It may disappoint you to wear your new leather jacket and it doesn’t feel very comfortable. That’s normal, the fibers in the leather are not used to movement yet and are still stiff. Even the softest leather like lambskin leather can be stiff when new.
We want to show you how you can make your leather jacket more comfortable whether it’s lambskin or cowhide leather and show you a few break in processes so you can wear your jacket with ease.
Why is my new leather jacket stiff?
Animal skin goes through many processes to turn it into leather. You may have heard of the tanning process, but before that, it goes through soaking, curing, bleaching, pickling, depickling, and more. These processes change the properties of the fibers and take out most of the moisture, tightening the fibers even more and stiffening it.
The tanning process is the final step that shrinks the leather tightly, and becomes ready to be sold. As the fibers are shrunk, they are tightly packed and are not yet used to movement. The leather is then separated into different qualities like full-grain leather, top-grain, genuine leather, and suede.
Full-grain leather is the uppermost layer, with the tightest fibers, and is the most durable. Top-grain leather may overlap with what is considered as full-grain but does not include the uppermost layer. Genuine leather and suede are the lowest grades, they have the loosest fibers and are softer, though they may not be as durable.
To loosen up the packed fibers and make them more flexible, a break-in process is important, and below are a few ways you can do so.
How to break in your new leather jacket
To relax the new leather and give it more flexibility, you need to go through a break-in period. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a process you have to do as you can break it in just by wearing it.
Besides just wearing it, there are other things you can do as well to speed up the softening process. Here are some of the best ways to break in and soften your leather jacket.
If you want to break in your leather jacket quickly and give it that used look with lots of character, then rolling is an effective method to get your jacket ready in a few minutes.
How to roll your jacket safely:
- Lay your jacket on a flat surface
- Take any side of the jacket and roll it into a cylinder. Be sure to not roll it too tightly, you’re not making a sushi roll. Be gentle with it and roll it back and forth.
- Repeat this process multiple times until you achieve the desired softness and look.
- After rolling, it is best to hang your jacket or wear it.
Tips and extra information:
- Rolling too tightly can cause tight wrinkles that will be very difficult to remove, and some wrinkles may be permanent. Patience is key to getting the best results.
- Rolling your jacket repeatedly will loosen the fibers up and let it get used to the movement, softening the leather and making it more comfortable.
- Letting the leather relax gives the fibers time to recover and soften as they naturally spread some of the tension throughout their matrix.
- Some types of leather are more susceptible to wrinkles, make sure to know what type of leather you’re working with.
- Faux leather jackets are made of plastic and can be corrected if you have overdone your rolling by applying heat.
- You may steam your leather jacket in the shower before rolling, damp leather is more flexible and makes the leather move more easily.
Alcohol and petroleum jelly to soften the leather
Alcohol and vaseline or petroleum jelly are two very accessible things that you may already have at your disposal. Before grabbing them and going crazy on your leather jacket, we urge you to read further because there are risks you need to note before using these products on your jacket.
Risks of alcohol and petroleum jelly
Alcohol is not recommended to be used on leather as it can remove the oils that act as a layer of protection on the leather and ruin its finish as well as stain it. Alcohol will expose the leather to the elements, making it vulnerable. Due to alcohol’s fast-evaporating nature, it can also dry out leather quickly.
Petroleum jelly also runs the risk of stains and breaking down adhesives. If your jacket’s stitching thread is made of plastics like nylon or polyester, petroleum jelly can also destroy or weaken these as it degrades plastic quite aggressively. You also cannot do this process on nubuck or suede leather as it can ruin the finish of these fibrous grain leathers.
Use this method only on real leather, as faux leather is constructed with plastics and the petroleum jelly will degrade it very quickly.
Things you will need:
- Petroleum jelly or vaseline
- A soft cloth
- Cotton ball
- Leather sponge
How to use alcohol and petroleum jelly:
- Test the alcohol and petroleum jelly in a small section, following the directions below, before doing it on the whole jacket.
- Wet the cotton ball with alcohol.
- Rub the alcohol gently onto the leather jacket. Don’t rub too hard as you can rub off the dyes and cause discoloration.
- Apply the petroleum jelly onto the leather sponge, and massage in circular motions.
Tips and extra information:
- Do not apply too much, it is very easy to over-grease the surface, especially on high-quality leather like full-grain or top-grain leather if you are not conservative with your application, and removing petroleum jelly can be very difficult.
- The alcohol exposes the raw leather and opens up the pores. Preparing it for the petroleum jelly.
- Don’t wait too long after applying the alcohol, dried-out leather can crack quite easily.
- Exposure to water should be avoided after rubbing alcohol as contact with water can easily damage the raw leather.
- Conditioning leather with petroleum jelly is not really recommended as it can chemically react with any plastics on the jacket. Do not use this as a substitute for real leather conditioners.
- Instead of petroleum jelly, you may use leather oils or a DIY leather conditioner like coconut oil, olive oil, or mink oil to soften your leather jacket if you have these lying around.
Wearing the jacket
Simply wearing the jacket and getting used to it is one of the most personal ways to break your jacket in. The jacket will wrinkle and crease in certain areas that are caused by normal wear like adjusting to your movements and your body shape, imprinting your identity on it.
One advantage of wearing the jacket over breaking in the jacket by rolling or other unnatural methods is that the parts that don’t get stretched or worked stay fresh and smooth. This is a preference, however, as some people like a more used and vintage-looking jacket.
You could even simulate extended wear time by sleeping in it. Though this may be beyond most people’s comfort zones.
Constant wear is the best way to build your jacket’s identity. It will build its own character with normal wear.
New leather jackets shouldn’t be uncomfortable. Even if you have a bespoke leather jacket, it can be upsetting to know that a custom leather jacket made specifically for your body isn’t as comfortable as you thought it should be. Even full-grain leather jackets can be made soft and supple with the techniques we have included.
We hope that with the methods above, we have helped you make your jacket more comfortable quickly.
How do you age a new leather jacket?
There is no shortcut to achieving that timeless broken-in leather jacket look, but you can do the rolling method mentioned above to not make it look so new. Using harsh methods to wear down your leather jacket quickly may risk irreversible damage so we would not recommend any extreme methods. However, if you just want to break in your jacket, the methods above are very effective.
Does leather absorb water?
Leather is water resistant but it is not waterproof. Different types of leather are also more absorbent than others, like suede which shouldn’t be wet with even just light rain. However, there are ways to protect your leather jacket in case it does rain.
Do leather jackets stretch over time?
Part of the break-in process is the stretching of the leather through normal wear. Body heat, moisture, and movement are all things that can stretch leather. This may be desirable if you size down by a tiny bit so that your leather jacket can stretch outwards and fit your body snugly.