For most of its history, leather was known for its rugged qualities and used by those who needed a durable material to protect their legs during manual labor and outdoor activities like horseback riding. An example of this use is in leather chaps, which are still popular and helpful today.
Leather chaps are a leather garment traditionally meant to be worn over pants. They cover the legs and buckle like a belt around the waist, and provide protection from chafing or friction. Most often worn by horseback riders, they are also popular with motorcycle riders for protection while riding.
Let’s explore more about take a look at the many types of leather chaps, and which can be most useful for you.
What Are Leather Chaps?
Historically, leather chaps were worn by those who rode long distances on horseback to prevent chafing or clothing wear from friction. Today, leather chaps are worn for this same purpose by ranchers, equestrians, and others who frequently ride horses. Leather chaps have also become a staple for motorcycle riders for leg protection from environmental factors as well as potential road rash from falls or accidents.
In the world of fashion, leather is the go-to choice for anyone looking for an edgy-yet-polished look. Outside of the fashion world, however, leather is known for its utilitarian properties and used by many whose jobs require lots of manual labor outdoors. Leather work garments are common, and most have existed in some form for thousands of years.
In the world of fashion, leather is the go-to choice for anyone looking for an edgy-yet-polished look.
Worn by horseback and motorcycle riders, leather chaps protect the legs from friction and other environmental factors. Because they’re a specialty product, leather chaps tend to be quite expensive, from around $70 to over $300. Faux leather chaps are uncommon and worn for fashion purposes, but genuine leather chaps are an investment that will last a lifetime.
Types of Leather Chaps
There are many types of leather chaps. “Non-working” types are mostly made of faux leather or other materials and worn for fashion purposes. There are three types of “working” leather chaps:
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The most prominent is the classic leather chap meant for horseback riding. These are often worn by ranchers and others who work with horses often.
The second type is the equestrian chap. These look similar to classic chaps and serve the same purpose, but they may be more tailored and lower-profile.
The third most prominent type is the motorcycle chap. These may be identical to classic chaps, but are typically exclusively made of black leather and are designed for motorcycle riding. They have a slightly slimmer fit than traditional work chaps and may not have as high a rise on the leg, as they are mostly meant to protect the lower third of the wearer’s leg.
The most prominent is the classic leather chap meant for horseback riding.
Leather Chaps for Horseback Riding
Leather chaps specifically for professional or competitive horseback riding are also known as equestrian chaps. These chaps are tailored to the wearer’s leg in order to fit over tight-fitting equestrian breeches. They protect against chafing caused by friction during riding.
Womens Western Chaps
Western chaps are looser-fitting chaps designed to fit over work pants, like heavy-duty denim. Women’s styles are typically slightly fitted, but are otherwise constructed the same way as men’s. Western chaps may have some embellishment such as leather fringe or other decorative leatherwork, especially on women’s styles.
Western Leather Chaps
Western leather chaps are any chaps in a “western” style, most often working chaps. These chaps are made from genuine leather for protection and durability. They usually come in more natural tones of leather, like shades of brown, and may have leather embellishments like fringe or lacing. Some western chaps are made to be worn at horse shows or rodeos – these are more embellished and sometimes come in more eye-catching colors, like natural leather tone (blond), black, or white.
Leather Riding Chaps for Horses
Chaps for riding horses can either be equestrian chaps, which are tailored and tighter-fitting, or western working chaps, which tend to be slightly looser and more rugged. Both of these styles serve the same purpose: they protect the legs from friction, environmental factors, and injury from potential falls.
Harley Davidson Leather Chaps
Harley-Davidson is easily the most famous motorcycle brand in the world, so naturally they produce their own leather chaps. While it may be desirable to buy leather chaps from a leather artisan, commercial leather chaps like those from Harley-Davidson may be an easier find for many riders.
Because they’re commercially made, they most likely come in a wider range of sizes and styles for a lower price than a custom-made alternative. Harley-Davidson’s chaps are meant for motorcycle riding, so they are only available in genuine leather (which is more protective than faux leather).
Womens Leather Motorcycle Chaps
Women’s motorcycle chaps tend to be slightly more fitted than men’s and may feature more feminine, decorative embellishments like grommeted lacing, embossing or tooling, and embroidery. These chaps may also sit slightly lower on the hip to mimic women’s jeans styles.
