We Got It For Free: First & Company Coat Wallet

A few months ago, I received a coat wallet from First & Company, a relatively new leather goods upstart based in Southern California. I’ve wanted a coat wallet for some time now. My usual card case and money clip combination feels too dinky with a proper coat, so I’ve used this on occasions when I’ve worn a dress coat out. Not to say that coat wallets can only be worn with dress coats, but they do have a dressier sensibility to me that makes them better suited with tailored clothing.

I admit my first impressions were a bit mixed. On the one hand, the wallet feels great. The Italian nubuck leather is very soft and lush, and the wallet is a pleasure to handle between the fingers. I also like the simple and attractive design. There are six slots for credit cards, a flap sleeve for paper currency, and two internal pockets for miscellanea. I’ve been using this on trips abroad and have found the multiple slots useful for organizing paper money, jotted down notes, and folded up receipts.

I also like that the construction itself looks very clean. The leather is hand cut, but the pieces themselves are machine stitched. That might seem like a downside to people who think everything in the world must be handmade, but really each technique can lend different benefits. A hand-sewn saddle stitch can be more durable than machine-made stitches, but hand-sewn leather goods can look a bit rough-hewn if they’re not done well. I like that First & Company’s machine-sewn wallet looks very clean and elegant. You may also notice that the leather on the edges have been turned inward. This yields a more attractive and durable edge, since you won’t get the two leathers’ edges separating over time.

On the other hand, the threads used are pretty basic and untreated, and I was worried that they might break at some point. I told First & Company I’d review their wallet only after I put in at least three months of good use. Well, those three months have passed and this wallet shows no sign of wear or tear. I think it’s fair to say my initial skepticism might have been unfounded.

At the time I received the wallet, their price point was lower than where it is now. I was actually interested in reviewing it for readers precisely because this seemed like a potentially great deal. First & Company recently had to raise their prices, however. The wallet is now being sold at $195, which kind of expensive. If you have that kind of scratch, I think this is just as nice (if not nicer) than the house brand wallet I recently handled at Barney’s. A step up would be those made by companies such as Deakin & Francis or Valextra. There, the leather quality, stitching, and finishing are a bit better, but they cost double, if not more, than First & Company’s. For readers who want something a bit more affordable, I recommend Saddleback Leather Company, Frank Clegg Leatherworks, and Chester Mox. Not everything they sell is low-priced, but they do have some affordable wallets if you look around. The only thing is they don’t have coat wallets, for which if you have $195, First & Company sells a pretty decent option.

How to Examine Quality in Leather Goods, Part II
We talked last week about how to judge the quality of leather, but there’s more to leather goods than leather, of course. There’s also the hardware and how everything has been put together. High quality leather will mean little if the brass snaps on your bag break or the lining rips out. So today, we’ll review each in turn, and talk about some things you can look for when shopping around.  
Hardware
Any bag or piece of luggage will be made with a variety of hardware. These can include swivel snap hooks, which are commonly used to attach the leather shoulder strap to the bag; tucks, which are used under a buckled strap so the strap does not need to be buckled and unbuckled; and various latches. Any of these can fail if they’re not made well. Frank Clegg, the eponymous owner of Frank Clegg Leatherworks, told me last week that zippers are perhaps the most common point of breakage. “We had a $600-700 leather coat dropped by our workshop just recently,” Frank said. “It had eight different zippers, all of which had the pulls snap off. The zippers had pulls that look similar to the ones we use, but instead of taking a wire loop and casting around it, they cast the loop into the pull. The cast metal just snaps off when it’s that thin.”
Frank suggests that consumers look for something that’s of a good weight. High quality hardware has a thicker look and feel, and the casting seams are usually removed and polished. If the metal has been treated with some kind of finishing, you may also want to examine the quality of the job. Solid brass, for example, can be left natural (which is OK) or polished and then lacquered, and zinc and steel can be plated with brass or nickel. If these lacquering or plating jobs haven’t been done well, the metal can look dull or foggy in a short period of time.
Construction
In addition to the leather and hardware, there’s the matter of how everything has been put together. Much of this depends on the type of product at hand. For example, belts will have their own standards. A high-quality belt will have a leather lining (if the design requires one) instead of the cheap paper stuffing that lower-end manufacturers use. You may also want to examine whether the keeper has been squared off (shaped into a rectangle), and whether the details, such as any beveling, have been done well.
One thing you can look for on all leather goods is the quality of the stitching. Naturally, these should always look neat and straight. You may also want to see if the edges have been left raw or if they’ve been turned. Turned-edge leather is made in a way that’s similar to how the edge of a piece of garment has been finished – the edges are turned underneath and then stitched. This yields a more attractive and durable edge, but of course, whether it can be done depends on the job at hand. Alex Kabbaz of Kabbaz-Kelly & Sons has a good article on this you can read here.
Takeaways
Leather products can be expensive, but if you purchase the right ones, they’ll last decades and only get better with time. Look for fully tanned, full-grain leathers; smooth, durable hardware; and neat stitching. If applicable, also look for edges that have been turned and sewn, rather than left raw. You should examine for these things on the outside as well as the reverse side, inside, or any other parts that don’t normally show. Even if they’re not easily visible, a top-quality maker will make sure that all parts of the product are pleasing and well done, and these are signs that you’re buying something of quality.
(Special thanks to Dave Munson at Saddleback Leather Co. and Frank Clegg at Frank Clegg Leatherworks for their help with this article. Pictured above is one of Frank Clegg’s beautiful briefcases)

