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Leather Tells A Story

My poetical fascination with leather.

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RHODES, Greece- Throughout the years I’ve written about the benefits of leather clothing and bags for travel on this blog but I never really got into why I like leather beyond the overt pragmatic.

Yes, leather is tough, long-lasting, often more or less water resistant, and adds a flash of style as well. There is not a better material for boots, jackets, belts, bags, and hats.

But what I really like about leather is how it ages. You can wear a leather jacket everyday for twenty or thirty years and it stands of good chance of  not only remaining intact and wearable but in many cases it will look better than it did when you first bought it.

Leather has this way of showing the passage of time; it is a record of experience and memories. It gets scarred and tattered and you remember how each and every wound occurred — when it happened, where you were, who you were with.

When I look down at my engineer’s boots I see three years of travel where I crisscrossed Asia and Europe multiple times on the New Silk Road. I look down and see the gashes where my foot got tangled up in a barbed wire fence on the Kazakhstan / China border. I see the gouge where my foot got caught beneath a corrugated steel fence as I took off on a motorcycle (probably saving me a toe). When I look at my jacket I see the seams in the sleeves starting to patina; the customary nicks and scratches from traveling in Asia; wear marks from my backpack straps; and a fresh divot that I received two nights ago in Rhodes from, yes, brushing up against the jagged edge of a rack in a grocery store.

Leather forms to the contours of your body, eventually providing a custom fit that is basically a mold of you. It takes the shape of your feet, your waistline, and your torso. In bends where you bend, bulges where you bulge, and creases where you crease, essentially growing over you like some kind of borrowed exoskeleton. It’s something from one animal that goes over the top of another animal but serves the exact same function.

Leather is also has fibers and pores that indelibly absorbs elements from the outer environment — sucking in oils from your skin, dirt from the ground, and particles from the air, compiling a physical record of the places I travel.

In a way, leather jackets and boots tell the story of the passage of time. There is something ephemeral about an old, well worn leather coat — somebody lived inside of it, somebody got old inside of it. It’s kind of metaphor for life in general.

Filed under: Clothing

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3705 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

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