The difference between good leather and bad leather is sort of like the difference between a luxury and a crap car. Brand new, they may both be shiny and pretty on the outside, but it's what's on the inside that will make all the difference in the long run. And like most things when it comes to leather, the key is how it feels. Good leather should feel silky, smooth and substantial. Don't be afraid to try the item out—zip up the jacket, put the wallet in your pocket or slip your laptop into the bag and put it on your shoulder.
Leather wallet, $95 by Jack Spade
Check for yourself by looking at the backing of the skin. If there appears to be a woven fabric on the underside, it's not leather. It's vinyl.
It's hard for natural leather not to have that telltale aroma. Vinyl or highly corrected leathers obviously won't have this smell.
Look for hand edging or edge staining. Paint is applied and then buffed to a smooth finish. The process is repeated to build a durable edge. Other quality edges are left unfinished.
For well made wallets and bags, look inside for interior leather collars—leather bands that reinforce the edges of wallet billfolds and inner bag pockets.
It's not easy sewing through leather, but any brand doing it right has hearty machines and skilled craftsmen carefully stitching their products.
Try to bend or pull the leather. There should be no indication that it will crack, stretch or break. There shouldn't be much change in color when the leather is pulled either.
Do you see any loose threads, crooked stitching or glue streaks around edges?
Check and see if all the hardware works properly. Do the zippers run smoothly? Do the buttons open with ease?
A lot of inconsistencies or imperfections in the color and texture of the leather is a sign of poor quality.
Leathers that smell rotten or heavily of chemicals. These tend not to go away very easily.
Be wary of leather items that are surprisingly light. Quality pieces should have a certain amount of heft.
Edges that are folded over so you can't see the edges. This is often used to cover up leather that hasn't been fully tanned or dyed, which will likely fade and crack with wear.