How to Examine Quality in Leather Goods, Part II

We talked last week about how to judge the quality of leather, but there’s more to leather goods than leather, of course. There’s also the hardware and how everything has been put together. High quality leather will mean little if the brass snaps on your bag break or the lining rips out. So today, we’ll review each in turn, and talk about some things you can look for when shopping around. 

Hardware

Any bag or piece of luggage will be made with a variety of hardware. These can include swivel snap hooks, which are commonly used to attach the leather shoulder strap to the bag; tucks, which are used under a buckled strap so the strap does not need to be buckled and unbuckled; and various latches. Any of these can fail if they’re not made well. Frank Clegg, the eponymous owner of Frank Clegg Leatherworks, told me last week that zippers are perhaps the most common point of breakage. “We had a $600-700 leather coat dropped by our workshop just recently,” Frank said. “It had eight different zippers, all of which had the pulls snap off. The zippers had pulls that look similar to the ones we use, but instead of taking a wire loop and casting around it, they cast the loop into the pull. The cast metal just snaps off when it’s that thin.”

Frank suggests that consumers look for something that’s of a good weight. High quality hardware has a thicker look and feel, and the casting seams are usually removed and polished. If the metal has been treated with some kind of finishing, you may also want to examine the quality of the job. Solid brass, for example, can be left natural (which is OK) or polished and then lacquered, and zinc and steel can be plated with brass or nickel. If these lacquering or plating jobs haven’t been done well, the metal can look dull or foggy in a short period of time.

Construction

In addition to the leather and hardware, there’s the matter of how everything has been put together. Much of this depends on the type of product at hand. For example, belts will have their own standards. A high-quality belt will have a leather lining (if the design requires one) instead of the cheap paper stuffing that lower-end manufacturers use. You may also want to examine whether the keeper has been squared off (shaped into a rectangle), and whether the details, such as any beveling, have been done well.

One thing you can look for on all leather goods is the quality of the stitching. Naturally, these should always look neat and straight. You may also want to see if the edges have been left raw or if they’ve been turned. Turned-edge leather is made in a way that’s similar to how the edge of a piece of garment has been finished – the edges are turned underneath and then stitched. This yields a more attractive and durable edge, but of course, whether it can be done depends on the job at hand. Alex Kabbaz of Kabbaz-Kelly & Sons has a good article on this you can read here.

Takeaways

Leather products can be expensive, but if you purchase the right ones, they’ll last decades and only get better with time. Look for fully tanned, full-grain leathers; smooth, durable hardware; and neat stitching. If applicable, also look for edges that have been turned and sewn, rather than left raw. You should examine for these things on the outside as well as the reverse side, inside, or any other parts that don’t normally show. Even if they’re not easily visible, a top-quality maker will make sure that all parts of the product are pleasing and well done, and these are signs that you’re buying something of quality.

