness, durability and rough nap. While it would definitely not work on a lightweight blouson or shirt jacket, it could be a great option for a chunky, fleece-lined flight jacket.
Goatskin is often used as a cheaper alternative to lambskin and calfskin, too.
A word on faux suede
With the growing importance of sustainability in the fashion industry, some brands have felt that a move away from natural hides is a step in the right direction, but unfortunately all they are doing is exacerbating the problem.
Faux suede is made from polyester microfibers, and as such has better water-repellent and stain-resistant properties than natural suede. But that’s where the benefits stop. These microfibers are not biodegradable and are certainly not in any way eco-friendly. Instead, stick to natural hides and wear them until they fall apart. Which – if you take good care of them – should be measured in decades.
Just as with suits, suede jacket linings can vary massively, with the cheaper styles featuring thin synthetic linings (which are not great for the breathability of the hide), versus the more expensive silk, cotton and insulated linings such as shearling.
Cotton and polyester blends are quite common. Just make sure that the mix tips further towards cotton since synthetic fibres prevent the proper circulation of air through the hide.
It might seem like an unimportant detail but the type of zip hardware used is often an indication of the overall quality of the jacket.
YKK zips are the most common, whereas RiRi zips are shinier, stronger and very smooth. They’re also about 10 times the price, so if the designer has bothered to pay the additional expense it’s usually a good sign.
The best suede jacket brands in 2023
For all of its noir-ish collections and rock ‘n’ roll chic, the French luxury house founded by Yves Saint Laurent has long been recognised for its expertise in leather and suede jackets. This season, the Parisian label has produced some stunning tan suede silhouettes, not least an 80s-inspired trucker as well as a beautiful tobacco overshirt in lambskin.
Super elegant and with a price tag to match, you’ll want to triple check the weather report before stepping out in either.
Tom Ford rarely pulls any stops when it comes to luxury menswear, and his perennial suede jackets and blazers are no exception. Ford sources incredible fabrics and in the case of suede will often use baby calfskin for his ‘cashmere suede’ Western jackets and blazers.
Producing a number of suede bombers, truckers and military jackets in super-soft lambskin, you’ll struggle to find a better selection of timeless suede options anywhere else.
Elevated British menswear label Reiss offers the best vale suede on the market and by a country mile. The suede quality is good – typically calfskin or goatskin – and at a fraction of the cost of the luxury brands (a polyester lining in the jackets is a given at sub £400/$400).
With an array of button-up and zip-through trucker jackets to choose from in a quartet of tan, stone, navy and olive green tones, Reiss also stocks suede overshirts cut in a short contemporary style.
Part of the Richemont group, British heritage brand Dunhill has a history steeped in motoring, which gives it the authority to produce some of the finest leather jackets on the market.
Naturally, suede plays a part in the seasonal collections, and this season the brand has produced a stunning lambskin suede shirt jacket in lilac haze and blue lead tones. Unlined, the shirt jackets are quite short, wearing more like your typical blouson.
Valstar was founded in Milan in 1911 and became extremely popular in 1935 when it released its hero product – the Valstarino suede jacket. Few brands specialise in suede but Valstar is one of them, and should most certainly be on your radar if you prefer a classic flight jacket style.
The Valstarino references the A1 flight jacket, which was designed and issued in 1927 as a summer jacket for USAAF pilots. Today’s iterations haven’t changed much, only the quality of suede has significantly improved. Available in a vast array of colours, the Valsterino is buttery soft and a stunning way to elevate casual looks.
The brand also does a fine line in suede Harringtons, bombers, varsity jackets, truckers and field jackets. If you love suede, you’ll adore Valstar.
Italian leather master Alfredo Rifugio specialises in made-to-measure leather and suede jackets, so you can only imagine the level of quality and craftsmanship that goes into them. Alfredo was even commissioned to make the Pope a jacket he could wear on skiing and hiking excursions.
Handmade using hides from Italy’s finest tanneries, Rifugio’s designs follow a classic Italian mould, rather than the American silhouettes of the biker, bomber and flight jacket, so think lambskin sports jackets and deerskin blousons.
The in-house brand by MR PORTER has done the ecommerce platform proud from day one, recently expanding its offering to create a well-rounded collection season after season. This year, it has produced a plethora of buttery-soft suede jackets, mostly constructed from supple goatskin.
There are bombers, shackets, blousons, Harringtons and truckers in a wide variety of colourways and at a relatively competitive price point, making them extremely compelling.
If you could bottle ‘Parisian chic‘, it would probably look and smell a lot like Officine Générale, the understated menswear brand founded by Pierre Mahéo.
Alongside the core staples, unstructured suiting and lightweight seasonal knitwear, Officine Générale produces some stunning trucker jackets inspired by styles from the 50s. Constructed in olive green goatskin suede for a slightly more rugged finish, they are beautifully textural and great investment pieces.
How to care for your suede jacket
As anyone who has ever owned a suede item before, be it a jacket or boots, it’s not a particularly durable fabric to say the least. Being permeable, it’s a veritable nightmare when wet and will stain at the slightest opportunity. Hence you need to be very careful with your suede items, especially given their price tags. One key investment is a suede brush, which is a two-sided contraption with a bristle brush for removing dirt, and a rubber side for buffing up the nap.
Gently does it with the wire side to avoid damaging the nap, and always brush in the direction of the grain. A little regular maintenance will go a long way.
Spills are a different matter. Avoid them at all costs, but if the worst occurs, try to soak up the liquid immediately with paper towels. Just place the paper on top of the spill; don’t press down or you risk pushing the liquid further into the hide. For any stains, you can find specific suede erasers that generally do a pretty good job of clearing things up. If that doesn’t work, apply either a specialist suede shampoo or 50/50 solution of water and white vinegar with a sponge, then blot it up with paper towels and leave to air dry.
Oil stains represent the inner circles of hell, so act quickly with a light coating of corn starch, baking powder or talcum powder and leave it overnight. Say a prayer before you go to sleep. Spraying a mist of rubbing alcohol and blotting it out afterwards is also said to work, but not everyone has rubbing alcohol to hand and adding yet more liquid to a suede stain requires a solid faith that few can muster.
Finally, prevention is better than cure, so consider liberally applying a suede protector spray to your jacket regularly, which will give it a layer of invisible protection against the elements and stains. Although these water-repellent sprays are a genuine suede lifesaver, always test some of the product on an inconspicuous area of the jacket before applying for the first time.
The history of the suede jacket
While us homo sapiens have long been placing layers of animal hide between our skin and the elements all around us, our widespread use of suede didn’t really occur until relatively recently. In fact, the actual word ‘suede’ was reportedly first seen in text in 1884, according to the OED.
It’s thought that the provenance of the word leads back to a French term, gants de Suede, or ‘gloves from Sweden’ – referencing the fact that it was 19th-century Swedish tanners who first struck upon the idea of reversing hides with imperfections, and using the napped underside as the exterior instead.
On discovering that this hide, when split, turned out to be extremely soft and pliable, it made sense to cut gloves from it. Of course, a mere mention of the word ‘suede’ does not presuppose its genesis – North American Indians had already perfected the art of reversing deer hides and some of those early iterations are still to this day referenced in the silhouettes of modern shirt jackets.