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Trend Alert: Faux Leather is the Must-Have Piece for 2021. Here’s How to Wear It!

Trend Alert: Faux Leather is the Must-Have Piece for 2021. Here’s How to Wear It!

When the faux leather trend first began to make waves in the periphery of the fashion scene several years ago, my broke self was thrilled. Chic, functional, and exponentially more affordable? Budget-conscious shoppers had been waiting half their lives for this breakthrough. Excited to test-drive the trend, I threw on a new faux leather skirt and grabbed a real leather purse I’d been using for ages to meet a friend for coffee one afternoon. My friend – an experienced fashion designer – couldn’t tell the difference between the two materials without careful inspection.  

Today, it’s been almost twenty years since Stella McCartney’s vegan vision for luxury fashion popularized faux leather across price points. The synthetic material has fully permeated the industry, and heading into early spring, the trend is reaching a fever pitch. Retail analysts report that faux leather clothing sales have increased 105% compared to last year, and as 2021 progresses we can expect to see this look everywhere. 

What is Faux Leather?

In case you’ve ever wondered what’s actually going on when animal hide is not part of the equation: faux leather is a synthetic material consisting mostly of plastic that’s manufactured to look, feel and even smell – as much as possible – like real leather. The simulated material is much less expensive to produce than the real deal, which explains the wallet-friendly price tag, and also creates much less of an environmental impact. It can be produced on a fabric or a flexible plastic backing like polyester, but keep in mind that these results are not resistant to punctures and tears as real leather would be.  

Over the years, brands and marketers have developed a variety of names to refer to faux leather; you might hear it called artificial leather, pleather, leatherette, vegan leather, PU (polyurethane) leather, imitation leather, or vinyl leather. This can cause confusion, but ultimately it all refers to the same synthetic approach to replacing real leather. 

How to Wear and Style Faux Leather

It’s easy to see why faux leather has ascended to one of the top trends of the year: it looks surprisingly expensive, often even passing for true leather (as I learned first-hand), and it achieves a sophisticated aesthetic while still being soft, supple and comfortable to wear. Pair staple pieces with almost anything for instant style!

Faux Leather Leggings 

The legging version of this trend might just be the MVP of the year – nay, the decade; it’s polished yet flexible and comfy for everything from running errands to meeting up with friends (can we please be allowed to do that again soon?). Some versions, like those from Spanx, also contain figure-shaping elements to help you feel your best in a garment that’s relatively form-revealing. Faux leather leggings look great combined with a casual flannel, or dressed up with a sleek knit. 

Faux Leather Pants 

If the phrase “leather pants” has you picturing Sandra Dee’s edgy biker-vibe transformation in Grease, rest assured that there are plenty of ways to style this look and the perm is entirely optional. Faux leather pants universally flatter in a high waist and a straight leg, in a paper-bag waist with a belt, or in a flared wide leg. Black is a classic color for leather, but particularly popular this season are shades of cognac, chocolate, and winter white. Front-tuck a t-shirt or a chunky knit into your faux leather pants to keep it casual, or go for a streamlined silhouette with a square-neck bodysuit that spares you all that re-tucking! 

Faux Leather Tops 

These sleek tops come in every form imaginable: boxy blouses, tailored button-ups, and crop tops are all stylish ways to integrate faux leather into your look. Bring some gravitas to the ensemble in a polyurethane top with puffed gigot sleeves, or tone it down with a straight-cut cuffed shirt. 

Unlike real leather, faux leather’s synthetic fabric does not stretch or breath, which is important to bear in mind when strategizing your outfit and styling a faux leather top. By nature, it will be less fitted, which may lead you to pair it with tighter or more structured pieces to provide shape and definition to your silhouette. 

Faux Leather Dresses 

The Little Black Dress is currently enjoying a major reboot in faux leather variations: a belted shirt-dress paired with high boots is so easy and yet so cosmopolitan. A-line shift dresses in beige or burgundy and puff sleeves are also having their moment; soften the look with a knit cardigan on top or pair with stand-out shoes for a truly memorable ensemble. The simplicity of dresses means you don’t have to overthink the details to make a statement: with just one garment plus some small accessory touches, you’re ready to go. 

Faux Leather Skirts 

Faux leather makes a strong appearance across a variety of skirts and every iteration is a win. Pencil skirts are perfect for the office or formal affairs, while faux leather miniskirts offer a playful alternative (with tights for the winter season). The pleated calf-length skirt is particularly chic and versatile; dress it up with heeled boots or pointed-toe pumps; dress it down with white sneakers or flat oxfords with socks rolled around the ankle. 

Faux Leather Jackets 

Jackets, blazers with wide lapels, “shackets” (shirt-jackets) and even puffer coats are all on offer in varying faux leather shades and finishings to layer over sweaters and tops. A longline belted jacket in faux leather looks sharp in a trending print like snakeskin; wear it over a cream turtleneck and casual jeans or black leggings. Faux leather trenches in shiny finishes are also on-trend; tone down the effect with suede pants or a monochromatic base layer. Biker jackets and shearling coats with faux leather are also favorites across outerwear.

Faux Leather Hair Accessories 

Yes, even your tresses are fair game for faux leather mania. From structured headbands to scrunchies and hair clips, you can easily integrate the look into your hair with some tasteful accessories. Headbands featuring chunky, oversized braids of faux leather are particularly on-trend right now.

If more than one garment on this list tickles your fancy, take heart because taste-makers give you permission to wear multiple faux leather pieces in the same ensemble. So go forth and shop the hottest trend like its chilly outside! 

About The Author

Julia Wohlers

Julia Wohlers is a writer and visual designer obsessed with culture, travel and fashion editorial. She created Brand of People Magazine as a space to inspire creatives, entrepreneurs and culture-makers. Originally from Washington, D.C., Julia grew up all over the world, but she particularly loves Milan, where her son was born, and the Balkans, where life is uniquely authentic. You can find her on Instagram at @juliawohlers_ or follow the magazine at @brandofpeoplemag.

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