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When is the last time you washed your leather jacket? Tips, tricks and 12 options to shop

We've found all the right stuff to channel your inner T-Bird.
shurkin_son / Getty Images

It's not too cold for a full-on, puffy winter coat, but it's not warm enough to strut around in our best summertime shorts. Enter: a tried-and-true transitional piece, the classic leather jacket.

Leather jackets first originated in the early 1900s, worn by aviators and military members. Since then, the leather jacket has expanded into different genres of clothing, including oversized options with a slouched silhouette, leather puffers, motorcycle jackets and more.

We spoke with Alwrld owner Philip Pavkov and stylist Mallory Morris about the pros and cons of faux versus real leather, how to best take care of a leather jacket and which ingredients are a certified no-go when it comes to cleaning a piece.

The faux vs. real debate | Cleaning and maintenance tips| Styling tips | Are there affordable leather jackets? | Do leather jackets make good transitional pieces? | Faux leather jackets to shop | Genuine leather jackets to shop

The faux versus real debate. Which kind of leather jacket is better?

"There’s benefits to both and there’s downsides to both," Pavkov summarizes.

While genuine leather jackets have longevity, the process to create 100% leather or products that have real leather as part of their fabric makeup is a "dirty process," according to Pavkov. "That’s kind of the negative side of leather."

Faux leather, on the other hand, lacks longevity and needs to be replaced after a short period of time. However, the process of creating products with it is less detrimental to the environment.

How should I clean my leather jacket?

You don't want to ruin it after one load of laundry if you're spending some serious money on a leather jacket. "It does take a little bit more care than your typical T-shirt that you just throw in the wash," says Pavkov.

When spot-treating your leather jacket, Pavkov recommends using a cleaner with all-natural ingredients.

"There’s a bit of a maintenance that goes along with leather," Pavkov says. "So oiling it, keeping it properly moisturized and things like that, allows your leather to have a much longer, healthier life than letting it dry out and crack and get dirty like that."

Morris takes a more generous approach to washing leather jackets, which she notes that others might find "gross."

"When it comes to my jackets, I do not wash them often at all," she says. "I'll go wearing a jacket, perhaps 20 to 25 occasions before I'm like, okay, maybe I should wash it. And depending, of course, [on] the niceness of the jacket, I'll always clean it and either hang dry it or I get it dry cleaned."

Letting your leather jacket go between washes can add to its longevity, according to Morris. She advises against washing after wearing it to just run errands or a day out on the town.

"Realistically, it's not getting that dirty and it can go through a bunch of wears," Morris says. "I think also wearing it in and giving it that love is what brings quality to a leather jacket as well. Letting it breathe and not washing it as consistently as you would wash your other pieces. Not in a gross way, in a loving way."

Caron and Doucet Natural Leather Oil Conditioner

When used often enough, this oil and conditioner can help prevent and resolve cracking and dry leather, according to the brand. This all-natural, non-toxic solution to restoring your leather products is "easy to apply" and leaves your products with "new-like leather," according to reviewers.

Coach Leather Moisturizer

Coach recommends testing this moisturizer on an inconspicuous spot of your jacket, such as the inside of a pocket, to ensure this won't leave stains or ruin the exterior of your jacket. They then advise dabbing amounts onto a washcloth and spread it around the jacket. One reviewer loves this because it "extends product lifetime," while another one loves it because it "keeps leather safe and soft."

Leather CPR Cleaner and Conditioner

If your jacket is getting to the point of no return, this product might be the key to restoring its quality. This cleaner and conditioner can be used on a number of leather products, including shoes, furniture, car seats and jackets, so you'll get multiple uses out of it.

"CPR is creamy smooth and a breeze to apply," said one reviewer, adding that there's "no stickiness, no glossy coating. It absorbs into the leather and truly softens it and brings it back to life."

How to style a leather jacket

When it comes to styling your leather jacket, there's a myriad of inspiration pictures on social media. However, Morris gave tips on how to dress up (or down) a jacket, depending on the occasion.

"For me personally, I'm all about layering," Morris says. She likes to layer leather jackets with a button-down shirt or a "lengthy" tee underneath and a blazer on top for a double jacket look. "I've really loved because it's kind of unique — it adds a bunch of depth to the outfit, it's kind of unexpected in a way and it just looks like you've put a lot of thought into the outfit."

Attempting this style is easy, according to Morris, because "really you're just using three super basic pieces that most everyone, if not everyone, already has in their closet."

When it comes to dressing a leather jacket down, Morris worries less about layering and more about utilizing just the jacket as a top. Pair it with a pair of jeans and your favorite sneakers and voila!

"[It] doesn't matter what's underneath, [it] doesn't matter what's going on under the outfit — the jacket is the top and that's all there is to it," Morris says. "It looks put together, it's casual, it takes no thought, but you look stylish, no matter how you're doing it."

Is there an affordable way to buy a real leather jacket?

For a more unique and already well-loved leather jacket, Morris recommends going to your local thrift store, flea market or checking out estate sales. This way, you can "skip" the breaking in period and purchase a quality jacket at an affordable price.

"As far as leather jacket shopping, unless you want an investment piece for the rest of your life, which is great too, but if you're looking to find a good one on a good dime, I think thrifting one is beyond the best options," says Morris.

Is a leather jacket a good transitional piece?

