Leather from best to worst:
1. Full Grain – Best quality, top leather of the hide. Durable and develops patina so looks fantastic even as it wears out. Furthermore: Horween is the best full grain leather brand, and out of the Horweens, Cordovan (horse butt) is the ultimate luxury leather, better than Chromexcel (can be either cow or horse side). Chromexcel tends to be more glossy and softer than Dublin. Read more about Horween Leathers.
2. Top Grain – Second best quality leather, it’s the outer layer of the full grain so it’s thinner and easier to work with, less durable.
3. Genuine – Lowest quality cut of leather to still be called “leather”
4. Bonded – Polyurethane overtop a of “leather shavings glued together”
5. Synthetic – Completely artificial
Sources: Wikipedia: Leather, Saddleback’s Leather101
Best Men’s Leather Briefcase/Laptop Case/Handbag
Note: Some of these may sport thinner leather, which will look amazing brand new but will not age as well as the top brands that have thicker leather. Won’t be able to buff out the scratches with oil and will get cracked more easily.
Copper River Large 15″ Belmar Voyager (more of a rugged look, their youtube videos look nicer than their images) $250 [CopperRiver]
High On Leather Saddle (more of a vintage look) $250 [Highonleather]
Don’t Get: Saddleback Leather ($600, pricey for the quality leather), J.W. Hulme such as the Document Briefcase $990 (expensive and not as nice leather, they used to make for Gorkey and Orvis leather and canvas bags), Swaine Adeney Brigg / Papworth (both too expensive), Holland & Holland (no more choice), BillyKirk (expensive for what it is), Duluth Bashful Billionaire’s Briefcase $300 (great value but not as stylish), A.G. Spalding & Bros. – Good value at $200 but not great styling – too simplistic, Glaser Designs is also great but have to get used on eBay
Best Non-Leather Bags
Classy Messenger Bags: Frost River (US) [FrostRiver] which use waxed cotton canvas $190. More stylish than Navali, which is also great quality.
Unfashionable but great quality messenger bags – Manhattan Portage $90 (the bags the Manhattan NYC messengers use, more sporty less classy style but cheaper and good quality). For the best on-the-go messengering, ie if you want to wear as a backpack often: Mission VX Messenger Bags AP Series $270 (waterproof, VX is more durable than standard Rummy)
Don’t get: Orvis (bad quality such as the Battenkill model) or J.W. Hulme, Krane (a classier but more expensive Filson, not worth it for not leather), Waterfield (expensive), Filson 257 $345 (super durable but not much color choice, slightly high price for canvas), Timbuk2 (downgraded their materials) – Chrome is more comfortable and waterproof but less stylish and more bulky, premium classy British older style – Chapmann (UK) $300 [Chapmann]
Best Duffel: Best American Duffel (BAD) $75 [badbags], better than the loved Bomber Barrel kickstarter and Aer Duffel Pack (more of a backpack). OR High On Leather – Leather Duffle $100 [Highonleather]
For short flight trips: Luggageworks Stealth 22” Computer Front Pilot Rolling Bag-106NG $320 [LuggageWorks] (formerly Purdy Neat Bags). These brands are used by flight attendants (stewardesses). Do not get TravelPro.
Secondary: Briggs Riley Transcend $350 [Briggs Riley]
Best Men’s Leather Wallet
Note: some stores are sold out a lot, and another place to browse is [etsy cordovan wallets]
Billfold wallets (4+ slots) are recommended moreso than Card Wallets (only 2 slots), because most people hold both cash and more than two cards.
High-End Billfold / Bifold or Money Clip:
Horween Online Store to see their selected branding partners’ products made of Horween (such as Ashland Leather): [HorweenProducts] i.e. $105 Simple Bifold Chromexcel (sold out a lot though)
Ashland Leather [Ashland Leather] – A superb manufacturer who uses Horween leather. Chromexcel for $80-$120, Cordovan $200. ie Johnny the Fox, Tony the Ant, Fat Herbie, Louis “Little New York”. As the Johnny the Fox runs a little large, I’d get the Fat Herbie, as it is a more interesting inner design that the Tony the Ant and Little New York.
Mitchell Leather Money Clip Horween Chromexel $79 or Horween Cordovan $179 at [Mitchell-Leather Money Clip] or [Mitchell-Leather Card Wallets]. The Mitchell design/logo is more interesting/unique than Makr’s if you’d like a logo, however, some people prefer a Billfold/Bifold Wallet which has more slots.
Substitutes: Makr (various models, pricey for Chromexcel) Chromexcel Billfold Wallet ~$180 [Makr Carry Goods] (sold out a lot though), Nice design but just okay leather – Octovo Mixie $105 [Octovo], [Shinola] (Horween but a little expensive for non-Cordovan at $140), [Tanner Goods], [Corter Leather] (they use Wickett and Craig leather)
Don’t get: Way too expensive $300-$400 even though highest quality leather (Shell Cordovan) – (DaLuca, Brooks Brothers, Coronado Leather, Emiler Win billfold, Chester Mox), Filson?, J.W. Hulme Classic Bifold $125, Saddleback Leather Bifold $60 (worse leather, not Horween), bellroy (full-grain) ~$80-$90, Billykirk not great designs and not sure what leather they use, Non-leather – All Ett, Teranishi not enough pockets, Bison Leather (Bisonmade) $150, Lapolo Leather (expensive and no more Horween Chromexcel), Unique Minimalist Wallets: Secrid, Impl
In the case you’d like to wear a Saddlebag around, such as Kurt Russell in Big Trouble in Little China, check out Outfitter’s Supply, such as: Cavalry Saddle Bags: Two Buckle (3/4 Size), Tucker Saddle Traditional
Best Women’s Handbags
(Research In Progress)
Since there are so many models (of handbags, wallets, clutches), I’ve only listed brands. Source: Styleforum
Lambertson Truex – Great value and good leather, but hard to find a good classy style
Marc Jacobs (many times too simple styling, but fantastic) $500 retail, $350 on eBay i.e. Marc Jacobs Gotham City in black [eBay]
Valextra (the best value at this price point) ~$1k
Bottega Veneta ~$1k (nice quilted pattern)
Don’t get – Prada (high retail price and quality is variable – must-see-in-person and sometimes styling is garish with too many locals, and many fakes around so buying used not recommended), Louis Vuitton (excellent construction and durability but too expensive and flashy styling and defects because of too high production), Gucci (quality is low with high prices, and lots of bad designs), Mont Blanc, Hermes (perfect except sometimes a little plain-looking, outrageously expensive), Fendi (bad construction), Burberry, Givenchy and Coach and Miu Miu (variability in quality, very expensive), Dunhill, Bottega Veneta (expensive but beautiful), Valentino (expensive when not on sale), Kate Spade (bad), Bvlgari, Salvatore Ferragamo (bad construction), Mulberry, Dior (classic styling but bad construction), Paul Smith, Loewe (excellent but hard to find retail models), Balenciaga (quality went down)
Best Women’s Clutches and Wallets
Lodis $100 Retail, $20-$50 on [eBay]
Don’t get – Good but expensive $400 (Mulberry, Celine), Too expensive (Prada, Louis Vuitton)