Harley Davidson Womens Leather Chaps
Like men’s Harley-Davidson chaps, women’s chaps from the famous company will be available in a wider variety of styles and sizes for a lower price than a custom pair of chaps. Harley-Davidson’s womens garments often feature feminine embellishments, and the company emphasizes that the women’s version is cut differently to better fit a woman’s proportions.
Custom Motorcycle Chaps
For those who are always riding a motorcycle, custom chaps may be a better choice than commercially-available options. Custom motorcycle chaps are any chaps which are custom-made to the wearer’s exact measurements; custom-made chaps, like any custom-made garment, ensure a perfect fit. By commissioning a custom pair of chaps, the wearer also has the opportunity to customize any embellishment, color, or finish they desire.
Womens Chaps for Costume
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Costume chaps are very different from genuine leather chaps. Costume chaps are usually made from faux leather, since they don’t need to be as durable or protective as working chaps or motorcycle chaps. As a result, they tend to be less expensive. However, a good quality pair of costume leather chaps can still be pricey, depending on the quality of the faux leather and whether they are embellished.
Womens Leather Chaps with Bling
Women’s leather chaps with bling are the definition of fashion over function. These types of leather chaps are almost always faux leather, but can be expensive depending on the type and amount of embellishment on them. These items are usually worn as costumes or clubwear (for nightclubs, raves, or other subculture gatherings).
Womens Leather Chaps with Fringe
While women’s leather chaps with fringe can be genuine leather working chaps, fringe is a common embellishment on costume chaps for women. Made of faux or genuine leather, women’s leather chaps with fringe include a fringe made of leather, cord, or another material. You can even purchase leather chaps with blingy fringe!
Womens Fashion Chaps
Fashion chaps do not necessarily need to be made of leather, but most are. Faux leather is the most popular material for fashion chaps due to its lower price tag and easier workability. Fashion chaps can be made from faux leather that’s an almost exact dupe for genuine leather, but many fashion chaps are also available in faux leathers made to mimic snakeskin or other exotic leathers. Fashion chaps are often embellished heavily and are meant to be worn as costumes or clubwear.
Womens Leather Chaps
Women’s leather chaps are generally made in the same way men’s leather chaps are made. The difference may be subtle; many retailers and craftsmen make women’s leather chaps slightly differently simply for the comfort of the woman wearing them. Women’s leather chaps are more widely available in faux leather costume varieties than men’s, making them a popular choice for sexy costumes, clubwear, or a simple fashion statement.
Brown Leather Chaps
Brown leather chaps are most common as working or Western chaps. These more natural tones are less prone to showing wear and dirt, making them an ideal choice for these styles. Brown leather’s rustic appearance may also appeal to those who want their leather chaps to last as long as possible, since the finish of brown leather chaps is often more matte and aged-looking than black leather.
Ever wanted to know how to properly put on your leather chaps? Here is a great instructional video.
Mens Leather Chaps with Fringe
Men’s leather chaps with fringe are usually found in the Western or motorcycle varieties. This type of embellishment is most common with Western varieties, though some men’s motorcycle chaps also feature fringe. Originally, fringe was intended to allow raindrops to run off the wearer’s leg more efficiently.
What to Look for in a Leather Chaps
|What To Look For||Why?|
|Sizing||Proper sizing is essential to well-fitting chaps. Finding your size is easy (and we’ll discuss how to find your size later in this article), but if you’re purchasing a custom pair of leather chaps, the leatherworker will most likely take your measurements. As a rule, your size for leather chaps is two inches larger than your thigh circumference.|
|Material||The material qualities to look for depend entirely on your intended use for your new leather chaps. For costume chaps, faux leather is a great choice due to its lower price and range of colors and finishes. For working chaps, horse riding chaps, and motorcycle chaps, genuine leather must be used to get any of the intended protection from your chaps.|
|Quality||The quality of chaps varies significantly, with faux leather costume chaps obviously being the lowest quality. It’s arguable what the next best quality is, but it’s reasonable to say that commercially available chaps, such as those sold by Harley-Davidson, are inferior to custom-made leather chaps. Custom-made chaps are always the best-quality choice because they’re custom-made by hand to the wearer’s measurements by a leather artisan.|
Where to Buy Leather Chaps
Leather Chaps Near Me
The best place to look for leather chaps locally is a specialty leather retailer. An excellent way to find these retailers is to attend local arts fairs, specialty craftsman fairs, or by asking local tailors for recommendations.
