Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the natural wear and tear that gets put into clothing. Leather shoes look better with a patina, oxford button-downs are improved with fraying, and even tailoring looks better when it has some slouch to it. Supposedly, British aristocrats used to give their new bespoke clothes and shoes to their gardeners and butlers, so they could wear them for a while and break them in. (This story was conveyed to me by various bespoke tailors and shoemakers. I don’t know any British aristocrats, so I can’t confirm).
Still, nothing hurts like seeing that first mar in leather or a stain on a jacket. And some materials are just doomed to pick up marks. Suede is especially prone to damage since the material is absorbent, much like cotton. Once something gets into those fibers, it’s hard to get it out. Plus, the nap can get crushed over time, which leads to shiny spots.
There are some things you can do to mitigate this.
Consider the Style: When choosing a suede jacket, think about how the material will age. Light colors show marks more easily. Certain styles also look better with age. A plush, light-gray suede Cucinelli jacket, for example, can look old and ragged even after just a season’s use. A tan suede trucker jacket, on the other hand, will look better with a bit of wear and tear.
Stoffa, a small label based in New York City, is one of the few exceptions. They specialize in made-to-measure outerwear, including the suede asymmetric jacket you see above. The company’s style is clean, modern, and slightly Italian, but the jackets surprisingly age well. I have a dark brown suede bomber from them that I’ve worn for years.
Dealing with the Collar: The collar is the most likely to get dirty. Like with cotton shirts, this area will pick up the sweat and oils from the back of your neck — except you can’t clean a leather jacket as easily as a shirt. I think it’s fine, but if you’re worried about it, you can wear a scarf when the weather allows. Or better yet, get a jacket with a leather collar, such as the Barbanera trucker pictured above.
Use a Waterproofer: You can spray down a suede jacket much like you would with suede shoes. Waterproofers create a billion tiny filaments, which stand up on their ends and reduce water tension. This way, if you spill something such as red wine on your jacket, it’s more likely to roll off the surface, rather than soaking into the fibers.
Use waterproofers that don’t have any silicone. Men who are fanatical about high-end shoes swear by Tarrago’s Nano Protector and Saphir’s Super Invulner. The Hanger Project, where you can find both of these products, has a YouTube video describing their differences. I use Allen Edmonds’ suede protector, although they recently changed bottles (I wasn’t able to confirm with them whether they also changed the formula).
Keep Powder Around: You can always get rid of light dirt marks with a suede eraser or brush. It’s oil stains you have to worry about. If you end up with a salad oil splashing or pizza oil dripping, carefully blot the stain (don’t rub) and apply a bit of powder. Baby powder, cornstarch, or diatomaceous earth will do (I prefer baby powder because diatomaceous earth can be unsafe around pets). Leave the powder to sit overnight and brush it off with a suede brush. It should have soaked up the oil, but you may need to do a few applications to get the suede looking completely clean. Don’t use suede shampoos such as Saphir’s Omni’Nettoyant. While that’s fine on shoes since you’re presumably treating the whole shoe, spot treating a jacket like this can leave water ring stains.
Have a Specialty Cleaner: Worse comes to worst, you can always send your jacket off to a professional. Local dry cleaners are notoriously bad because most of them don’t even clean their stuff — they send garments out to an off-site cleaning plant where things are treated indiscriminately. For something as expensive as a suede jacket, we recommend sending things to RAVE FabriCARE in Arizona. They’ll not only clean your coat, but they can also dip it in a chemical bath to make it more resilient moving forward. The one downside: after you clean suede, it won’t have the same plush nap as it did when was new. But that’s the kind of aging you have to embrace.