Crocking Vintage Suede & Leather

I once had a gorgeous vintage suede bag, made in the 1960s and of beautiful quality.  Because it was a shoulder bag (very unusual to see in 1960s styles of this quality), and because I love shoulder bags, I wore it.  A lot.

I soon found that my high-quality vintage suede bag had a flaw perceived to be low quality - it was crocking.  I had to investigate.

What's crocking?  Well, it basically means that the outer bits of suede are rubbing off, in such a fine form that it seems like powder.  This is annoying because this dyed powder can transfer to the wearer's clothes and sometimes ruin a garment.  Most suedes don't crock, but the savvy shopper will know about the possibility. Leather can crock too, but it's less commonly seen, and very rarely seen in a vintage garment.

What does crocking look like?  See this photo.

Notice the grayish rub on the muslin next to the shoes.  That's taken from rubbing the shoe's surface.  It's not dirt but tiny particles of dyed suede.

How to stop crocking?  Unfortunately that's a toughie.  I have seen sprays that suggest they'll help, but my instinct tells me that only a bona fide leather care expert can solve it. From what I have gathered, the sprays only create a thin layer of adhesive that merely "glues" the suede's outer surface a bit.

Why does this happen in the first place?  There are two reasons, and quality is indeed one of them.  But with vintage suede made through the 1930s/40s, crocking was an inherent part of the material.  The technology was simply not there to stop crocking. 

In fact, until the 1940s, specially treated leather often had inherent vices.  Besides suede, patent leather had difficulties like checking and cracking.  This original paper insert from a pair of 1930s patent leather shoes is telling:

In the case of my 1960s suede bag, I believe crocking had begun simply due to age.  The simple deterioration that begins with time had started.

So what's a Vixen to do?  Besides understanding the problem, you can shop smart:
  • Read a description looking for any mention of the above maladies.  A reputable vintage clothing dealer will know about these potential issues and report them thoroughly.
  • Buy suede only in shoes, because they're worn far away from other garments (unless you wear ankle-length skirts with them).  Just wash your hands after you handle something that's crocking.
  • Be aware that modern-made garments (both leather & suede) can crock as well, especially if they are cheaply made.
  • With vintage items, know that suede made in the 1940s or earlier is much more likely to crock.  You can probably use it if it's otherwise sturdy, but you may need to plan for its use & storage.
  • Store leather & suede in clear plastic sheathing, without sealing it completely.  Leather & suede are natural materials that need to "breathe" as the surrounding temperature/humidity changes.  Keeping them sheathed will avoid dye transfer to other items in your closet.
I still wear my beautiful suede bag.  But with jeans, easily washed to rinse out any crocking.  And after many years of use, its crocking suede still looks good and wears well.  I'll eventually need to send it to a leather specialist.  Meantime it's beautifully useful despite its inherent imperfection!