Wearing a leather jacket as a transitional piece can be hit or miss, depending on the weather outside. While they can sometimes be a hefty and comparable option to a light coat, warmth depends on two things, according to Morris.

"It's just about feeling the thickness and feeling the quality of the outer leather," she says. These two factors attribute to the overall warmth of the piece.

Faux leather jackets to shop

Wild Fable Distressed Faux Leather Jacket

An affordable option that's hard to pass up, especially when it comes in an inclusive range of sizes (XXS-4X), this bomber-jacket like shape can dress up any outfit or help make a fancy one feel more casual.

LY VAREY LIN Faux Leather Motorcycle Jacket

"I always get compliments," associate social media editor Dani Musacchio said about this jacket each time she wears it out and about. The brand warns against dry cleaning and machine washing this jacket, as it should only be hand washed and hang dry.

This jacket boasts a lot of the traditional features, including a zipper closure. For individuals who want a lengthier version, opt for this non-cropped one.

Target x Future Collective Faux Leather Jacket

A favorite among multiple SHOP Today team members, but especially for photo editor Kara Birnbaum, "the look is different than any other leather jacket while still feeling classic," she says, adding that "the inside is super soft and it feels like it elevates an outfit."

As part of a collaboration between Target and Future Collective, this leather jacket is available in sizes XXS through 4X.

BCBGMaxazria Faux Leather Blazer

Perfect for those in-between days, this lightweight faux leather oversized blazer from T.J. Maxx falls right at the thigh, perfect for keeping warmth trapped in during windy days. With oversized buttons to enclose the jacket and a foldable collar, this stylish blazer will take you from work to a night out seamlessly.

Barneys New York Faux Leather Jacket

Associate SEO editor Kamari Stewart recently spotted this leather jacket, part of a Barneys and Forever 21 collaboration, and hasn't been able to stop thinking about it since. The collaboration allows Barneys clothing to be more affordable and accessible — and this leather jacket is a prime example. At $90, it's available in sizes XS through 2X, has two front pockets and includes a slightly cinched back for a little added detail.

Express Croc Faux Leather Cropped Jacket

Associate editor Shannon Garlin notes that Express makes high-quality leather jackets, having owned one similar to this from the brand for over a decade. With a zipper front, Express recommends layering this jacket, leaning into the style tips Morris gave above. Or, you can zip it shut to create a more laid-back fit.

Zara Double-Faced Biker Jacket

Live your best "Daisy Jones and the Six" life with this jacket, which looks as though it came straight from the set. Made with a faux leather, this biker jacket also features a faux shearling lining along the collar, interior, waist and wrists.

Noize Cropped Shearling Vegan Leather Jacket

Similar to Levi's classic Sherpa Trucker Jacket, this vegan leather jacket from Noize embodies most of the same features, including a sherpa lining on the inside and sherpa borders on the outer seams. "This is definitely a statement piece that me and my friends love," said one reviewer. Pair this cropped jacket with high-waisted pants or a dress to accentuate the length.

Genuine leather jackets to shop

Quince 100% Leather Motorcycle Jacket

Whether you're gripping the handles, sitting in the passenger seat or hoping to simply embody your inner adrenaline junkie, rock any look with this genuine leather jacket from Quince. The brand notes that this jacket has a slim fit, meaning sizing up might be required if you want to layer with this jacket. Outfitted with details such as zipper pockets, a collar and a hem complete with a belt, it doesn't get much more biker chick than this. "The style, fit, and quality of this leather jacket speaks 'high cost' yet so affordable," said one reviewer.

The Jacket Maker Colette Leather Jacket

Production associate Audrey Ekman feels as though she hit the jackpot in terms of leather jackets with this one from The Jacket Maker. While it is a splurge, a leather jacket, if taken care of properly, can be something that you'll have in your wardrobe for a long time.

"At 5'1", most of my fit issues come up in the sleeve length, since my arms are pretty short, and in accommodating my D-cup chest," she says. "I hate having to bring things to the tailor, which is why this customizable jacket was such a problem-solver for me. I got the made to measure version, so I was able to have it created for my exact measurements — best investment ever! It fits so perfectly. The classic style is really flattering with the cropped, slim fit, it feels super high quality and I'll definitely keep it in my wardrobe forever."

The Jacket Maker Women's Cityscape Leather Biker Jacket

With a ribbed-like front and snakeskin-like sleeves, this imprinted leather jacket screams biker chic. Whether you're riding shotgun or putting the pedal to the medal yourself, this jacket has a slim fit. Side and front zippers are the only details, giving it an overall simplistic look.

The Jacket Maker Alison Black Leather Biker Jacket

SEO commerce writer Jannely Espinal names this as her all-time favorite genuine leather jacket.

"While it's heavy, the construction of this leather jacket is first-class," she said. "I love the little details and pocket additions including the coin pocket, inside compartments, side pockets and more. The zippers give it that extra edgy and rough look but what I love the most about this leather piece is the added warmth. I can easily wear this during mid-50s weather and feel comfortable. It's my treasure and I just love all the closures. It's perfection!"

Meet the experts

Philip Pavkov is the founder of the brand ALWRLD, that specializes in sustainable apparel for both men and women.

Mallory Morris is a stylist based in Los Angeles. Morris also also has a vintage jewelry brand, named Un Autre Tour, where she curates vintage jewelry to sell.