Sporting a high gloss finish, patent leather has long been established as leather that is considered uptown and formal. This form of leather owes its invention to Seth Boyden of Newark, New Jersey. During the year 1818, Boyden began to investigate the possibility of creating a version of leather that was treated in such a way that the material retained its protective qualities and durability, but also had an appearance that would be decidedly more dressy than work boots and similar leather goods.
Using a formula that was based on a series of treatments using layers of linseed oil-based coats, the new shiny leather began commercial production on 20 September 1819. Boyden’s efforts resulted in the production of glossy leather that quickly caught on the perfect compliment for formal dress. Almost two centuries later, patent leather still maintains the status of being part of a formal look for men and women alike.
Patent leather begins life as a superior grade of fine grain leather that undergoes a process to give it it's glossy look. Originally, this was accomplished by applying layers of a linseed oil finish to the leather, gradually creating the sleek appearance. As time went on, the invention of plastics changed the way this leather is produced.
Plastic finishes were able to produce effects similar to the application of several treatments with linseed oil, with the advantage of considerably less expense on the part of the producer. Over time, the development of synthetic resins further simplified the process and cut production costs even further, making the mass production possible.
Characterized by a glass-like finish that catches the light, the typical patent leather accessory is a solid black. In addition to the mirror like finish, it is also virtually waterproof, while still retaining a very flexible texture. The visual elements of this leather have made it a sought after material for all sorts of formal accessories. Just about all men’s footwear produced to be worn with tuxedos is made of patent leather, as are many formal types of heels for women. Clutches and small handbags for women are also made using this material, as are some formal wallets and cigarette cases. It is nearly always considered an integral part of formal wear.
With almost two centuries of history, patent leather is one type of material that seems to keep going no matter what current fashion trends dictate. It seems that as long as there is a need to dress up for an occasion, this material will be found in closets and tuxedo shops across the country.