(Special thanks to Dave Munson at Saddleback Leather Co. and Frank Clegg at Frank Clegg Leatherworks for their help with this article. Pictured above is one of Frank Clegg’s beautiful briefcases)

How to Examine Quality in Leather Goods, Part I
I recently had the good fortune of talking to Dave Munson and Frank Clegg – the two men behind Saddleback Leathers and Frank Clegg Leatherworks, respectively – about how to discern quality in leather goods. While many men at this point know how to judge the quality of suits, shoes, and even sweaters, few know how to tell if a bag or wallet is well made. So, given Dave and Frank’s expertise in the field, I thought I’d ask them for their thoughts.
This short-series will be covered in two articles. For today, we’ll talk about how to examine the quality of leather itself.  
The Basics of Leather
Obviously, at its foundation, the quality of any leather good should be judged on the quality of the leather itself. As many already know, you should always shoot for full-grain leather, ideally one free of scars, blemishes, or fat deposits. Lotuff Leather has a good primer on how to look for these things.
Other types of leather include top and split grains. These are made by splitting a piece of leather into two layers. The top (top-grain) is typically sanded down and finished with some kind of chemical processing. This is what we typically call corrected-grain leather, and while it’s cheaper, it also has a colder, more plastic-like feel, and results in less breathability. Over time, it will also age less well and you won’t get the nice patina that you would with full-grain leather.
Split grain is what’s left after the top-grain has been separated from the hide. This part is often made into suede or embossed with a print so that it looks like full-grain. Unlike true full-grain, however, it’s often thinner and not as durable.
Finally, we have bonded leather. This stuff is basically junk. Here, leftover scraps of leather are grounded with glue and then bonded together in a process similar to vinyl manufacture. It’s basically to full-grain leather what particleboards are to solid wood. It neither looks nice nor lasts well.
How Manufacturers Cheat
So you know that full-grain should be preferred to top and split grain, and certainly to bonded leather. But this isn’t enough, as manufacturers often cheat. How?
Well first, there are semantics. A manufacturer can say that something is made from “genuine leather” when it’s actually top or split grain, or even bonded leather. They’re not lying. It is made from genuine leather. The other way is to say that something is “made with full-grain leather” when only part of it is. Again, they’re not lying. A bag can be partly made with full grain leather, while something as cheap as vinyl is used for other parts.
The other way to cheat is by buying full-grain leather that hasn’t been processed fully. See, after a tannery removes the moisture, oils, and hair from an animal skin, they put it into giant drums with tanning solutions. These drums are expensive, however, and can cost upwards of $100,000. The tanning solutions they use can also be costly. To curb some of these expenses, some tanneries won’t let the hides sit in the drums as long as they need to. That way, they can process more hides using fewer drums and less tanning solution. In the end, the leather on your products can fade and crack with too much sunlight. You can tell whether something has been fully tanned by looking at the edges. Assuming it hasn’t been painted over with some type edge finishing, such leathers will appear blue in the middle, which shows that the tanning solution hasn’t been allowed to soak through all the way. You can see this in the write up that Dave published on his website.
When we spoke, I asked Dave whether such “half-tanned” leathers are really something you’d ever find on more expensive products. “All the time,” he said. “Not all of them, of course, but if the company they outsource to is not carefully watched or if it is something that the brand is not aware of, then they’ll be getting low quality leather that is hidden with rolled or painted edges to cover up the poorly tanned leather.” Dave also noted that this isn’t something you tell just from the outside grain. The leather feels the same, but the middle will dry out and crack. The only way to tell is by looking at the edge and seeing if the middle is blue, but this also assumes that the edge hasn’t already been covered.
Takeaways
In the end, if you’re buying a leather good, you should aim for full-grain leather, but also make sure that the tannage has soaked through all the way. You may also want to ask the manufacturer whether the product was fully made with full-grain leather, and examine the skin for defects such as scars, blemishes, and fat deposits. Of course, many products will have some kind of defect somewhere. Often this will be done in places where the consumer can’t see, such as the inside of a bag. This doesn’t automatically discount the quality of the good, necessarily, but it is something you may want to consider if you’re paying top-dollar for something.
Come back Monday, when I’ll talk about the quality of hardware that’s often used, as well as a bit about the construction of leather goods. 
(Pictured above: Leather swatches from Horween, one of the best tanneries in the world. Photo taken from Carryology)

How to Examine Quality in Leather Goods, Part I

I recently had the good fortune of talking to Dave Munson and Frank Clegg – the two men behind Saddleback Leathers and Frank Clegg Leatherworks, respectively – about how to discern quality in leather goods. While many men at this point know how to judge the quality of suitsshoes, and even sweaters, few know how to tell if a bag or wallet is well made. So, given Dave and Frank’s expertise in the field, I thought I’d ask them for their thoughts.

This short-series will be covered in two articles. For today, we’ll talk about how to examine the quality of leather itself. 

The Basics of Leather

Obviously, at its foundation, the quality of any leather good should be judged on the quality of the leather itself. As many already know, you should always shoot for full-grain leather, ideally one free of scars, blemishes, or fat deposits. Lotuff Leather has a good primer on how to look for these things.

