Real vs Fake Leather Bags: How to Tell the Difference?

Have you ever been shopping for a new handbag or tote and wondered if the leather was real or fake?

It can be tricky to tell the difference, especially if you’re not an expert. But fear not – in this ultimate guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about real vs faux leather so you can make an informed purchase.

What is Fake Leather?

Fake leather, also known as artificial leather, leatherette, or vegan leather, is a man-made alternative to natural animal leather. There are a few main reasons people might opt for faux leather over the real deal:

  1. Ethical/lifestyle choice – Some prefer to avoid animal products for personal reasons
  2. Cost savings – Fake leather is often more affordable than real leather
  3. Durability and easy maintenance – Fake leather can be very robust and simple to care for

The two most common types of fake leather are:

  1. PU (polyurethane) leather, also called PU cast or bicast leather. This is made of a woven or non-woven fibrous base material that is laminated or coated with a 100% polyurethane surface finish.
  2. PVC (polyvinyl chloride) leather. This synthetic vinyl material is made of PVC with added plasticizers, laid on top of a woven or non-woven fabric base.

Now that we know what fake leather actually is, let’s take a look at some of the key advantages and disadvantages compared to real leather.

Advantages of Fake Leather

  1. Consistent appearance – Fake leather has a uniform look without natural blemishes or inconsistencies. This can make it easier to work with for certain applications.
  2. Workability – Fake leather is simple to cut and sew. Needle marks are less noticeable due to the even texture.
  3. Color-fast – It’s easy to dye fake leather and achieve vibrant, long-lasting color.
  4. Lower cost – Fake leather is generally more affordable than real leather.

Disadvantages of Fake Leather

  1. Lacks breathability – Without the natural pores of real leather, fake leather doesn’t breathe well. This can make faux leather items less comfortable.
  2. Not as supple – Fake leather doesn’t have the same stretch and give as real leather.
  3. Can degrade over time – With use and age, fake leather is prone to cracking, peeling, and tearing rather than developing a nice patina like real leather.

How to Spot the Difference Between Real and Fake Leather?

Now for the practical part – how can you actually tell faux leather apart from the real thing? Here are six simple tests:

1. Check the backing

Real leather will have a fibrous underside that looks natural. Faux leather will often have a woven or plastic-like backing.

2. Examine the grain

Real leather has inconsistent, non-uniform grain since it comes from unique animal hides. Faux leather grain is very regular, even, and mechanical looking.

3. Do a cut test (if possible)

Real leather will have visible natural fibers along a cut edge. Faux leather will have a perfectly smooth, almost machined looking edge.

4. Give it a sniff

Real leather has a distinct natural, earthy smell. Faux leather may have no smell or smell a bit like plastic.

5. Consider breathability

Items made of real leather will feel breathable and regulate temperature well. Faux leather is less breathable and wearing it can feel heavier and lead to clamminess.

6. Perform a burn test

Real leather will char and leave behind burnt fibers when exposed to flame. Faux leather will melt and may smell like burning plastic. (Obviously do this in a controlled and safe manner!)

With these tests, you’ll be well equipped to differentiate faux leather from real leather goods while out shopping. But which one is actually right for you?

Choosing Between Fake and Real Leather

There’s no universally right answer when deciding between faux and real leather. It depends on your personal priorities, intended use of the item, and budget. Here are a few factors to consider:

Durability – For items that will get daily wear like handbags or shoes, real leather is hard to beat in terms of its long-lasting durability. It can handle more abrasion and wear. However, high-quality faux leather can also be quite hard-wearing.

Maintenance – Faux leather is generally easier to clean and care for than real leather. It’s less absorbent and can simply be wiped clean. Real leather requires more upkeep with conditioning and polishing.

Comfort – For items worn close to the skin like jackets or gloves, real leather will usually be more comfortable due to its breathability and suppleness. However, some may find real leather too heavy.

Cost – While you can find both real and faux leather goods at various price points, real leather does tend to command a higher price, especially for high-end and designer items. If budget is a top priority, faux leather will give you more options.

Ethics – For those wanting to avoid animal products altogether, faux leather is the clear choice. However, the environmental impact of faux leather made of PVC and from non-renewable resources is also a valid concern.

Ultimately, the choice comes down to carefully considering what factors matter most to you personally and for the specific item you’re purchasing. Armed with the knowledge of how to identify real vs faux leather and weigh the pros and cons, you’ll be able to confidently choose the material that best suits your needs.

Real-World Examples and Anecdotes

To illustrate the real vs faux leather dilemma, let’s take a look at a couple examples from my own experiences:

Example 1: The Budget-Friendly Tote

A few years ago, I was on the hunt for a new work tote. I wanted something roomy, sturdy, and stylish, but I was on a tight budget. After much searching, I found a great faux leather tote that checked all the boxes. It was spacious, had a simple and chic design, and cost under $100.

The tote served me well for about a year – it withstood being stepped on, spilled on, even chewed by an errant puppy. However, after about 18 months, I noticed the handles starting to crack and peel. While I definitely got my money’s worth, I realized that for an everyday bag that takes a lot of abuse, it might be worth investing in real leather next time around for added longevity. Lesson learned!

Example 2: The Statement Jacket

On the flip side, I have a faux leather motorcycle jacket that I absolutely adore. I’m not typically a wearer of leather jackets, mainly for ethical and environmental reasons. But I loved the look of the style and really wanted to try it out.

After a lot of searching, I landed on a higher-end faux leather jacket from a brand known for the quality of their animal-free designs. It definitely wasn’t cheap, but I decided it was worth the splurge for something I knew I would wear for years. And it has been just that – a trusty statement piece that instantly elevates any outfit. The faux leather has a really buttery hand feel and a nice weight to it. To the average person, it’s indistinguishable from real leather. And most importantly, I feel great about wearing it.

So as you can see, there are instances where faux leather really does fit the bill and offer great value. It’s all about being intentional and weighing your priorities for each unique purchase.


We covered a lot in this ultimate guide to decoding real vs faux leather! To recap, you now know:

  • What faux leather is and the common types (PU and PVC)
  • The advantages of faux leather like consistency, workability, and lower cost
  • The disadvantages of faux leather like lack of breathability and potential degradation
  • Practical tests to tell real and faux leather apart like examining the backing, grain, and smell
  • How to choose between real and faux leather based on your priorities

Buying a new leather (or faux leather) handbag, jacket, or pair of shoes is an exciting purchase. And while it’s easy to get caught up in the look and price, taking a beat to consider the material is an important step to make sure you’ll be happy with your new piece for the long haul.

Remember, it’s not about real leather being “better” than faux or vice versa. The best choice is the one that aligns with your unique blend of needs, values, and budget. And now you have the knowledge to figure that out for yourself!

I hope you found this guide helpful and informative. Here’s to your next leather goods purchases being ones you can feel fantastic about! If you have any other tips for telling real and faux leather apart, I’d love to hear them. Leave a comment below to share your wisdom.


About Rey Givens

My name is Rey Givens and I'm the CEO and founder of a women's handbag company. I'm passionate about delivering high-quality, genuine leather bags to customers all around the world at prices that won't break the bank. With over a decade of experience in the fashion industry, I've poured my heart and soul into building a brand that empowers women to express their unique style and personality through their accessories. When I'm not designing the latest handbag collections or overseeing production, you can find me exploring new cities, practicing yoga, or spending quality time with my loved ones. My mission is to make every woman feel confident and beautiful, one handbag at a time.