Leather Chaps on eBay
While genuine leather chaps can be found on ebay by leatherworkers, the majority available on the auction site are faux leather costume or fashion chaps.
Retailers like Harley-Davidson sell genuine leather chaps, mostly for motorcycle riders.
Custom Leather Chaps
Commissioning a custom pair of chaps from a local artisan, or through sites like Etsy which prioritize artisans and skilled craftsmen, is the ideal option, but is also the most expensive option by far.
What are leather chaps used for?
Leather chaps are used to protect the legs from environmental factors or injury, including from abrasion, friction, and rubbing; most commonly while on horseback or motorcycle riding.
Why do bikers wear chaps?
Bikers wear chaps to protect their legs from the elements while riding, as well as to protect from injury during potential accidents or falls.
Are motorcycle chaps worth it?
If you’re someone who frequently rides motorcycles, especially for long distances, leather chaps are absolutely worth purchasing.
How do you wear leather chaps?
Leather chaps are worn over pants on the legs and buckle around the waist. Generally, place them around the waist, and secure them with the belt or attachment mechanism on the chaps.
Are leather chaps good protection?
If the chaps are made from good quality, thick, genuine leather, they are excellent protection. They can help protect from friction and abrasions.
Are leather chaps waterproof?
As long as they are properly cared for, leather chaps can offer protection from the elements. However, leather is not waterproof and can be damaged by prolonged water exposure, so they should not be repeatedly exposed to excessive water or submerged.
What size leather chaps do I need?
To find your size, measure your thigh at the largest part while sitting and wearing jeans (or whatever you plan to wear under the chaps). Your size is your thigh size plus two inches. While chaps include an adjustable belt at the waist, it is possible to purchase belt extenders specifically made for chaps if your waist measurement exceeds the belt size.
Why do cowboys wear chaps in rodeo?
Cowboys wear chaps during a rodeo to protect their legs from friction from horse riding, and to protect from injury caused by potential falls.
Can leather chaps be altered?
Leather chaps can be altered by a tailor or seamstress experienced with leather or a leather craftsman. Remember that when altering any clothing, it’s easier to take a garment in (make it smaller) than it is to let it out (make it bigger).
How do you shorten leather chaps?
Leather chaps can be shortened. Genuine leather chaps can simply be measured and trimmed, since leather will not fray. However, faux leather should be hemmed by a seamstress or tailor.
Leather Chaps Care & Maintenance
Proper maintenance of leather goods can help keep them strong, looking great, and last for years. Let’s explore some ways to keep leather chaps in top shape.
Here is a good instructional video on how to care for and to clean your leather chaps.
How to Clean
Leather chaps can be cleaned by rubbing a moist, lint-free cloth over the surface. If a deeper clean is necessary, utilizing a leather cleaner intended for the type of leather the chaps are made from, would likely work best.
How to Condition
For natural leather chaps, conditioning can be a step that helps retain moisture in the leather fibers. This also helps keep them flexible and strong. Periodic application of a leather conditioner, specific to the type of natural leather the chaps are made from, can be very effective.
How to Store
Natural leathers should generally be stored in a cool, dry place, away from sunlight. Faux leathers, often made from plastic, should also be stored away from sunlight, and away from moisture to help keep them in the best shape.
Leather chaps have been around since the late 19th century, proving that their design has been perfected and their use as a utilitarian garment is unmatched. Though they can be pricey, those who wear them know that genuine leather chaps are a once-in-a-lifetime purchase that will serve them for decades.
Though they’re less a fashion garment and more about practicality, leather chaps are a testament to the irreplaceability of leather and the art of leathercraft. If you’re interested in other leather clothing, click here for my guide to leather jeans, or article on leather tool belts.
Do leather chaps keep you warm?
Genuine leather chaps will keep you warm. They help to block out the elements and retain heat by trapping it between the wearer’s body and the garment thanks to leather’s natural weather-resistant properties.
Will leather chaps stretch?
Faux leather will not stretch because it is a plastic product. Genuine leather will stretch over time and mold to the wearer’s body thanks to its properties as a natural fiber. this generally makes it a garment that gets more comfortable over time.