Other types of leather include top and split grains. These are made by splitting a piece of leather into two layers. The top (top-grain) is typically sanded down and finished with some kind of chemical processing. This is what we typically call corrected-grain leather, and while it’s cheaper, it also has a colder, more plastic-like feel, and results in less breathability. Over time, it will also age less well and you won’t get the nice patina that you would with full-grain leather.

Split grain is what’s left after the top-grain has been separated from the hide. This part is often made into suede or embossed with a print so that it looks like full-grain. Unlike true full-grain, however, it’s often thinner and not as durable.

Finally, we have bonded leather. This stuff is basically junk. Here, leftover scraps of leather are grounded with glue and then bonded together in a process similar to vinyl manufacture. It’s basically to full-grain leather what particleboards are to solid wood. It neither looks nice nor lasts well.

How Manufacturers Cheat

So you know that full-grain should be preferred to top and split grain, and certainly to bonded leather. But this isn’t enough, as manufacturers often cheat. How?

Well first, there are semantics. A manufacturer can say that something is made from “genuine leather” when it’s actually top or split grain, or even bonded leather. They’re not lying. It is made from genuine leather. The other way is to say that something is “made with full-grain leather” when only part of it is. Again, they’re not lying. A bag can be partly made with full grain leather, while something as cheap as vinyl is used for other parts.

The other way to cheat is by buying full-grain leather that hasn’t been processed fully. See, after a tannery removes the moisture, oils, and hair from an animal skin, they put it into giant drums with tanning solutions. These drums are expensive, however, and can cost upwards of $100,000. The tanning solutions they use can also be costly. To curb some of these expenses, some tanneries won’t let the hides sit in the drums as long as they need to. That way, they can process more hides using fewer drums and less tanning solution. In the end, the leather on your products can fade and crack with too much sunlight. You can tell whether something has been fully tanned by looking at the edges. Assuming it hasn’t been painted over with some type edge finishing, such leathers will appear blue in the middle, which shows that the tanning solution hasn’t been allowed to soak through all the way. You can see this in the write up that Dave published on his website.

When we spoke, I asked Dave whether such “half-tanned” leathers are really something you’d ever find on more expensive products. “All the time,” he said. “Not all of them, of course, but if the company they outsource to is not carefully watched or if it is something that the brand is not aware of, then they’ll be getting low quality leather that is hidden with rolled or painted edges to cover up the poorly tanned leather.” Dave also noted that this isn’t something you tell just from the outside grain. The leather feels the same, but the middle will dry out and crack. The only way to tell is by looking at the edge and seeing if the middle is blue, but this also assumes that the edge hasn’t already been covered.

Takeaways

In the end, if you’re buying a leather good, you should aim for full-grain leather, but also make sure that the tannage has soaked through all the way. You may also want to ask the manufacturer whether the product was fully made with full-grain leather, and examine the skin for defects such as scars, blemishes, and fat deposits. Of course, many products will have some kind of defect somewhere. Often this will be done in places where the consumer can’t see, such as the inside of a bag. This doesn’t automatically discount the quality of the good, necessarily, but it is something you may want to consider if you’re paying top-dollar for something.

Come back Monday, when I’ll talk about the quality of hardware that’s often used, as well as a bit about the construction of leather goods. 

(Pictured above: Leather swatches from Horween, one of the best tanneries in the world. Photo taken from Carryology)

