Helene March owns two pairs of leather shorts. The first, from a chi-chi shop on Oak Street, cost $400. The second, from H&M, cost $14.
Even March is surprised that she wears the $14 pair more often. March styles the shorts—fuller, with a paper-bag waist, and short but not tiny—with strappy black sandals and a fitted t-shirt in summer, and tights, tall boots and a sweater in winter.
“They hold their shape,” says March, 51, a Glencoe resident and former owner of Salon 1800 in Lincoln Park. “They’re fabulous…they’re extremely flattering.”
They are also not real leather. They’re faux, imitation, pleather—whatever you want to call the material that looks and, these days, acts like real leather. Take a look at Ann Taylor, H&M, Forever21 and even Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s—the women’s apparel sections have a great choice of items made entirely from, or trimmed with, fake leather.
Biker Jacket, $35, H&M
Faux Leather Trim Tweed Jacket, $80, Ann Taylor
Today’s pleather isn’t the Naugahyde of yesteryear. Imitation leather, made of polyester coated with polyurethane, is supple and easy to drape. “Better” pleathers even have surfaces embossed with the skin-like pattern of real leather.
As March knows, pleather holds a few cards that leather doesn’t. First, since it’s not real skin, it doesn’t stretch. Second, it’s easier to care for than leather. I bought a sleeveless, cream-color, embroidered pleather top from Ann Taylor this spring. I wore it. I spilled something on it. I put it a delicates bag, washed it on the gentle cycle, air-dried it, and it came out just fine. Had I spilled on an expensive real leather top, I’d still be swearing.
That cream top joins two other faux leather items in my wardrobe: A pair of black, peg-leg pants (Vera Wang, from Kohl’s) and a caramel-colored moto jacket from a boutique in Galena, Ill. Both are trend pieces; the biker-chic look comes and goes. But, because I spent only $40 on the pants and $70 on the jacket, I really don’t care if the trend wanes soon.
“Even real leather pieces are trend pieces 75 percent of the time,” points out Tara Klecka, a Chicago-based personal shopper and stylist. (Klecka gave client Helene March a big “attagirl” when she came home with those H&M shorts.) Examples: Moto jackets, fringed jackets and leather midi skirts. With pleather, “you indulge in trend without spending a lot of money,” Klecka says.
When it comes to building outfits, pleather is like leather and other specialty fabrics: A little goes a long way. With that in mind, here are a few things to remember as you go pleather hunting.
*Don’t do head-to-toe pleather, just like you wouldn’t do head-to-toe denim. Klecka suggests teaming fake leather pants with real leather boots or shoes.
*Buy muted shades. Fake leather in black or brown looks more upscale than pleather in flashy colors.
*Consider pleather for winter. Klecka points out that since the fabric isn’t real, it doesn’t breathe, which means it’ll keep you warm.
*Be honest. Would you pass off a giant pair of cubic zirconia earrings as Harry Winston studs? Try to be real about your pleather finds. Sometimes, the joy of fashion is just letting the fake flag fly.
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