How I Travel
I travel a lot for both work and pleasure, and in my time traveling, I’ve learned one cardinal rule: pack as light as possible. These days, I try to only bring a carry-on and one personal item (my briefcase, which always contains my laptop and some reading material). In my carry-on is a small set of clothes – two grey trousers, four light blue or white shirts, one navy sweater, and a sport coat. I find that this is enough to get me through a few days before having to do laundry, especially since we’re not also counting the clothes I’m wearing onto the plane. Other things, such as shaving razors, soaps, and shampoos, can always be bought at the destination.
I like bringing a few superfluous things that make the trip more pleasant, however. For one, instead of wearing a sport coat onto the plane, I use a travel jacket I bought from Herno. It looks a bit like this one from Woolrich, but it has a hidden zippered pocket and no epaulets. Zippered and snap button pockets are useful for making sure things don’t accidentally slip out when you take off your jacket and carelessly carry it around. The idea of being in a foreign country and suddenly realizing that you’ve lost your papers, credit cards, and money just seems really, really bad. So I wear a travel jacket. Woolrich and Boggi have one this season (you may need to call Boggi’s actual stores to order), but you could also just wear anything lightweight and of a similar design. Just search around for “field jackets.”
I also use a travel wallet. These help keep my important documents and cards all in one place – passport, green card, identification papers, credit cards, health insurance card, boarding pass, and little slips of paper on which I’ve jotted down my hotel, flight, and train information. Having them all in one place gives me a peace of mind and some convenience. Many airports these days have multiple checkpoints where you have to show your papers to some official, so it’s convenient to have them ready and on hand. My travel wallet is by Chester Mox, who is running a Father’s Day promotion until Thursday, but you can also find some nice ones by Saddleback, Aspinal of London, Filson, and Tanner Goods.
There are a few other things I find helpful. Sleeping pills can get you through a long flight, but they also leave you feeling drugged. So instead, I eat Tianwang Buxin Wan, an all-natural, root-based pill that relaxes me enough to go sleep. It’s great on the plane and for when I’m trying to recover from jet lag. I also wear Bose noise cancelling headphones that a friend generously gifted me, and either soft suede driving shoes or a pair of canvas plimsolls. Feet tend to swell up during flight, which makes wearing hard bottom leather shoes extremely uncomfortable. Even if you take off your shoes, your feet can swell so much that they can be hard to put back in. Should you find yourself in such a situation, I recommend using my credit card trick.
And that’s basically how I travel - a carry on and my briefcase, along with a travel jacket, travel wallet, pair of soft shoes, and some things to help me go to sleep. These are enough to get me through fifteen to twenty hour travel schedules and still land in reasonably good form. 
(Pictured above: My travel jacket, travel wallet, and laptop at JFK airport)

How I Travel

I travel a lot for both work and pleasure, and in my time traveling, I’ve learned one cardinal rule: pack as light as possible. These days, I try to only bring a carry-on and one personal item (my briefcase, which always contains my laptop and some reading material). In my carry-on is a small set of clothes – two grey trousers, four light blue or white shirts, one navy sweater, and a sport coat. I find that this is enough to get me through a few days before having to do laundry, especially since we’re not also counting the clothes I’m wearing onto the plane. Other things, such as shaving razors, soaps, and shampoos, can always be bought at the destination.

I like bringing a few superfluous things that make the trip more pleasant, however. For one, instead of wearing a sport coat onto the plane, I use a travel jacket I bought from Herno. It looks a bit like this one from Woolrich, but it has a hidden zippered pocket and no epaulets. Zippered and snap button pockets are useful for making sure things don’t accidentally slip out when you take off your jacket and carelessly carry it around. The idea of being in a foreign country and suddenly realizing that you’ve lost your papers, credit cards, and money just seems really, really bad. So I wear a travel jacket. Woolrich and Boggi have one this season (you may need to call Boggi’s actual stores to order), but you could also just wear anything lightweight and of a similar design. Just search around for “field jackets.”

I also use a travel wallet. These help keep my important documents and cards all in one place – passport, green card, identification papers, credit cards, health insurance card, boarding pass, and little slips of paper on which I’ve jotted down my hotel, flight, and train information. Having them all in one place gives me a peace of mind and some convenience. Many airports these days have multiple checkpoints where you have to show your papers to some official, so it’s convenient to have them ready and on hand. My travel wallet is by Chester Mox, who is running a Father’s Day promotion until Thursday, but you can also find some nice ones by Saddleback, Aspinal of London, Filson, and Tanner Goods.

There are a few other things I find helpful. Sleeping pills can get you through a long flight, but they also leave you feeling drugged. So instead, I eat Tianwang Buxin Wan, an all-natural, root-based pill that relaxes me enough to go sleep. It’s great on the plane and for when I’m trying to recover from jet lag. I also wear Bose noise cancelling headphones that a friend generously gifted me, and either soft suede driving shoes or a pair of canvas plimsolls. Feet tend to swell up during flight, which makes wearing hard bottom leather shoes extremely uncomfortable. Even if you take off your shoes, your feet can swell so much that they can be hard to put back in. Should you find yourself in such a situation, I recommend using my credit card trick.

And that’s basically how I travel - a carry on and my briefcase, along with a travel jacket, travel wallet, pair of soft shoes, and some things to help me go to sleep. These are enough to get me through fifteen to twenty hour travel schedules and still land in reasonably good form. 

(Pictured above: My travel jacket, travel wallet, and laptop at JFK airport)